Maximizing your time in the gym really starts in the kitchen with nutrition and nutrition timing. For the average person, when you eat really doesn’t have a whole lot of sound science backing up fat loss or improved over all heath. However, for athletes looking to thrust forward in their training and weekend warriors who may have hit a plateau the timing of your nutrient intake can completely change your game. While there are many different disciplines and sports that can utilize structured nutrition, this article is focused primarily on weight lifting.
Let’s jump in! Who wants to put muscle on? I DO, I DO! Typically speaking, that is the number one reason we throw iron around day in and out. In order to build, we must be in a positive nitrogen balance. Hence, we begin and end with protein —more on the “end” part later. By preloading the system with protein myoglobin, creatine kinase, and myofibrillar protein degradation can be reduced to assist with muscle break down or damage. Proteins generally take a little longer to digest and therefore should be consumed with adequate time to get through your system, especially if there is any fat included with your meal. While protein is the building blocks your carbohydrates are your fuel; both are needed and rely on one another for optimal results. So be sure to combine a little bit of carbohydrates to assist in synthesizing your pre workout protein. And of course be sure your simple carbohydrates are eaten in large enough quantity to provide your workouts with the energy needed to give all you got while making gains. Play with a few variables to find what works for your particular body. Remember, we don’t want to go to the gym with a massively full stomach so keeping an eye on your caloric intake pre-workout will serve you well. Cause who wants to puke at the squat rack right? Here are a few pointers:
Protein– One serving of protein based off of body weight and composition objective (gain or maintain) 2-4 hrs before your workout, depending on your personal metabolic rate and convenience. If you tend to workout in the early morning you may consider eating a full serving of protein just prior to bed. Sleep is of utmost importance and therefor it is not advised that you wake in the middle of the night to eat. Dedicated weightlifters need at least a full 8 hours of uninterrupted rest to recoup and rebuild.
Carbohydrates- Easily digestible “simple” carbs .5 -1 hour prior to lifting.
Fats- While fats provide some vitamins and minerals to aid with lifting there is no research to support fats improving performance prior to working out. Many athletes find that excess fat prior to lifting can actually upset their digestive system and inhibit functioning.
Micros– One hour prior to ingesting your meal be sure to get some iron (may be paired with vitamin C and A for best absorption). Iron helps carry hemoglobin on the cells which help with oxygenation and nutrient delivery and so on.
Nitric Oxide: By elevating plasma nitrates and nitrites athletes can expect to improve cardiovascular ability by increasing blood flow. Consuming nitrate rich foods or supplements that also contain polyphenols may assist with oxidative damage and inflammation caused by the intense muscular activity. Absorption can range depending on metabolic rate, but athletes usually range between 20 minutes and 2 hours pre-workout in order to receive maximum benefit during their lifting session.
Creatine: The go BIG supplement with the most science behind it has made its way into many pre-workout supplement blends for good reason. This naturally occurring compound helps supply energy to muscles for short bursts of heavy use. For most people, if taken 20-30 minutes prior to your session it should hit your system in time to help you through your lifts. I recommend cycling your creatine in 3-6 week cycles to help maximize your efforts and to be most cost effective.
Beta-alanine: This amino acid, which converts to carnosine, can help extend time to fatigue and improve endurance by providing an intramuscular buffer against lactic acid accumulation. Again, 20-30 minutes prior.
Betaine: Cellular hydration has been shown to increase total repetitions and volume load while supporting increased power and force in resistance exercise. 20-30 minutes prior.
Taurine: This particular amino acid is an important factor in improving performance and protecting against oxidative stress in your workout. 20-30 minutes prior.
Outside of these general guidelines, there are many variables that will help determine what will be most effective for each individual such as body type -ectomorph, endomorph, or mesomorph-, life style, schedule, physiological, psychological, and emotional state, and of course your end goal. Therefor you will need to remain the scientist and test subject while you figure out what is going to work for your particular body and desired way of life. But just as a way to demonstrate what these suggestions may look like in practice allow me to give you an example.
Monty is a weight lifter who is in the “gaining phase” of his periodized schedule. He drags his 220 lb butt to the gym in the late morning 6 days a week. Upon rising on his lifting days he takes his iron and vitamin C fasted for maximum absorption. At 5:30/6:00 AM Monty eats a small protein rich meal, like 2-3 eggs and a few ounces (maybe 6 oz depending on how hungry he feels) of lean meat and drinks copious amounts of water. Once 7:30 rolls around he eats a piece of fruit or whole grain toast with peanut butter and honey. He washes all that down with a well formulated pre-workout drink that has all thee necessary additives to assist with muscle hypertrophy -mentioned above. On the days he chooses to do circuit work or super set he makes sure to consume his nitric oxide supplement on his way out the door so that when 8:00 rolls around he is ready to get warmed up for a big lift day.
And there you have it, all the macros and micros are in line with enough time to absorb and be utilized to meet the demands at hand to accomplish the goal in mind.