Pre and Peri Workout Nutrition
When hypertrophy (muscle building) is your main goal, the food and nutrients you consume around the workout is by far the most important aspect in maximizing growth and optimizing recovery.
If you’re looking to immediately accelerate growth and improve body composition, then you’d better sit down and take some notes. This is exactly where you need to start.
To underestimate pre and peri (that means “during”, btw) workout nutrition is to essentially kiss your gains goodbye.
There has been some recent research conducted suggesting that the timing of nutrients may not be of major significance to people looking to optimize muscle-building. That research was conducted on minimally trained individuals and certainly had no consideration for people who are looking to take an already well-trained body and make it even better.
If you’re someone who has never trained, or trained minimally, I can see how nutrient timing wouldn’t make a massive difference. Simply getting in the appropriate macronutrients is more than enough to change your current state.
For someone looking for immediate and long lasting changes, you better make the most of your workout nutrition and avoid falling into that trap.
Anyone who’s been training in the gym for any extended period (6 months+ consistently), will tell you that their energy wavers, that some days they have awesome workouts, other days they feel like they’ve done nothing at all. Some days they’re extremely strong, other days natta. Some days the pump is so great it hurts, other days, zilch.
I’ve been there 1000 times myself.
Let me pose this question:
What if I could tell you what to eat to ensure maximum strength every time you went to the gym?
Or, maybe I could tell you what you should eat to maximize the pump each time so that it feels like your muscles are so full they’re going to split?
Or, what if I could even suggest what to eat to ensure that your focus was spot on and that you had great motivation and drive each workout?
Do you think that would increase your results at all?
Answer: Yes yes and yes!
I’m going to focus my pre and peri-workout nutrition suggestion for ‘hypertrophy’ training ONLY. Notice that these recommendations would change if strength is the goal of that particular workout (I’d suggest checking out Derek Woodske’s blog about how to eat for strength if that is your goal).
Let’s approach this in a sequential way, so that it’s as simple as a 3 step sequence, as well as easy to apply immediately.
The first thing you need to know is that what you eat and drink for as much as 72 hours leading into a workout will likely affect the outcome of the workout. Simply ensuring that you eat the “perfect” pre-workout meal will not ensure that your performance is at its peak. Your body needs to be hydrated, nourished and well rested within the previous 24 hours minimum. For someone striving for perfection, 72 hours pre-workout can even affect things.
The suggested water intake for optimum hydration is 400-500mls every waking hour on a daily basis. So no, consuming 2L at once isn’t shown to make up for lost time, although I’ve been known to try with some pretty good results (I tend to start each day with 1.5-2L of water before eating anything at all).
Carbohydrate intake for 24-72 hours prior to training will also greatly affect performance. The simplest way to think of carbohydrate repletion is in terms of your body as a fuel tank. If you never let your tank run on empty, you’ll never need to over feed to refill the tank.
The truth is, that typical muscle-building workouts actually do very little to deplete systemic glycogen. It may deplete glycogen within the working muscle, but the amount of total glycogen used will often be minimal. Most aspiring trainees misunderstand this fact and falsely believe that their need for carbohydrate intake is massive.
Listen, I don’t care how hard you train, you’re never realistically depleting your muscles completely. You’re just not. Unless you’re a long distance cyclist going for a 6 hour bike ride, thinking you need 1000 grams of carbs a day to grow is just senseless. But that’s another topic.
What you eat for 3 hours pre-workout can and will directly affect your performance by affecting your hormone and neurotransmitter levels.
I don’t claim to be a neurophysiologist (although I do have a good friend who is), but I am a gym rat of 17 years that has read and experimented with just about every workout protocol and nutrition program under the sun. The results haven’t been too bad, I guess.
Regarding optimal performance and hypertrophy, there are two basic protocols that I find particularly effective for maximizing the results of my workouts:
The one I use most often is going no carb pre-workout.
From experience, this is the most effective strategy for maximizing mental focus, energy and drive. What that means to me is that it gives me BALLS! I go into the gym ready to attack the weights. Grabbing the weights with an assertiveness and aggression that simply just doesn’t come when I overdo carbohydrates pre-workout.
Carbs can make you feel tired and lazy, not always mind you, but we have all had a case of the sleepies going in to train at one time or another; it’s often a result of a serotonin spike from carbohydrate ingestion. Another notable benefit of the no carb pre-workout is it allows for the natural GH spike initiated with intense exercise. Carb ingestion has been shown to negate this.
An example of my pre-workout meal is:
- 8oz of lean meat (usually chicken or turkey breast)
- 1-2 cups of green veggies
- 40 grams of fat from coconut oil, butter, or MCT oil (any combination depending on what body-part I’m training. I avoid butter before legs cause it makes my breathing a bit laborious).
- 1 cup of black coffee
Another feasible option for pre-workout is the “slow carb” protocol. If you tend to stay on the leaner side and have a hard time building muscle, slow carbs pre-workout can be a great idea. I avoid simple carbs for the reasons stated above. Slow carbs like brown rice, veggies, beans, whole grain oats, sweet potatoes etc. can provide just enough insulin activity to negate any muscle breakdown while increasing cell swelling and hyperemia. Cell swelling and hyperemia are well known to be highly correlated with muscle growth, optimizing them is vital to your success.
One of my favorite slow carb pre-workout meals is:
- 8oz of lean meat
- 2 cups of sweet potato mash with cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons of coconut oil
A great little tip, or “trick”, I use to optimize the best of both of these two worlds’, is to stick with the non-carb pre-workout, then after about 20-30 minutes of HARD exercise (special emphasis on ‘hard’), I add in some simple carbohydrates in the form of “Vitargo” with 30 grams of BCAA’s. This will still allow for the GH release, the neural drive to start the workout, plus finish the workout with the cell swelling and hyperemia. This works really well for me 80% of the time.
There are still many days when I wait until after the training session has finished to consume any carbs. Examples being on days when I know training intensity is down, or perhaps when fat-burning is the primary goal. In these specific scenarios, carbs can wait until after training.
On the days when I choose to hold off on intra-workout carbs, I still take in BCAA’s, plus actually often add a little extra (up to 40 grams total… keeping in mind my off season weight is 300lbs!).
Another one of my favorite pre and peri-workout supplement tricks is to add a balanced electrolyte supplement to my pre-workout or peri-workout drink. This adds massive amounts of value for literally pennies, increasing hydration, cellular uptake, muscle contractibility, negating cramping and possibly even decreasing the chances of injury.