With all the emphasis placed on post-workout nutrition and supplementation, it’s easy to forget about the second part of the equation: the pre-workout meal. Yet scientific evidence informs us that pre-workout nutrition is just as crucial to optimal gains as its counterpart. That’s why in this article we’ll uncover the best ways to eat for maximum anabolism and prime your body for great results with the help of both types of meals.
Why pre-workout nutrition matters
Protein, being the only macronutrient that directly stimulates muscle protein synthesis, is a crucial component of muscle growth and effective post-workout recovery (and muscles grow while you rest, not while you train). Because of this, most bodybuilders aim to eat a high-protein whole food meal as soon as possible after finishing their workout or consume various types of protein-enriched shakes in an attempt to use the full potential of the post-workout nutrition window, and that habit undoubtedly helps them stimulate better growth and accelerate muscle recovery. However, multiple studies have shown that maintaining a protein-rich pre-workout nutrition can also have a major influence on protein synthesis and muscle gains. Namely, protein synthesis naturally declines during a hard workout, but if you consume an adequate amount of protein before you begin your session, this can help prevent the exercise-induced dwindling of anabolism. So in order to maximize anabolism, you should be paying equal attention to both your pre- and post-workout meals.
The basic nutrition rules for bodybuilders
That being said, almost all of us are well aware of the most basic once-and-for-all principles of bodybuilding nutrition:
- Nutrition is responsible for 50% of your muscle building results.
- It’s of vital importance to calculate your macros and consume the right amount and type of food according to your body composition and goals.
- To maximize performance and gains and avoid the promotion of fat storage, fuel your muscle building process with clean, as-high-quality-as-possible foods and supplements.
- Divide your total caloric intake into 5-6 small meals, spread more or less evenly over the course of the day.
- Emphasize lean protein sources which help build and repair muscle tissue and complex carbs, which are your body’s main source of energy.
- Don’t exclude dietary fats from your diet because they are crucial for optimal hormone production.
That’s pretty straight-forward and doesn’t seem so hard to follow, right?
Except that there are a few important things to take into consideration when planning your diet regime.
All you need to know about carbohydrate intake
While the majority of your carb intake should consist of complex carbs such as the ones found in whole grains and potatoes, simple carbs also have their place in a bodybuilder’s diet.
Complex carbohydrates form muscle glycogen, which is the fuel your body needs to train hard and heavy. Because of their slow rate of digestion, these carbs provide you with longer lasting energy levels and help keep your blood sugar levels constant by promoting a steady release of insulin, one of the body’s naturally occurring anabolic hormones that also influences fat storage. In addition, most sources of complex carbs are rich with dietary fiber, which is another nutrient with significant health and muscle-building benefits. The way to optimize complex carb intake is by making sure to eat smaller servings of carbs more often instead of eating large amounts of carb-abundant food in one sitting – this also ensures a steady flow of insulin into the body instead of promoting insulin spikes and sugar crashes. In order to make insulin work for your muscle building process instead of hindering it, you need to control your insulin levels to avoid excess fat storage because spiking insulin levels all throughout the day unavoidably leads to fat gain over time.
The main way to use insulin production to your advantage is – you guessed it – by reducing your intake of simple, high-glycemic carbs as much as possible. However, there are times of the day when you could actually benefit from elevating your blood sugar and stimulating an insulin surge, and those are before and after a strenuous training session.
Why? Because among other things, spikes in insulin levels at those crucial moments help drive all the other nutrients from the meal to the muscles, and that’s a growth-promoting opportunity you shouldn’t miss.
The ideal time for simple carbs
A pre-workout meal that’s equal parts simple, fast-digesting carbs and fast-digesting protein will help you fuel your muscles more efficiently and ensure a killer performance simply because it can be easily and quickly digested, thereby ensuring that its nutrients are readily available to fuel your workout. To make optimal use of its growth-encouraging properties, the pre-workout meal should be consumed around 30-60 minutes before the start of the workout.
On the other hand, simple carbs also need to be a part of your post-workout meal which should be consumed within half an hour after your workout. When you’re done for the day, your muscles’ depleted glycogen reserves scream to be replenished with this precious nutrient, and fast-digesting carbs can refill them more effectively than complex carbs. So eating a post-workout meal mostly made up of simple carbs or drinking the right mix of fast-digesting protein and fast-digesting carbs will prevent catabolism, kick start anabolism and support better recovery. But 1.5-2 hours after that, you should again opt for a meal consisting of complex carbs.
Therefore, as scientific research has confirmed, the only time you should prioritize fast-digesting carb consumption is before and after a workout. In a similar way, including fast-digesting protein into these two meals is also an optimal choice when it comes to enhancing muscle building results.
Here are some nutrients that can help you better feed your muscles before and after a workout:
#1. Whey protein isolate
Research has shown that whey protein isolate, which is a low-fat, low-carb and fast-absorbing source of protein, leads to superior gains in muscle mass and strength and causes less fat storage than other types of whey protein.
Studies have repeatedly reported that creatine supplementation helps promote anabolism by increasing protein synthesis and anabolic hormone production, while also providing higher energy levels that can support a long and intense workout.
Over 61% of skeletal muscle consists of glutamine, an α-amino acid that’s used in the biosynthesis of proteins. Glutamine is produced in the muscles and distributed by the blood to the organs that need it. Since heavy training often depletes glutamine reserves, glutamine supplementation can boost muscle growth and prevent catabolism, especially after the workout.
Caffeine is usually taken before a workout, when its ability to boost metabolism by mobilizing fat cells into the bloodstream can be used to significantly increase the effectiveness of the workout. More specifically, pre-workout caffeine supplementation will help you burn more fat, improve muscle strength and endurance and reduce muscle soreness.
#5. Sugar, dextrose and maltodextrin
These three simple carbohydrates are quickly digested and can provide a readily available source of energy for your working muscles, and are also guilty of spiking insulin levels, so make sure to put them on the top of your pre-workout nutrient list.
If implemented consistently, strategic pre- and post-workout supplementation will substantially increase the results of your training efforts. On the other hand, without paying enough attention to optimal nutrition, your body’s response to the training program, even if it’s the best one in the world, will leave a lot to be desired.