How to Optimize Your Pre and Post Workout Nutrition – Part 1
Your nutrition is 80% of the battle.
The foods you eat and when you eat them can make the difference between building muscle, looking defined and having a lot of energy and staying small, weak and feeling tired all the time. In part one of this blog post series I’m going to be talking specifically about pre workout nutrition and what you should be eating before you work out.
The three most common (and self explanatory) times to train in a day are: the morning, midday and evening with variations of that being the case for people who train early before work or late in the evening after leaving the office. Lets consider why pre-workout nutrition matters.
Why Pre-Workout Nutrition Matters
Pre-workout nutrition affects your:
+ energy levels
+ muscle gain
Each of these three variables are strongly linked to one another. Feeling fatigued and lethargic means you won’t be as strong in the gym. Not being able to lift as much weight on bench press means you won’t build as much muscle. Your energy levels, strength and muscle gain are strongly correlated, so you have to get this right. Get it wrong and you’ll find yourself walking into the gym feeling lethargic, lifting 50% of the weight you usually lift and having low quality, ineffective workouts.
What Should Good Pre-Workout Nutrition Do?
Good pre-workout nutrition should do the following: energize you for the upcoming workout, focus your attention on lifting the weight with correct technique and cause sufficient muscular fatigue for future muscle size and strength gains. It should also provide you with enough calories so that you don’t have to worry about consuming a meal straight away after you train, since this is often not possible for guys who are going straight to work or have other activities going on straight after the gym. After all, total calorie intake and being in a calorie surplus is what matters most for skinny guys looking to build muscle and gain weight.
How to Optimize Your Pre-Workout Nutrition- The 3 Scenarios
I’ve separated the following information into three sections based on when you usually train on a typical day. I highly recommend reading all three sections since life can get in the way sometimes and we (myself included) can’t always train at our preferred time during the day. But, feel free to just read the section that is most relevant for you and your typical training routine.
1) Training in the morning
Before I start talking about what you need to be eating specifically, I must remind you of the overall most important determining factor of muscle gain: your total calorie intake. This time of the day is when you need to be consuming as many calories as possible without feeling bloated and an uncomfortable fullness that often comes with consuming a large quantity of food in one sitting.
This means that you need to be having a high fat diet. Fat is the most energy dense macro nutrient, meaning it contains a lot of energy/calories per gram. This means you don’t need a large quantity of it to get a lot of calories and energy. This is awesome for a few reasons. Firstly, you can consume a large portion of your total calories for the day first thing in the morning. Secondly, you can consume a lot of calories without the typical bloating and uncomfortable feeling of fullness that often comes with the same quantity of carbs and protein in one sitting. Thirdly, and more related to the topic of this blog post series, you will have a lot of energy before your morning workouts. This means you can start your morning workouts feeling energized without the typical bloating and fullness that comes with high carb or high protein breakfasts in the morning.
Some of the best high fat foods you can have include peanut butter, almonds, cheese, avocado and eggs. I have provided an even more detailed list of the best high fat foods that need to be in your shopping list. You need to avoid protein in the morning because it’s very satiating/filling. This is disastrous if you struggle to eat enough food to stay in a calorie surplus for muscle gain. As for carbs, when you eat carbs you spike insulin in the blood. This causes the release of melatonin, your sleep hormone. This is why you often feel sleepy after having a lot of carbs in the morning. This is the last thing you want at 7am in the morning before hitting the gym, so these must be avoided at all costs.
2) Training in the afternoon
If you prefer to train in the afternoon then I’m going to split this section up into two time periods: 12-2pm and 2pm-4pm. This is purely and simply so we can be more specific with what you should be doing. If you train between 12 and 2pm then you, similarly to the type of trainee above, need a high fat breakfast for the reasons already outlined above. However, if you train between 2 and 4pm a bit later on in the day then your strategy is a bit different. If you typically train between these times then you need a moderate carb and moderate protein midday meal. Specifically, you should have between 50-100g of carbs from low glycemic carbs including oats, pasta, wholegrain bread, rice and potatoes. The reason why you should no more than 100g carbs at midday is because you want to minimize your insulin spike to avoid fat gain.
The same reasoning applies for having low glycemic carbs rather than high glycemic carbs. The lower the glycemic index of a food, the lower the insulin spike and the more stable your blood sugar levels throughout the day. 50-100g of low glycemic carbs will provide you with enough energy for high quality, effective workouts without risking spikes in the fat-storing hormone insulin and sudden drops in blood sugar levels (and your energy levels)) that are so typical in guys throughout the day. As for protein, anywhere between 50-100g is great. This will spike muscle protein synthesis, the very important muscle building process. If you typically struggle to eat enough protein by the end of the day then I recommend being more conservative with your protein intake at midday and sticking to 50g. You can then consume the rest of your protein intake (which will be between 75-125g for most guys) in the evening before you go to bed. Feeling bloated from a large quantity of protein at this time of the day doesn’t matter, since you’re going to bed and will be sleeping for a few hours anyway.
3) Training in the evening
Similar to the above with guys who train in the afternoon, I will split this section up into two time periods: 5-8pm and 8-11pm. If you train between 5 and 8pm then you need to follow the same strategy as guys who train between 2 and 4pm. Your midday meal needs to contain a moderate amount of carbs and protein for the reasons already mentioned above. As for guys who train later in the evening between 8 and 11pm, you should have your last meal of the day 1-2 hours before you work out. Again this meal should be a combination of carbs and protein. You should have between 150-200g of carbs in your evening meal to replenish depleted muscle glycogen (glycogen is simply the word used for stored carbs in your muscles) and your protein intake depends on how much protein you consume at midday. If you’re more conservative with your protein intake at midday for the reason mentioned in the previous section, then make sure your evening meal is high in protein. Aim for between 75-125g of protein in your evening meal. If you were more liberal with your protein intake at midday, then just make sure you “top up” in the evening so you hit your total protein intake for the day.
After you’ve worked out it will be quite late in the evening. A lot of guys will eat their evening meal at 11 or 12pm at night. The big problem with this is that you’ll struggle to consume a high fat breakfast the next morning, the most important meal of the day for making sure you consume the amount of calories your body needs for muscle gain by the end of the day. If you have anything, have a high protein snack such as a protein bar or a protein supplement. Whey protein is fine and it’s very cheap too for guys who are on a budget. A supplement brand I highly recommend is MyProtein. They offer a wide range of very affordable, yet high quality, protein supplements. Be sure to check them out.
Further Reading On Nutrition:
I recently wrote a blog on when to eat your carbs– this goes into even more detail about why shouldn’t eat carbs at certain times of the day and when you should eat them instead.
Another blog post I’ve written outlines the best foods for hard gainers– this outlines in detail, almost like a shopping list, the best foods for making sure you consume your calorie intake requirements every day.
If you’re wanting to know exactly how many calories you need and the right macro split for muscle gain, then you’ll be very interested in my personalised meal plans. Check them out here: