Date: October 2015
When it comes to pre and post workout supplementation and nutrition, the most important thing one has to remember is how the body grows and adapts to physical stress in order to build muscle.
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To build quality muscle, making improvements in the gym on a consistent basis, day after day, week after week and month after month is absolutely necessary. No improvement equals zero muscle growth – Simple as that.
The tricky part that most beginners fail to grasp is that one must work harder and harder with each passing workout in order to increase the intensity necessary to stimulate further muscle growth. Simply put, the harder you work in the gym on a consistent basis (over and above the previous week’s workout intensity), usually translates into higher intensity levels and additional muscle growth.
This is kind of a paradoxical situation because one would think that the stronger and more muscle mass one has the easier it gets. However, this is never the case. To keep improving and getting stronger, it always gets harder and harder. This is why pre and post workout nutrition is so important. Pre workout strategies will help prime your body for super intense workouts which will allow it go over and above what it is normally used to. Post workout strategies will compensate for all the energy spent and help to kick start the recovery process. The faster you can get your body into recovery mode after a hard workout, the sooner you can expect to see results (all things being equal).
As a side note - Please remember however, muscle growth doesn’t happen in the gym. It happens when your eyes are shut and your body is in shut down mode (sleep). Recovery is just as important as pre and post workout supplementation and strategies; however rest and recovery is another story (which you can read about in our rest and recovery guide here).
Now, in order to generate the necessary performance in the gym the body needs a certain level of nutrients in order to make ongoing improvements necessary for maximum muscle growth. Let’s take a look at what the body needs.
Personally, fuel (carbohydrates) is probably the most important element of any pre-workout strategy, even more so than protein. Glycogen is what fuels muscles and it comes from the carbohydrates you ingest. The body relies on carbohydrates to fuel the muscles in order to maximize performance in the gym. Through a series of chemical reactions, carbohydrates are broken down into very simple sugars via glycogen resulting in usable energy called glucose. Ideally, you want to have as much muscle glycogen as possible in order to produce optimum levels of glucose for high performance energy.
In fact, carbohydrates are the bodies’ number one choice for energy. To really get the most out of each and every workout, you need to stock up on quality carbohydrates which will stuff as much glycogen into the muscle for maximum performance. Without the necessary fuel to work harder and harder with each passing workout, it will be next to impossible to build additional muscle growth. This is probably one of the main reasons most beginners experience plateaus shortly after starting a weight training program.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what a hard working weight trainer needs for pre workout carbohydrates:
Timeframe: 1 ½ hour prior to workout. This will give the body enough time to convert carbohydrates into usable fuel (glycogen)
Types of carbohydrates: It should be a mix of medium and long acting carbohydrates. However, try and stay away from simple sugars (otherwise you’ll experience a crash). Personally, I enjoy a banana with some oats, honey and a small protein drink. Remember, don’t stuff yourself otherwise you’ll experience bloating and tiredness. Have just enough to satisfy the body’s hunger craving.
Here’s a tip: About 15 minutes prior to working out, have two tablespoons of honey. Honey will top up your glycogen stores and keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout your workout.
How many carbohydrates? This will depend on your weight and body type. However, try and get about 40 to 60 grams of top quality carbohydrates into your body 1 ½ hours prior to training.
If you’re working hard enough (remember the conversation we had above?), your body is going to in a glycogen depleted state. This is a bad situation because your muscles are basically in a state of total havoc and need glycogen to begin the recovery process. The faster and better your recovery, the harder you’ll be able to train during your next workout.
Always remember this tidbit of advice:
The Sooner You Get Glycogen into Your Muscles after A Workout the Sooner Your Start to Recover and Build Muscle
There are 3 critical periods that you need to get as much quality carbohydrates into your body as possible.
1. Immediately after your workout
After a workout, your muscles are full of blood and are very receptive to receiving nutrients. At this point, your muscles are like sponges ready to sop up just about anything that comes they’re way. In addition, muscles are much more sensitive to the effects of insulin at this time and as we all know, insulin promotes the creation of glycogen (glycogen synthesis).
What type of carbohydrates?
I suggest ingesting fast acting carbohydrates immediately after a workout. That is, foods with a high glycemic index should be ingested as soon as the workout is done. High glycemic foods replenish glycogen stores the best and as I mentioned above, the sooner you replenish glycogen stores, the sooner you start the recovery process (and build muscle).
Personally, after a gut busting workout, the last thing I want to do is sit down and eat a meal. With that in mind, I usually ingest my fast acting carbs in the way of a post workout drink. The drink is what I call “recovery juice” and it includes plenty of fast acting carbs, protein, electrolytes and some fat. Most types of fast acting carbohydrate/s will do the job, including maltodextrin. Honey, in particular is a desired post workout carbohydrate. In fact, a research study concluded that honey outperformed maltodextrin as a post recovery carbohydrate. Most simple sugars will cause a dramatic drop in blood sugar whereas honey will keep blood sugars stable in addition to providing muscles with instant muscle glycogen restoration. According to the study:
"Our data suggest that honey functions well in all of the aspects associated with post-workout recuperation and energy repletion. In addition, honey appears to stand out as perhaps a better source of carbohydrate to ingest with post-workout protein supplements"
Here’s a tip. Combine two tablespoons of honey with a protein drink that contains one banana. Bananas are a near perfect post workout food and when combined with honey will produce dramatic results. Remember, have this drink immediately after working out (don’t wait until you get home).
How many carbohydrates?
Try and aim for about 40 to 60 grams of carbohydrates immediately after working out.
Here’s a sample:
Two tablespoons honey:
Adjust the amount of carbohydrates based on your size. Generally, if you’re under 200 pounds aim for about 40 to 50 grams of carbs post workout. If you’re over 200 pounds aim for at least 60 grams of carbs post workout.
2. 1 - 2 Hours Post Workout
It is critical to keep feeding your muscles enough carbohydrates to accelerate muscle recovery. Ideally, you want to consume at least 100 to 150 grams of carbohydrates two hours after your workout. This includes a two hour post workout meal which, unlike your post workout meal will include medium to long sustaining carbohydrates. I suggest staying away from quick acting carbohydrates at this time.
I suggest consuming at least 50 to 60 grams of complex carbohydrates two hours post workout. Complex carbohydrates will provide long sustaining energy and ensure optimal levels of muscle glycogen for maximum recovery. For meal ideas, please click here.
3. Two Hour Plus
Try and consume between 40 and 60 grams of carbohydrates every two hours thereafter for maximum muscle recovery.
Pre-workout protein is meant to do one thing, spare the muscle tissue from using protein as an energy source. If you’ve followed the advice above and stocked up on top quality fuel (carbohydrates), your muscles will be topped up with high octane muscle glycogen for maximum performance in the gym. Therefore, there is no need to stress about whether or not your muscles will use protein as an energy source. Besides, protein makes a poor energy source for the body so don’t try and skimp out from using carbohydrates as your primary energy source.
Protein should be used to top up your amino acid profile prior to working out so that it starts doing its job immediately, which is to help build and repair your muscles. In particular, branch chained amino acids (BCAA’s) should be considered an important part of any hard working weight trainers pre workout strategy. The number one job that BCAA’s have is to build and repair muscle tissue.
Remember, you don’t want to use protein (amino acids) as an energy source. You want to make sure your body contains optimal levels of amino acids so that it does what it’s supposed to do which is to build and repair muscle tissue, the sooner the better.
What type of protein?
Whey protein will do just fine. Try and consume at least 20 to 30 grams of protein 30 to 60 minutes prior to working out.
Here’s a tip: Try and combine your pre workout protein with your pre workout carbohydrate strategy as described above. Simply mix in one scoop of whey protein powder your pre workout shake. I’ll provide you with a kick ass recipe below.
There are two important things to remember when it comes to post workout recovery. Firstly, muscles are depleted of muscle glycogen. There is no fuel left in the tanks. To kick start the recovery process, it is absolutely vital to restock muscle glycogen, which we discussed above. Secondly, the muscles have been injured. That is, there are tears in the tiny structures of the muscle fibres and small leaks in the muscle cells.
Over the next 24 hours, muscle will keep breaking down protein and more muscle glycogen will be used up. To speed up and enhance muscle recovery, it will be necessary to consume enough fast acting protein to kick start the post workout repair process. If you recall from the discussion above, proteins number one job is to repair and build muscle tissue. Common sense dictates that the sooner we get protein into our bodies (post workout), the faster we can start to optimize the muscle building process. However, not all protein sources are created equally. Some protein sources are fast acting while others are slow builders. Back to top of page
Remember, you want to consume the fastest acting protein source immediately after your workout to start repairing muscle tissue. Why is this important? If you recall from the discussion above, the muscles preferred energy source are carbohydrates. If the muscles are low on glycogen (which they will be after a hard workout) they will turn to the next possible energy source which is muscle proteins. You never, ever want this. You never want the body to cannibalize its own muscle tissue for energy. By consuming enough fast acting carbohydrates and protein immediately after a workout, you will counteract the post workout muscle trauma in order to kick start the recovery process.
Whey protein is the fastest acting protein which I strongly suggest you include as a part of your post workout strategy.
How Much Protein is Needed Post Workout?
For those of you under 200 pounds, try and consume at least 40 grams of whey protein immediately after working out. For those of you over 200 pounds, aim for at least 50 to 60 grams of whey protein.
When Should You Consume Post Workout Protein?
You should consume protein immediately after working out. Don’t until you get home or on your drive home. Consume in the locker room after working out.
Two Hours Post Workout
Consume a full meal two hours after your workout. The meal should contain a solid protein source such as a chicken breast or lean steak (for a list of protein sources, click here). For meal ideas, see our recipes page here.
Creatine is a perfect complement to a well laid out pre workout carbohydrate strategy. As we know, our bodies’ preferred energy source is carbohydrates. However, carbohydrate energy only comes into play after 5 or so repetitions. This has something to do with the oxidation of glucose via the glycolysis cycle which takes a certain amount of time to generate the necessary ATP for energy. However, during the first few repetitions, the body relies on a substance called creatine phosphate to quickly generate ATP for muscle energy (until glucose can be used as energy). For those movements that require short intense bursts of energy, the body relies on creatine phosphate. Common sense dictates that more creatine phosphate equals more muscle energy.
This is why creatine works so well at generating extra strength. Basically, it provides more muscle energy to move more weight.
This is why it is in your best interest to ensure your stores of creatine phosphate are topped up in addition to optimizing your stores of muscle glycogen. Think of it this way:
“Creatine phosphate will improve muscle energy for the first 1 to 5 repetitions so you can possible move more weight. Glucose will ensure that after 5 repetitions, your body maximizes energy output so you can perform additional repetitions”
The end result is an optimized set which will allow you to move more weight and perform additional repetitions.
For a complete discussion on creatine, see our information page here.
How much creatine to take?
I suggest taking 5 grams of creatine monohydrate 40 minutes prior to weight training.
Here’s a tip: To really get the most out of your creatine pre workout strategy, combine the creatine powder with your pre workout shake which will include plenty of carbohydrates and protein. Personally, I feel creatine works best in a synergistic environment when combines with other nutrients.
After an intense workout, muscles will be depleted of all creatine stores. To kick start the recovery process; add creatine to your post workout strategy. Doing so will help improve muscle energy which will help repair injured muscle tissue.
How much creatine to take?
I suggest taking 5 grams of creatine monohydrate immediately after weight training.
Here’s a tip: Pick up micronized creatine monohydrate powder. Micronized powder mixes a heck of a lot easier than regular powder with other liquids such as juice and water. Include creatine in your post workout drink.
Is caffeine necessary as a pre workout supplement? no it is not necessary. Will it help improve workout performance? Yes, it may help depending on whether or not you’re body can handle the caffeine. Personally, I can’t take caffeine prior to working out. It upsets my stomach (no matter how little I drink) and for some reason, it makes me nauseous after a few intense sets. In addition, I workout at 5 PM and if I have any caffeine at that time, I’m up half the night tossing and turning – Not Good.
However, for some people it can provide a rather large boost in mental focus and energy.
The trick is to take in just the right amount of caffeine which will help with mental focus. However, there is a fine line between improving focus and causing outright nervousness (which you don’t want during a workout). You may have to do a bit of experimenting but generally 200 mgs of caffeine is considered a respectable dose. I suggest starting low (100 mgs) and slowly working your way up to 200 mgs, pre workout.
I suggest drinking 1 cup of tea, 20 minutes prior to working out. Mix with two tablespoons of honey. However, there are other options for caffeine which include caffeine tablets or pre workout supplements. Just a tip: Stay away from sugar based drinks such as red bull. These types of drinks will cause your system to crash midway through your workout.
As for post workout, you don’t need any caffeine.
Last but not least is water. Out of all the pre workout supplements and foods, water is probably the most important since it is the most critical nutrient for growth, development and health. Although water doesn’t provide energy the same way carbohdyrates do it plays a critical role in energy development. Here’s why water is so important as a pre workout nutrient, it acts as a medium for all energy reactions in the body. Without enough water in the body, energy reactions will not be optimized. You can consume all the pre workout gels and drinks you want but if your body is in a dehydrated state, your body won’t optimize the energy conversion. The end result is tiredness and sub-par performance. In addition, water helps form the macrostructures including proteins and glycogen.
Drink at least two to three cups of water pre workout. I suggest drinking water just prior to working out (10 to 15 minutes prior)
Drink at least two cups of water post workout.
The following is a sample pre and post workout strategy that will utilize all the above mentioned tactics in addition to suggested timeframes. You may have to play around with the plan a bit to compensate for your body weight and preferred tastes.
1 ½ hour pre workout
Cook oats in ½ cup of water and ½ cup skim milk over medium heat. Don’t cook over high heat as you will burn the milk and it will froth over the pot. Once the milk and water start to boil, add egg whites and stir until the egg is cooked. Let cook for 5 minutes and add honey. Serve with banana.
45 minutes pre workout
Mix all in a blender until smooth. Drink immediately.
15 to 20 minutes prior to workout
10 minutes prior to workout
Workout – Drink 3 glasses of water during the workout
Immediately after workout
Prior to your workout, mix all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Store in a shaker bottle and take it with you to the gym. Drink immediately in the locker room.
10 minutes after workout (on drive home)
1 - 2 hours after workout
Have a full meal consisting of plenty of carbohydrates (both starchy and fibrous) and a lean protein source. In addition, have a bit of fat with your meal. I suggest cooking with 2 tablespoons of olive oil (this should take care of your fat intake for the post workout). Try this muscle building meal here.
For post workout meal suggests, please see our meals page here.
To get the most from a well laid out pre and post workout strategy, it’s important to remember the following suggestions:
The Goal: To optimize fuel levels (carbohydrates via muscle glycogen stores) in the body. Doing so will drastically improve performance and boost intensity levels.
Strategy: To use a combination of medium and long acting carbohydrate sources taken at the right times (using a staggered approach) to provide mental and physical focus and energy.
The Goal: To optimize the recovery process by immediately providing the body with fast acting carbohydrates and protein.
Strategy: By using a staggered approach to muscle recovery, it is possible to set the stage for optimized recovery from intense workouts. Doing so will help speed up muscle repair. Back to top of page
Remember to keep these strategies in mind when you are organizing your own pre and post workout plan.
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All the best,
As the owner of Building Muscle 101, I am committed to providing you the best practical weight training advice. I've been training for over 24 years (and still train to this day!) and the advice and guidance I provide comes directly from my experience and knowledge.
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