Peri-Workout Nutrition, Part I

Peri-Workout Nutrition, Part I

Depending on who you ask or what you’ve read, you may have different views on what’s necessary or most efficient in terms of peri-workout nutrition. When I first started training, I remember being told that “chocolate milk is great post-workout” or “you need fast acting carbohydrates as soon as your lift is over.” (Both statements do, in fact, have some merit). I experimented with literally everything, no matter how dumb it was. At one point, I was drinking a gallon of whole milk a day (see how dumb?). I still don’t think that there is one specific, magical peri-workout nutritional regimen that makes you huge and ripped at the same time… although I’m still experimenting. However, there is a fair amount of research out there about this topic, and there are also a lot of myths. So, let’s explore.

I’m not sure who created the “anabolic window” term, but it’s used pretty much ad nauseum when discussing peri-workout nutrition. I do believe that the periods before, during, and after a workout can be exploited to help produce one’s desired goals. However, I don’t believe that certain things are as necessary as we have been led to believe. For example, post-workout carbohydrate consumption: is it an absolute must? Interestingly enough, you can find some research for both sides of the argument. I’ll get into this portion more when I discuss post-workout nutrition.

Pre-Workout

Your perfect pre-workout meal or routine will be based on you and your current goals. However, I do think leucine or bcaas should be taken pre-, intra-, and post-workout, regardless of goals. There’s more than enough research that supports amino acids stimulating MPS or muscle protein synthesis. [2] Some research shows that leucine as a standalone is superior to bcaas. Leucine and Iso-leucine may somewhat inhibit each other, and it seems that only leucine is able to initiate muscle protein synthesis on its own. [2]

Pre-Workout Options to Burn Fat

  • Fasted training (with 5-10 grams of Leucine):  Most people are reluctant to try this, and I can’t blame them. I remember the first time I tried; I thought I was going to feel like Richard Simmons. Instead, it wasn’t so bad. I actually had a great lift. What happens is that you tap into your sympathetic nervous system because your body is reacting to the stress of training (fight or flight). The catecholamines released from this event are helpful in burning fat (lipolysis) and increasing energy/alertness. There is little doubt that this fasted training will also increase insulin sensitivity to a high(er) degree than normal, leading to a greater post-workout anabolic response when fed. There should also be a larger than normal elevation in AMPK here, which has a host of fat-burning properties when initiated. I have found that this type of training can affect peak strength somewhat, but again, this is for optimal fat loss. So save this type of training for low volume days or restorative days. You are essentially teaching your body to become more efficient at using fat for fuel, this is a valuable tool to have. This example is easiest for those who workout in the morning.
  • Whey + Leucine Pre-workout: Assuming you have a low-carbohydrate Whey protein, this type of pre-workout “meal” shares some benefits of the one above. Leucine and whey will illicit an insulin response, but after a night of sleeping and no carbs pre-workout, your glycogen levels should be relatively depleted. The whey and leucine can help ward off some off the catabolic effects of the workout and still allow you to burn stored fuel for energy during your lift. Pre-workout protein has positive effects on protein synthesis and is potentially as important as post-workout protein consumption. [5] As a matter of fact, a study by Tipton KD and colleagues found no significant difference between amino acid uptake between a group who had whey protein only before their workout versus only after their workout. [5] If you’re too scared to go completely fasted, then this option may work better for you.
  • Low-Carb or Fast… then Chocolate? If you work out later in the day, try going without carbohydrates up until your Pre-Workout meal, or fast with only leucine pulses (2-3) until then. So up to this point, your insulin levels have been kept low and insulin sensitivity is heightened as muscle cells await super-compensation when carbohydrates are eventually introduced. In this meal, consume a relatively quick-acting protein (whey + leucine) and a high Glycemic Index (GI) carbohydrate source (I actually like the addition of some dark chocolate here). This is where some may advocate the “no sugar added” dark chocolate, but who the hell wants to eat that bitter shit? In my opinion, regular dark chocolate or 60% cacao is fine. If you workout at say, 1 p.m., you have ingested only leucine or some protein up to this point, so you can afford the bit of sugar pre-workout. A fair amount of your day has been focused on fat loss, as you take advantage of the benefits of “fasting” (increased AMPK, fatty acid oxidation, insulin sensitivity, etc). The chocolate serves quite a few purposes. First, the sugar/carbohydrates from the chocolate will help generate a large insulin response. Insulin is a powerful anabolic hormone. In this scenario, we are using the insulin spike for its anti-catabolic properties. It has been shown to inhibit muscle protein breakdown (MPB), thus improving net protein balance. [3] However, two studies show that without amino acid availability, carbohydrates alone did not result in a positive net protein balance. (Hence, we add leucine). [2] In another interesting study by Tipton et al., they found that “the response of net muscle protein synthesis to consumption of an (EAC) essential amino acid carbohydrate supplement solution immediately before resistance exercise is greater than that when the solution is consumed after exercise, primarily because of an increase in muscle protein synthesis as a result of increased delivery of amino acids”. [3]  Interesting, right? (More on this in the post-workout section). In a study, Chocolate was also shown to increase nitric oxide serum levels. So maybe you don’t need to throw your money in the garbage to buy 1MR anymore. [1] Besides, chocolate is a natural stimulant with energy enhancing compounds that also happens to taste damn good and gives you a nice pump.

This doesn’t mean these are the only pre-workout plans to lose weight. Some people can eat a piece of toast before their workouts and get huge. These are just a few that I have found to work best when people reach a plateau in fat loss. So why include chocolate or whey in options two and three? Because some people feel great during fasted training and others do not. Plus, everyone loves chocolate. I do also believe that fasted training, or fasting in general, can be useful with “stubborn” fat. Don’t forget, you can still recomp your body or lose fat by having an abundance of carbohydrates pre-workout. You would do this by then altering your post-workout carbohydrate consumption, as well as maintaining the caloric goals you have set.

Pre-Workout Options to Gain Muscle

A lot of the same facts remain for your pre-workout nutrition when trying to gain muscle. We still want leucine and whey for muscle protein synthesis, but now we can be a bit more generous with carbohydrates. Since we acknowledged that fasted training affects peak strength, we may want to avoid this. But again, fasted training has benefits that can still be used when trying to gain muscle— increased insulin sensitivity leading to better nutrient repartitioning. So it comes down to what you do the REST of the day. A “good” meal here would be somewhat of a mixed meal: 30-40 grams of whey, 5 grams of leucine, and 30-50 grams of medium- to high-GI carbohodryates at least an hour before training. Your meals previous to this should be protein and low-GI carbohydrates. You will have to determine your sweet spot level of carbohydrates, as we all handle them differently. The increased carbohydrates from this meal, and the previous carbohydrate+protein meals of the day, should serve as your “fuel” during training. However, there won’t be much “fat burning” during these workouts because of the abundance of readily available energy at your body’s disposal.   The increased energy should allow you have a great workout, one where you feel strong and full. Again, this can still be used to lose fat if you alter post-workout carbohydrate intake, which I will discuss in part two of this article.

Intra-Workout Nutrition for Fat Loss or Muscle Gain

Intra-workout research isn’t quite as plentiful as post- or even pre-workout research. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t take what we know and apply it to maximize our goals. For Fat Loss, I prefer keeping the intra-workout drink carb-less and only including: leucine (5-10 grams), Beta-Alanine (3-5 grams), Citrulline Malate, Glutamine, Glycine, and Electrolytes (not absolutely necessary). The combination of these should optimize cell hydration, provide energy, and help to inhibit protein degradation.[2] For Muscle Gain, the intra-workout drink will include the same things above, but you will also want to add some carbohydrates. As stated earlier, insulin has anti-catabolic effects (blunting inhibition of mTOR as another example).[2] Something as simple as Gatorade, which includes the electrolytes for you, can be used.

Ok, so now that I have thrown a bunch of big scientific words at you, it’s time to recap in English. When I see a nutrition protocol or article that says you HAVE to do X to achieve Y, I want to smash my head against a wall. Don’t Plaxico Burress yourself; you are only hurting your own gains by adopting this limited view. In part two of this article, I will discuss post-workout nutrition and give you templates on how to incorporate all of this peri-workout information to reach your goals.

The reason I give so many options is because it takes trial and error to determine what is optimal for YOU. The best diet or program is the one that is sustainable and conducive to your individual body. We are all individuals who respond to nutrition, stress, and training differently. As Coach X always preaches to me, “Think for yourself, don’t be a fucking lemming following everyone off a cliff of no return.” Stay hungry.

 

[1] “Effect of Dark Chocolate on Nitric Oxide Serum Levels and Blood Pressure in Prehypertension Subjects.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2012. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22156352>.

[2] Phillips, Stuart M. “Nutritional Regulation of Muscle Protein Synthesis with Resistance Exercise: Strategies to Enhance Anabolism.” Nutrition & Metabolism. BioMed Central, 17 May 2012. Web. 04 Oct. 2012. <http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/9/1/40>.

[3] Tipton, KD. “Timing of Amino Acid-carbohydrate Ingestion Alters Anabolic Response of Muscle to Resistance Exercise.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2001. Web. 04 Oct. 2012. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez/11440894?dopt=Abstract>.

[4] Tipton, KD. “Stimulation of Muscle Anabolism by Resistance Exercise and Ingestion of Leucine plus Protein.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez/19370045?dopt=Abstract

[5] Elliot, TA. “Stimulation of Net Muscle Protein Synthesis by Whey Protein Ingestion before and after Exercise.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2012. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16896166>.

 

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About the Author

Fred Duncan is part owner of the New York Sports Center, the top performance and personal training facility in Buffalo, New York. He and Buddy Morris work side by side in athletic development, rehabilitation, and general fitness. Fred is a former scholarship Division I athlete who graduated magna cum laude and in the top ten percent of his class before attending law school. However, his passion for training and nutrition led him to switch careers and head into a doctorate program for physical therapy and chiropractic. His main focus and study goes into body recomposition through nutrition manipulation. From sedentary people to those prepping for bodybuilding shows, he utilizes unique, customized, and evidence-based nutritional practices. Visit Fred's personal site Inside the Iron.