You have probably been told from a very young age that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. While that does hold quite a bit of truth, it isn’t necessarily the case for bodybuilders or anyone who trains hard on a consistent daily basis. The act of your training session itself is extremely important and how you perform within that training session will ultimately determine your fate. So the question then becomes, how do you ensure that you will always have an intensity fueled work out conducive to gains? Well, the answer to that questions lies within your pre-workout nutrition.
Pre-workout nutrition encompasses three of your meals for the day; your pre-workout meal, your intra-workout meal and your post-workout meal. Each meal should be specifically designed to give you what you need at specific times in and around your training. If you have yet to pay attention to these finer details of your nutrition, here are some great ideas pertaining to food choices and timing within each of these meals.
Pre-Workout Meal (approximately 1 hour before training)
What you eat leading up to your workout is what is really going to provide you with the fuel you need to kill it in the gym. Muscle energy comes via muscle glycogen stores and these stores are replenished and filled up every time you eat a healthy balanced meal. Assuming that you are always eating healthy and often, your pre-workout meal could be looked at as a way of simply topping up your energy stores and providing your body with immediate energy to get the workout going prior to you dipping into your energy stores later on in the workout. At about an hour out, maybe even a little more than that, you should have a nice whole food meal that consists of a good carbohydrate source such as rice or potatoes, a quality protein source such as steak and then maybe some avocado for a great healthy fats energy source. By consuming this meal you will be providing your body with more than enough energy to get through a workout. If this type of meal isn’t an option for you, I have also used, with great success, a pre-workout shake that consists of a whey protein isolate powder, some oatmeal and a tablespoon of natural peanut butter. Again this covers all of your energy needs but is more convenient.
Intra-Workout Meal (consumed during the workout)
The intra-workout meal is something that has been around for a few years now but is still very new to people. The idea behind this meal is to feed your body while it is working, while the muscle tissue is getting broken down and while you are asking your body to perform extraordinary feats of strength. By doing so not only are you providing another energy source for your body to use to help you train at an elevated rate of intensity, but also so that you can initiate the recovery process immediately versus waiting until you are done training. Many trainers have found that by incorporating this meal into their protocols, they experience less post workout muscle soreness, are able to train the same muscle much sooner than normal and have great energy when in the gym. If this sounds like something you may be interested in trying, you are going to want to bring your shaker cup with you out on the gym floor that has some amino acids in it, a fast acting carb source such as highly branched cyclic dextrin or glucose powder, some creatine and other products that help increase the pump such as citrulline malate or agmatine sulfate.
Post-Workout Meal (approximately an hour after you train)
The post-workout meal has always been considered to be the most important meal of the day for a bodybuilder because it is the time when you should be consuming nutrients that will repair the damage you’ve done to your muscles while training. You may have even heard about the “anabolic window” at one time or another which referred to the time after the workout when your muscles were supposed to be like sponges waiting to soak up anything you ate to help them grow. Again, this does hold some truth but maybe not to the degree it was once thought only by virtue of the introduction of the intra-workout meal. In any case, if you still believe the post-workout meal to be the most important (I still believe it to be of tremendous importance but value all three meals the same), you should be aiming to consume this meal within the hour after your workout. I say within the hour because you’ve had your intra-workout meal and have been feeding your body the whole time so it’s not like you’re starving or anything. You can have a shake here if you want that contains some whey isolate and more sugar but I like the idea of having a whole food meal here that consists of readily absorbed foods such as white rice or potatoes, chicken or fish with a hearty serving of green vegetables. You’ll want to stay away from fats at this point as ingesting fats can slow down the absorption of the carbs and proteins you’re eating and you don’t want that in the post-workout meal.
Like anything, you have to prepare to be great and you have to have a plan in place and then stick to it. Peri-workout nutrition is crucial if you plan on making any significant gains. So lace up your Max Bodybuilding Shoes, head on out to the grocery store, buy the foods that will support your efforts in the gym and grow like you’ve never grown before.
Written by Dana Bushell
Dana Bushell (BAHK, BEd) has been actively involved in the bodybuilding and fitness industry for over 17 years. As a former provincial level bodybuilder, Dana has taken his knowledge of training and nutrition and has applied that to his contest prep coaching and teaching of strength and conditioning principles. Dana works as a high school Physical Education teacher and is sponsored by AST Sports Science and Schiek Sports Inc.