Last Updated on January 7, 2021
The ultimate guide to timing nutrients around your workouts for maximum muscle-building and fat loss.
As a red-blooded, iron-loving athlete, you are in a constant cycle of breaking down and rebuilding muscle. When you lift weights, you break down muscle tissue but you don’t grow in the gym. You need muscle protein synthesis to happen in order to repair and ultimately grow new muscle. If you end up breaking down more than you can build back, you won’t end up with a lot of muscle mass on your frame. In order to maximize protein synthesis and minimize breakdown, you need hard yet strategic training, and perhaps more importantly, a nutrition protocol – one based on proper timing with relation to your workouts. And while you should slightly cut calories when you are trying to lose fat, you shouldn’t cut carbs out. The goal is always to build muscle and that requires hard, carb-fueled workouts. Consuming the proper nutrients before, during, and after training can dramatically affect your physique and strength results.
Before training, you need to prime the body to build muscle and enhance muscle protein synthesis. You also need to get enough nutrients to provide sufficient fuel to promote a workout intense enough to deliver a muscle-building stimulus. The ratio of macronutrients as well as the rate of absorption are two critical factors when choosing the correct foods. The meal should be consumed an hour before to allow you to digest. You don’t want to have any bloat or digestive issues occur before your workout. If you need longer, go ahead and take that time.
Another thing you need to think about is proper food choices. Protein in the form of whey, white fish, chicken and turkey best are the best protein options. For carbs, we need to provide some energy without spiking the insulin level too much, blunting the fat-burning potential of your workout. Modest portions of slow-burning carbs such as oatmeal and sweet potatoes are better choices. These carbs will slightly raise insulin, protecting your muscles from excessive breakdown while preparing your body for an anabolic post-training response. If you feel like you need some extra calories for energy and satiety that day, you can add some extra fat such as almond butter or avocado.
Pre-Workout Plan: A good combo of easy-digesting proteins and slow burning carbs would be a 6-ounce chicken breast with a sweet potato and some avocado on the side, or an oatmeal mixture with almond butter and whey protein. Shoot for 20-40 grams of protein and 40-80 grams of carbs.
This is the part of the workout nutrition that many people do not take advantage of. Since insulin is the body’s most anabolic hormone, you need to release it in greater amounts as you start to train. To raise insulin, you need to take in more carbs. One reason people don’t consume nutrients during their workouts is because the thought of eating chicken and rice during a workout just sounds like trouble. So the best thing to do is to take in some liquid form of carbs.
My favorite types are highly-branched cyclic dextrin and Vitargo. These are fast-digesting and easy on the stomach as you train and provide a sustained release of insulin. Depending on your goals and bodyweight, use 40-70 grams of carbohydrates and sip throughout the workout.
On the protein front, my favorite thing to do is add 10 grams of branched chain amino acids to the mixture. These are pre-digested amino acids that get into the bloodstream quicker than most protein powders to help you get a head start on protein synthesis
>> Intra-Workout Plan: Mix up 40-70 grams of Vitargo or highly-branched cyclic dextrin with 10 grams of BCAA and begin to drink the shake right before your workout. Drink about 1/5 of the mixture and then sip it during your workout for a front load and then steady stream of nutrients.
If you have gotten your pre- and intra-workout nutrition in, you have already upgraded your nutrition plan. But there is still more room for improvement and muscle growth. If you just had a hard workout, it is tough to get in food right away. So, immediately after a workout, consume at least 20 grams of whey protein with water and a small piece of fruit to hold you off until you get home to have a large meal with carbs and protein. If you feel like you can wait until you get home, or need to cut calories to lose fat, I think that it is fine to wait an hour until your next meal.
>> Post-Workout Plan: After your last rep, immediately take down 20-40 grams of fast-digesting whey in water. Optionally, you can add 3-5 grams of creatine to replenish your explosive energy stores.
Your body is now ready for a nice dose of whole food. The aminos and carbs you had in the shakes have been absorbed and used up. Your body will be craving some good protein and carbs that will digest slower for a sustained insulin release and trickle feed of aminos.
>> 1-Hour Post-Workout Plan: A good option combines white rice, steak and broccoli. You could also have fish, chicken, or whatever high quality protein and carbs your prefer. You should be shooting for around 40 grams of protein and 40-80 grams of carbs.