Fitness and nutrition enthusiasts will tell you that the most important meal of the day is not breakfast, but the post-workout meal. In a very general way, I am in agreement. The body is absolutely primed for recovery and absorption of nutrients following an intense training session, probably more so than in the morning when most people eat breakfast. Though I place more emphasis on post-workout nutrition than pre-workout nutrition, what you consume before your workout can have a substantial impact on performance and recovery as well.
Assuming that your training goals are to improve performance and improve body composition (less fat, more muscle), proper pre-workout nutrition and supplementation will help you reach your goals.
- Mo’ muscle — If your goals are to gain muscle and strength, the pre-workout period starts several hours before the actual training session. Supplements consumed directly prior to exercise can boost performance, but it is essential to have a meal containing protein and complex carbohydrates 1.5 to 2 hours before the session begins. This will give you time to digest the meal, but will still allow for high levels of circulating amino acids and carbohydrates from the meal. Fuel up! Whey protein, egg whites, rice and grains are excellent choices.
- Lean ‘n mean – If shedding body fat or staying lean is your main priority, ensuring that your tank is full of good food is not as important. In fact, many advanced trainees prefer to train on an empty stomach during a “cutting” phase. With this method, stored body fat is more readily available as exercise fuel. However, you run the risk of burning through that hard-earned muscle mass, so supplementing effectively is key. Supplementing with a whey protein supplement can help support muscle maintenance when consumed prior to training.
- Supplementation — During the hour prior to beginning a session, nearly every level of athlete and trainee has the same goals: boost performance and reduce recovery time. Here are a few key supplements that accomplish these specific goals:
- BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids): Branched chain amino acids are essential amino acids, meaning they cannot be manufactured by the body, so they must be consumed to reap the benefits. The three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine and valine. These specific amino acids promote energy balance during exercise, and set the stage for improved recovery. Consume 5 to10 grams of BCAAs 15 to 30 minutes prior to training for best results.
- L-Glutamine: L-glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body. Glutamine is an effective pre-workout supplement partially due to its ability to support protein synthesis ““ the process of converting protein into muscle tissue. Consume at least 5 grams of L-glutamine 15-30 minutes prior to training.
- Caffeine: gets a bad reputation, but in moderate amounts it can effectively aid your training efforts by stimulating the central nervous system. For an added energy boost, consume 100-200 mg of caffeine 30 minutes prior to training.
Building your own pre-workout from these ingredients is neither cost effective nor efficient, so opt for a pre-workout supplement like Vitacost ® ARO PRE, which contains all of these in a pre-made blend.
- Water — We have covered food and supplements in regard to pre-workout nutrition, but none of this matters if you are not properly hydrated! Even slight dehydration prior to or during exercise can drastically reduce performance and slow down recovery. If you train in the morning, make it a point to consume at least 12 ounces of water prior to training. A good rule is to never allow yourself to be thirsty. After all, the first symptom of dehydration is often not thirst, but fatigue!
In the next post, you’ll learn more about post-workout nutrition and the synergistic relationship between pre-workout and post-workout nutrition.
Scott Hogan, Certified Personal Trainer and Lifestyle & Weight Management Coach (A.C.E.), blogs about nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle factors that contribute to peak performance.