When it comes to optimizing body composition, one of the key areas I see men struggle with is prioritizing their performance. In most cases, the primary objective is to get as lean as possible while improving muscle definition.
But, what usually happens is a quick drop in weight in the first few weeks, which is generally due to a reduction in carbohydrate intake, and once they believe they have stalled any further progress, one of two things tend to happen:
- A further reduction in calories via less consumption of carbohydrates.
- A further increase in energy output via cardiovascular based activities, some form of HIIT, or an increase in resistance training days.
This is the downfall for most guys. It is what starts to impact their trainability. Their recoverability exceeds the amount of stress required for stimulation. They simply cannot recover from the amount of work they do.
When I deal with guys like this, they are eating fairly balanced meals during their day, but the biggest issue I see is that there is no structured nutrition intake around the most crucial part of their day, which is where they need to perform their workout.
It’s like showing up to Tuesday night footy practice in nothing but your school uniform and clunky black school shoes. Sure, you are wearing clothes and shoes, and you are at training, but without your training gear, are you going to be able to perform well enough? Take it from a retired international and professional rugby player; it’s a struggle.
Now, your resistance training (RT) is there to trigger a response in the body, a reaction that signals anabolic reactions with a primary focus surrounding muscle protein synthesis (MPS), provided enough effort and demand are being placed on the muscles while training. MPS is a process that repairs muscle damage caused by intense exercise and activity. It repairs and strengthens the muscle fibers.
While a nutrient-driven stimulation of MPS can be seen, it doesn’t compare to the prolonged stimulation via resistance training, MPS can be prolonged even beyond 24 hours after a single exercise session.1
Right, so RT = > More time being spent with MPS switched on = more time being spent in a heightened recovery, repair, and growth state.
The Shortcomings Of Nutrition
We want to optimize the rest of our nutritional intake so that we can:
- Maximize the time spent in a recover and repair state.
- Improve our performance and the quality of work in our training (at the very least maintain it).
When we talk about organizing a peri-workout nutrition strategy, we are referring to your pre, intra, and post-workout nutritional intake.
This will allow your physique to develop and continue to push through any obstacles that stand in your way while dropping body fat effortlessly.
Basically, how can we organize these specific periods in time to better aid in our performance and goal through the timing of nutrients?
So let’s see what the evidence suggests by breaking things down into the individual meal and macronutrient requirements. Let’s begin with the pre-workout.
The Role Of Pre-Workout Nutrition
Pre-workout means the consumption of nutrients within a 3-hour radius of your scheduled training time. This feeding time is to help provide the body with the fuel needed for training.
Consuming protein before your scheduled workout is incredibly important to make sure that you have a sufficient amount of amino acids in the bloodstream, especially if you have not already consumed any protein for the day or have missed a meal.
Now, I must remind you that the most important factor in protein consumption is your daily intake. There is no point in being obsessed with nutrient timing if you haven’t got the basics down when it comes to the nutrition fundamentals.
When it comes to physique development and nutrition, we want to make sure we are maximizing our MPS.
Maximizing the anabolic effect of protein dosing per meal involves a target of 0.4-0.55g/kg.2, 3Total daily protein for accomplishing this goal is 1.6-2.2g/kg (0.7-1.0g/lb).2, 3
Everyone benefits from pre workout protein. Regardless, if your goal is physique oriented or not, protein plays a vital role in all aspects of life. Don’t be stupid. Eat your protein.
The Role Of Pre-Workout Carbs
The pre-workout meal is all about providing the fuel you will need for training. Something worth mentioning is that there has been a large body of evidence showing similar rates of fat loss between high-carb and low-carb diets when calories and protein match.4
Since most guys tend to reduce their carbohydrate intake drastically, this just shows that as long as you are within an energy deficit, fat loss will occur.
But, by prioritizing the timing of our high-energy carbohydrates, we will be able to do the one thing required of us, that is, to perform. This will also help in the preservation of muscle mass and create higher energy expenditure.
Now when we look at carbohydrates and performance, your body stores carbs in muscle. This stored glycogen is the primary fuel source in high-intensity exercise.5 Consuming carbohydrates pre-workout will also support better muscle contractions due to higher levels of glucose in the bloodstream.
However, as you move further and further into your fat loss journey, the more crucial this becomes, as this could be the difference in your ability to perform at a high enough level of intensity that may be required of you. It is also crucial at providing great workouts and greater pumps. Let’s be honest; no one will say no to getting a nice pump.
Since we know there is no need to remove the carbohydrates from our diet, and you are performing resistance training, then it would make sense to consume carbohydrates, especially if you want the best fat loss result possible.
Let me reiterate that consuming carbohydrates before exercise:
- Aids in performance and recovery – Most people may think that you only need carbs for more endurance-based exercise (two hours or more) when they also happen to benefit short term (60 minutes or more) from high-intensity training. So, if you plan on working out at a high level of intensity, make sure you eat those carbs.
- Muscle and liver glycogen preservation – Carbs are a protein-sparing nutrient, meaning, if carbs aren’t available, your body won’t start utilizing its muscle tissue for energy without them. This is why carbs are so important to consume within your dietary intake, especially if you want to preserve or build muscle.
- Stimulates the release of insulin – The combination of protein with carbs can improve our protein synthesis response and prevents protein degradation.
The Role Of Pre-Workout Fats
Fats before exercise is not a necessity, nor do you need to remove them altogether. Despite what you may hear, fats are not the best option when it comes to performance. Increasing performance is literally what carbohydrates do.
Fats simply don’t have any significant effect on how you perform, but what they can do is provide your body with vitamins and minerals while also helping slow the digestion of food. Which, in turn, can help maintain blood glucose and insulin levels.
The addition of fats in your pre-workout meal is a wise decision, especially if your meal is closer to the three-hour mark before you are going to train. Fats are more critical on a daily intake spectrum, but as I said, you don’t need to leave them altogether out when considering your pre and post-workout meals.
Guidelines To Structure Your Pre-Workout Nutrition
- Aim to consume a whole food meal with a complete protein, a high energy carbohydrate, and if training 2-3 hours later, a serving of fat–especially if you experience low blood sugar levels during an intense workout.
- If time is an issue, make use of a fast-acting whey protein combined with an easily digested carbohydrate source so that you can make sure you have something in the tank.
- For most men, anywhere between 25-40g of protein, 30-60g of carbohydrates, and 10-15g of fat is sufficient.
Example Meal Options:
- Chicken breast, white potatoes, 1 serving of a water-based vegetable, avocado.
- Chocolate whey protein isolate, oats, banana, nut butter with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
The Role Of Intra-Workout Nutrition
Intra-workout definition: the consumption of nutrients during your training session.
The use of a protein and carb supplement during training can provide additional energy while aiding fatigue and support your body to continue using carbs as fuel.
Don’t get too excited just yet; what this ultimately comes down to is the duration, amount of volume, and intensity of your training sessions.
If you are not training any longer than 60 minutes at a high intensity with high volume, then you won’t be needing any additional carbs during training.
Instead, we can save our carbs for post-workout where they can aid recovery, blunting the cortisol response after the session. A simple essential amino acid (EAA) and electrolyte blend will be fine.
However, you will want to be adding some quality muscle to your frame once you’ve sculpted that lean and muscular body, so I will give you the rundown of how we can use our intra-workout nutrition when it comes to building muscle.
When muscle growth is a priority, during training, the combination of EAA’s + highly-branched cyclic dextrin (HBCD) is a powerful addition to your intra-workout.
With essential amino acids being very easily digested, throw in some HBCD, and you will see an improvement in the absorption of amino acids to your skeletal muscle.6
This triggers muscle protein synthesis and promotes growth. There are studies now showing an increase in cross-sectional muscle tissue in trainee’s that supplement with this combination.
The effect of EAAs + HBCD will be at its highest efficiency intra-workout when your blood is pumping thanks to your workout.
Remember, intra-workout carbs may not always be necessary. If you plan on training for more than an hour with a high amount of intensity and volume, then it may be a good idea to use intra-workout carbs.
Guidelines to Structure Your Intra-Workout Nutrition
- For sessions lasting less than 60 minutes: 1-2 servings of EAA + electrolyte blend (typically 10-20g).
- For sessions lasting more than 60 minutes: 1-2 servings of EAA + electrolyte blend, one serving of HBCD (typically 20-30g).
- For those seeking muscle growth: 1 serving EAA + electrolyte blend, two servings of HBCD.
The Role Of Post-Workout Nutrition
The consumption of nutrients after you have completed your training session fills the role of post-workout nutrition. This meal should be eaten within a 1-3 hour timeframe after your workout.
The focus of the post-workout meal is to bring down the cortisol (stress) response from resistance training, begin the recovery & repair process while avoiding time being spent in a catabolic state.
After your workout the body’s insulin sensitivity is high, meaning it’s ready to make use of the carbohydrates in this meal by replenishing glycogen levels without shifting much of this energy into a fat cell, another reason why this is such a powerful period – wait, so I can expect to gain a rapid amount of muscle in this window?
No, not necessarily, because it’s less likely your body will partition the calories consumed as fat instead of muscle.
The Role Of Post-Workout Protein
Remember, training both increases protein synthesis and protein breakdown. Consuming protein in this window can further aid in promoting a positive nitrogen balance, which is needed for recovery, repair, and growth.
Since most guys tend not to meet their daily protein requirements, a useful strategy is to consume a post-workout shake within 30 minutes after training giving you time to relax before consuming a whole food meal within 1-2 hours after this.
The same protein guidelines from our pre-workout should be met. You can, however, just shoot for 20-40 g of high-quality protein after training in the form of whey protein isolate. This can be repeated every 3-5 hours to sustain protein synthesis7 maximally.
In your whole food meal, make sure you are consuming a complete protein source like lean red or white meat, fish, eggs, or a combination.
The Role Of Post-Workout Carbs
This meal should contain the highest amount of carbohydrates in any of your meals throughout the day. We have already established that your body’s insulin sensitivity and partitioning of nutrients is high, but that doesn’t mean you can just eat everything in the kitchen.
Something I always like to remind my clients of is the phrase earn your carbs, meaning make sure you have put in the effort during training so that you can truly enjoy the benefits of this high carb meal.
Also, our post-workout carbohydrates help increase intramuscular glycogen storage, which is known to reduce recovery times.8
Also, it’s worth mentioning post-exercise carbohydrates could lead to an enhanced muscle protein synthesis response through the insulin-mediated activation of Akt/mTORC1 pathway, and reductions in cortisol and muscle protein breakdown.9
The number of carbohydrates within this meal can vary based on personal preference and the amount you have to play with on a day to day basis.
Since a 3g/kg of body weight is a good starting point when it comes to your daily intake, I like to shoot for 50% of my daily intake with my post-workout meal.10
For example, an 80kg male would be aiming at 240g of carbohydrates for their daily intake, which would mean 120g of carbohydrates being placed in their post-workout meal. Place the remainder of the 120g of carbohydrates in the other meals throughout their day.
The Role Of Post-Workout Fats
Since we know fats are not necessary within our pre-workout, then it should come as no surprise that they are also not necessary for our post-workout meal.
Since our physique development is a priority, it may be wise to restrict dietary fat in your post-exercise meal. Based on the current body of evidence, I would advise limiting dietary fat content to 10g or below.11
On top of this, it is also worth mentioning that findings have also suggested that post-exercise high-fat feeding may impair regulation of skeletal muscle remodeling processes and suppress anabolic activity.12
Guidelines to Structure Your Post-Workout Nutrition
- If you struggle at hitting your daily protein requirements, consume a post-workout WPI shake containing 20-40g of protein.
- Consume your post-workout meal within 1-3 hours post-exercise containing a compete protein source suited towards our initial per meal protein guidelines of 0.4-0.55g/kg of body weight combined with 50% of your total daily carb intake.
- Limit your fat intake to 10 g or below.
Example Meal Options:
- Red meat, jasmine rice, and capsicum.
- Turkey breast, pasta, and spinach.
A Few Additional Recommendations
Simplify your protein feedings by spacing them evenly throughout your day. Try to hit the minimal requirements in your pre-workout meal. Remember, the food you consume will take hours to digest, so listen to how your body feels with the size of the meals you eat before you train.
I know my personal preference is to have a medium-sized meal as I do not like feeling too full before training but, also, I do not like feeling too hungry either.
Fats slow down the digestive process, so be mindful of this as you don’t want to attack the barbell feeling overly full. The further out from your workout, you are, the more acceptable fats are in this meal.
Choose quick, easily digestible carbs like rice, cream of rice, oats, and potatoes to use in your pre and post-exercise meals.
There is an inverse relationship between carb + fat-based meals. When consuming a high carb meal, there should be low-fat content. When consuming a low carb meal, there should be a higher fat content.
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10. Hall, K D, et al. “A review of the carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity.” European journal of clinical nutrition vol. 71,3 (2017): 323-326.
11. Stephens FB, Chee C, Wall BJ, et al. “Lipid-induced insulin resistance is associated with an impaired skeletal muscle protein synthetic response to amino acid ingestion in healthy young men.” Diabetes. 2015;64(5):1615-1620.
12. Kimball SR, Ravi S, Gordon BS, Dennis MD, Jefferson LS. “Amino acid-induced activation of mTORC1 in rat liver is attenuated by short-term consumption of a high-fat diet.” J Nutri. 2015;145(11):2496-2502.