You need to know what works for you to get the most out of pre and post workout nutrition.
Post workout nutrition makes a huge difference on your ability to recover, get better, feel good and rest properly. Everyone is different, so use the following guidelines to plan your pre and post workout nutrition strategy. Please take notes on how you feel and how you perform as it relates to a nutrition strategy. Keeping a training journal is a good idea, but nothing in here is set in stone. You are a freaking awesome machine with components that vary immensely from the person next to you. You have to tinker with these things to know what is best for you. These guidelines are heavily based on OPT which I found to be the best overall approach to pre and post workout nutrition out there. I finished the article by asking a few trainers what they do for pre and post workout nutrition.
Body Fat %
Big fat cells have a higher disposition for toxins, so people with a higher relative fat cell profile have a tough time detoxifying if you burn fat. You can’t just lose body fat by “exercising more.” Higher body fat also makes it hard for your body to use carbohydrates efficiently. Over stressing yourself in exercise causes adrenal glands to stress your system. You must transition to lower body fat over time and with proper paleo/primal nutrition habits. Body fat in mid section is worse than evenly distributed body fat all over your body. Bottom line: Higher body fat % will have low tolerance for carbs post workout, so eat LESS carbs post workout and go for a normal (paleo/primal) meal that stabilizes blood sugar. Lower body fat % (~10% male, ~14% female) can tolerate carbs and increased absorption and can eat a carb source post workout.
Men have more lean mass than women, so they can generally eat more carbs post workout. Women don’t necessarily respond as well as men. Lean men can use a starting carb range of 50 to 100 grams, lean women can use a starting range of 25 to 40 grams.
Training Age (How “Experienced” Are You?)
It’s the intensity relative to the time domain you are doing exercise. Sorry, doing long slow distance is not a change of intensity, it’s a homeostasis. The more training aged you are, the less capable you are of absorbing and using carbs post workout. If you trained for 5-6+ years, you have a higher disposition to tax your central nervous system (more intensity), so you get a high anabolic response. Be aware that adrenal overload of 5+ weekly training sessions and/or a stressful lifestyle, especially for women, will harm your ability to maintain lean body mass and will produce more fat.
Type of Training
Understand the difference between a Central Nervous System Stimulant and a Cellular Breakdown workout. The former looks like our strength training components, the latter looks like a standard CrossFit WOD. You should eat more protein for a CNS Stimulate workout and more carbs for a cellular breakdown workout. We often mix it up, so each day is a little different and plan your post nutrition strategy accordingly.
Different types of food have different absorption levels. Listen to your body and see how you feel. Find what works. If you are exploding on the toilet or feeling sick to your stomach, then something is wrong.
Cellular breakdown: T-3 to 4 Hours: Fast prior to a workout to avoid digestion process in the gut. Don’t be afraid of being hungry, just TRY it. You have plenty of energy saved up for the workout.
CNS Stimulant: You can eat as close as you can to the workout, so long as it doesn’t mess up your insulin levels.
Real Work Trainer Pre/Post Workout Nutrition
Pre-Workout Meal (if any) and why: Ideally I’ll work out on an empty stomach. On a heavy lifting day I might have some protein beforehand. If it’s a longer met-con day I might have a bite of fruit beforehand.
Post-Workout Meal (if any and multiple descriptions if you do more than 1) and why: I almost always try to get a good mix of protein and carbs right after working out. On a heavy lifting day I’ll emphasize protein in the meal (meats, eggs, fish), and if it’s a longer met-con day I’ll add more carbs (sweet potatoes, fruit). A go-to smoothie for me has been raw milk, protein powder, BCAA’s, and creatine.
Pre-Workout Meal: usually none. I don’t really want to puke. Unless it’s a pure strength day, then I eat nuts or nut butter and often even bring food with me to eat between lifts (sweet potato or protein shake or more nuts)… and lots of water. If it’s a hot day and the workout involves a lot of cardio I will sometimes drink coconut water beforehand to hydrate.
Post-Workout Meal: Either a sweet potato or a protein shake (whey protein, coconut milk, banana, frozen blueberries). I like the shake aspect because sometimes after a hard workout it is difficult to stomach actual food, and this way I can take advantage of my post workout 30 minute window to get protein and carbohydrates in my body. Oh, and lots of water.
Note, these eating habits are geared toward maintaining my current bodyweight at around 162 lbs. If I was trying to gain weight, my carbohydrate intake would be even higher, as would my post-workout fat intake. For weight-gain eating habits, see the blog: benandforneygetfat.
Pre-Workout: sometimes I train fasted (i.e. 16-18 hours since last meal); most of the time, I eat 1-2 hours prior to training. The meal is Paleo+dairy: roughly 6-8 blocks protein (from eggs, whey, and/or dairy), 4 blocks carbohydrates (from fruit and lactose); 20-24 blocks fat (from olive oil, nut butter, and/or avocado). Supplement with one multivitamin and 2 grams of fish oil.
Post-Workout: I always do my best to eat within 30-60 minutes of completing a workout. The meal is typically Paleo+dairy, but I will allow a fast-food meal once every week or two. If I’m making my own post-training meal, it is in smoothie form: 6-8 blocks protein, 6-12 blocks carbs (from frozen fruit and honey), zero blocks fat. If I’m fast-fooding it, I get, either a Chris Long sub from Little Johns or I go to Wendy’s and get a Double Baconator and a small Frostie. Either way, the goal is to consume a very large meal, rich in protein and carbohydrates. Supplement with 2-4 grams of fish oil. Recently I’ve been experimenting with taking 9 grams of branched chain amino acids along with my post-workout meal.
Pre-Workout: I can’t train totally fasted. I think I have a higher tolerance for carbs than most people. I typically eat a fruit or a high glycemic carb source pre-workout. I do like having a coffee about 30 minutes before any kind of workout.
Post-Workout: I eat within 5 minutes of finishing a workout. Typically, that’s 40 to 100 grams of carbs, 30 to 30 grams of protein, usually in a milk + protein mix or chocolate milk. I do cycle through a creatine phase every few months and I take it usually with my post workout meal.
I don’t have a set pre-workout meal, although I’m happier on an empty stomach than a full one. Post-wod is almost always a protein shake (protein powder + milk) or some large amount of protein + carbs (like a big cheeseburger or something).