Peri-Workout Nutrition for Strength Performance

Aaand I’m back!

If you aren’t friends with me on Facebook or Twitter (add me!), you may have been wondering where I’ve been this past week. Well, I recently came to the brilliant conclusion that I needed a vacation so I took last week off of all things work related including writing, researching, and answering e-mails.

Mind you, I wasn’t being a lazy bum as my schedule was jam packed and I was literally on-the-go for the entire week. To give you a brief overview, during my time off:

  • I traveled to Long Island to compete in a Powerlifting meet. The competition went relatively well as I weighed in at 132lbs and hit a new Deadlift PR of 415lbs.
  • I traveled to Philadelphia, NYC, and Boston to hang out (read: eat and drink) with Dick Talens of Fitocracy, Sohee Lee of Sohee Lee Fitness, Derek and David of Greatist, two of my best friends David and Eli, and, of course, my lovely mother 🙂
  • And I got a fantastic job for this coming summer in which I’ll be working as a Madrich (counselor/tour guide) with young teenagers on a 5-week expedition throughout all of Israel. I actually have some very exciting news regarding what I have in store for this website while working abroad, but I’ll save that information for a post in the near future.

All in all, it was great week!

Anyway, enough about me. Today I want to discuss a commonly misunderstood yet very important aspect of performance:

Peri-workout Nutrition

Peri-workout nutrition, while it may sound fancy and complicated, can be simply defined as the food an individual eats before, during, and/or after training.

The concept of peri-workout nutrition is based on the idea that strategically providing the body with certain nutrients around periods of stress (i.e. working out and/or competition) will optimize performance, recovery, and various training adaptations.

Considering its relative importance, peri-workout nutrition is among the most highly debated topics within the fitness industry. Fortunately for us, however, Alan Aragon has dug through all of the existing research and covered it extensively in his monthly research review.

Based on Alan’s findings and my personal experiences, below I discuss the essentials of peri-workout nutrition and how to use them to your advantage.

However, before I provide any recommendations, I want to clarify who this article is for by establishing a clear goal:

Establishing a Goal

What constitutes “optimal” peri-workout nutrition is largely based on the individual and their specific goals, needs, and preferences. What works best for a marathon runner likely won’t apply to a Powerlifter, and what works best for a Powerlifter may not be ideal for a figure competitor.

As such, we must first establish a goal which we aim to achieve through our training and nutrition.  Per the title, this article will focus on the improvement of strength-performance. However, as I place an emphasis on strength with all clients, I consider fat loss and mass gain subsets of strength-performance as well.

Therefore, if your goals fall into one of the three categories below, this article may apply to you:

  1. Strength Performance (i.e. Powerlifting, Olympic Lifting, General Strength Gain)
  2. Fat Loss
  3. Mass Gain

Now that we’ve established a goal and understand for whom this article is intended, let’s cover several of the most common myths associated with peri-workout nutrition

  • Meal Timing

I assume most of us are familiar with the period of time following a training session in which our bodies are primed and ready to most efficiently use the nutrients we provide it. For the broffessors among us, this time frame is more commonly referred to as the anabolic window.

It has been claimed that this anabolic window only lasts for a mere 1-2 hours following a workout, prompting numerous fitness gurus to adamantly state a post-workout meal must be consumed immediately after training lest our muscles fall off and vanish…never to be seen again….

In case you didn’t catch my sarcasm, the length and relative importance of this anabolic window tends to be drastically over exaggerated.

Is there an ideal time to eat post-workout? Yes.

Is the post-workout time period unique in that the body is more readily able to use incoming nutrients to build muscle? Yes.

However, research shows this anabolic window lasts for up to 24 hours post-workout.

As such, while it’s undoubtedly important to supply your body with the proper nutrients (discussed later) following a workout, there is little need to stress or inconvenience yourself in order to eat immediately after training.

Instead, the main priority of most people’s diet should be to consistently hit their calorie and protein requirements in any 24-hour time period. In other words, consistently provide your body with what it needs on a daily basis and peri-workout nutrition will become or less arbitrary.

  •  Protein Intake

The importance of an adequate protein intake, particularly for individuals trying to improve strength-performance and/or body composition, cannot be overstated.

For the sake of brevity I won’t discuss each individual benefit protein has to offer, rather suffice to say that protein is necessary for optimal performance, function, and recovery.

Of course, there are numerous myths regarding protein intake and its effects on health and performance, two of which I will briefly discuss below:

  • Myth: You can only absorb 20-25g of protein per meal

I’m not entirely sure how or where this myth originated but, as this study clearly demonstrates, it is completely and utterly false.

Recent research on Intermittent Fasting also de-bunked this myth when participants actually showed improvements in body composition with less frequent feedings of higher protein intakes each day.

Science aside, from an evolutionary perspective, the presumption that our bodies can only absorb a small amount of protein at any one time is exceptionally short-sighted. If our ancestors, who would frequently go through periods of fasting and feasting, could only digest 20-25g of protein per sitting, we likely would have died out many years ago.

In short, don’t worry about “wasting” or peeing out excess protein;  the more protein you eat, the longer it will take to digest.

  • Myth: Too much protein is harmful for the kidneys

The longstanding belief that high protein diets are harmful to the kidneys in healthy individuals has been proven to be inaccurate time and time again.

If an individual has pre-existing kidney problems a high protein intake may in fact be detrimental to her/his health. However, in healthy individuals, higher protein intakes have not been shown to cause a decline in kidney function.

Generally speaking, getting roughly 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight on a daily basis is a safe and effective recommendation.

  • Carbohydrate Intake

It is frequently suggested that [extremely] high carbohydrate intakes are necessary for optimal performance. Interestingly, however, the vast majority of research concerning peri-workout nutrition and performance has been carried out on endurance athletes.

Considering the obvious and significant differences in energy requirements and fuel utilization between endurance and strength athletes, it’s rather difficult to create definitive nutritional guidelines for optimal strength performance based on the results of these studies.

In spite of this, a large number of professionals firmly advocate high carbohydrate intakes around strength training for improved energy/performance and a faster rate of glycogen resynthesis.

Without going into excruciating detail I’ll discuss each of these issues individually:

  • Myth: Improved Energy/Performance

Numerous authorities claim high carbohydrate intakes are necessary for improved energy and performance. Again, it’s important to remember that most studies looking at performance and carbohydrate intake are based on endurance (not strength) performance.

In my opinion, when the goal is improved strength with a possible focus on mass gain or fat loss, the optimal amount of carbohydrate is almost solely dependent on the individual goals, needs, and preferences.

Some people may perform and feel better with a high carbohydrate intake, while others experience little to no benefit or possibly even negative side effects.

In the end it all comes down to what works best for you. There’s really no “right” or “wrong.”

  • Myth: Faster Rate of Glycogen Resynthesis

Quickly replenishing our glycogen stores has long been touted as an absolute necessity to reduce our time spent in a catabolic state and improve overall recovery and performance.

While this is certainly applicable to endurance athletes and other individuals who legitimately deplete their glycogen stores during training or competition, conventional strength training simply doesn’t deplete glycogen to the extent that metabolic or endurance type training does.

Additionally, considering the relatively high carbohydrate intake seen in our society, odds are the majority of us are sufficiently replenishing our glycogen to begin with.

Finally, in regard to individuals mostly concerned with strength-performance, the rate at which we replenish our glycogen stores is more or less of a non-issue.

Again, this matter is far more relevant to the individual’s needs and goals than it is definitively “right” or “wrong.” If you function better with a high carbohydrate intake, eat high(er) carb. Likewise, if you function better, or need to eat less carbohydrates based on your current goals, eat low(er) carb.

  • Fat Intake

 

For a variety of [misguided] reasons, fat gets a lot of bad press.

 

In regard to post-workout nutrition, fat is often labeled as “bad” because it slows gastric emptying which reduces the insulin response of the meal and theoretically makes it less anabolic.

 

Interestingly, however, in his research review, Alan Aragon tactfully points out that a well constructed pre-exercise meal provides a more than sufficient insulin spike to prevent catabolic processes.

 

Additionally, this study compared the effects an equi-caloric dose of whole milk and skim milk on muscle protein synthesis following a workout. To the surprise of the researchers and fitness enthusiasts alike, the whole milk actually increased muscle protein synthesis to a greater extent than the skim milk.

 

Similar to carbohydrates, fat intake around periods of training is highly individual. If you enjoy and want to incorporate fat into your peri-workout nutrition, by all means go for it. If, on the other hand, you find you don’t respond well to a higher fat intake around training then stick to lower fat foods.

 

Regardless of what you choose to do, remember: The most important aspect of optimal nutrition for strength-performance is your total caloric and protein intake in any 24-hour time period.

 

Now that we’ve covered a few of the most commonly associated myths regarding peri-workout nutrition, it’s time to get to the nitty gritty.

 

What are the essentials of peri-workout nutrition for strength-performance?

 

 

The Essentials of Peri-Workout Nutrition for Strength Performance

Listed in descending order of importance, the essentials of peri-workout nutrition can be broken down into the following four components of our diet:

 

  1. Total daily caloric & protein intake
  2. Individual response to various foods & portion sizes
  3. Individual food preference
  4. Meal timing

 

As you can see, each of the above four components are largely based on the individual and their specific needs, goals, and preferences.

 

To illustrate how this may effect various individuals, below I’ve outlined two hypothetical scenarios:

 

  • Trainee A is a 180lb male strictly looking for improved strength-performance with no concern over his body weight. He has no food allergies but he can’t eat a lot at any one time and becomes ill if he eats too close to when he trains. He is not a picky eater and he trains at 6am.

 

  • Trainee B is a 125lb female with a main goal of fat loss. She has no food allergies or issues with portion size. As a result of her smaller size she naturally must eat less and therefore must reduce her total carbohydrate intake. She trains at 5pm.

 

Based on the information above I have created two sample peri-workout nutrition protocols outlining my recommendations for each individual. The formulas I used to come up with their caloric and protein intake are given later on.

 

Trainee A:

  • Daily Caloric Intake: 2500kcal
  • Daily Protein Intake: 180g
  • Pre-Workout: As you train early in the morning and don’t perform well with food in your stomach, I suggest you forego a whole food meal and instead drink a protein/carbohydrate mixture roughly 45 minutes prior to training. It should contain 25-50g of protein and 20-50g of carbohydrates.
  • Intra-Workout: If you don’t have a pre-workout shake then sip on a protein/carbohydrate mixture during your workout. It should contain 25-50g of protein and 20-50g of carbohydrates. Note: this is only necessary if you don’t have a pre-workout shake.
  • Post-Workout: Eat a decent sized mixed meal 1-2 hours following your training session. It should contain 25-50g of protein and 20-50g of carbohydrates.
  • General Recommendations: Eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day to keep you from becoming uncomfortably full.

 

Trainee B:

  • Daily Caloric Intake: 1500kcal
  • Daily Protein Intake: 130g
  • Pre-Workout: Eat a pre-workout meal 1-3 hours prior to training. It should contain at least 25g of protein and however many grams of carbs/fat you feel comfortable with.
  • Intra-Workout: Not necessary.
  • Post-Workout: Eat a post-workout meal 1-3 hours after training. It should contain at least 25g of protein and however many grams of carbs/fat you feel comfortable with.
  • General Recommendations: Hit your daily caloric and protein guidelines. How you decide to split up your macronutrients and meals is up to you.

 

While each protocol is notably different from one another, each one can (in my opinion) be considered optimal for the individuals specific needs, goals, and preferences.

 

Creating Your Own Peri-Workout Nutrition Protocol

To help you design your own effective peri-workout nutrition protocol, I have created the following set of guidelines.

 

First and foremost, you must establish your total daily calorie and protein requirements. To do so I have provided the recommendations below based on each individual goal:

 

Daily Caloric and Protein Requirements:

  • Strength Performance
    • Appropriate Daily Caloric Intake: Body Weight x ~13
    • Appropriate Daily Protein Intake:  Body Weight x ~1
  • Ex: 150lb Individual: 1950kcal; 150g protein

 

  • Fat Loss
    • Appropriate Daily Caloric Intake: Body Weight x ~11
    • Appropriate Daily Protein Intake:  Body Weight x ~1
  • Ex: 150lbs Individual: 1650kcal; 150g protein

 

  • Mass Gain
    • Appropriate Daily Caloric Intake: Body Weight x ~16
    • Appropriate Daily Protein Intake:  Body Weight x ~1
  • Ex: 150lb Individual: 2400kcal; 150g protein

 

Now that you have your daily calorie and protein requirements, you can divvy them up into separate meals throughout the day.

 

In order to create an efficient peri-workout nutrition protocol, I have provided the  macronutrient guidelines below outlining general recommendations for pre, intra, and post workout meals.

 

I’d note you do not need to eat your entire days worth of calories within the peri-workout time period.

 

Pre-Training:

 

A well-constructed pre-workout meal provides a great deal of leeway as it reduces the need to quickly  fuel your body during and/or post training. The ideal pre-workout meal should contain roughly 25-50g of protein and however many grams of carbs and fat the individual can comfortably train with. I’ve found this tends to be somewhere between 20-50g of carbs and 5-20g of fat.

 

If you have the option, I suggest eating a solid meal roughly 1-3 hours prior to the start of your training session.

 

If you don’t perform well with food sitting in your stomach or don’t have the ability to eat a whole foods meal, I suggest drinking a protein or protein/carbohydrate shake 45-60 minutes prior to training.

 

Protein 25-50g
Carbohydrates 20-50g (Individual Preference!)
Fat 5-20g (Individual Preference!)
Timing: ~ 1-3 hours pre-training

 

Intra-Training 

 

If you have a good pre-training meal, as described above, than intra-training nutrition is unnecessary and redundant.

 

If, however, you don’t have a pre-training meal, you train for exceptionally long periods of time (>2hrs), or you simply enjoy eating/drinking during your workout, feel free to have anywhere between 25-50g of protein and however many grams of carbohydrates and fat you can comfortably train with.

 

Protein 25-50g
Carbohydrates 20-50g (Individual Preference!)
Fat 5-10g (Individual Preference!)
Timing: Sip/Nibble throughout training


Post-Training

 

A well constructed post-workout meal should consist of 25-50g of protein and however many grams of carbohydrates and fat you feel comfortable with.

 

Ideally, it should be consumed anywhere between 1-3 hours after training, but again, if you had an adequate pre/intra workout meal, the timing becomes more or less arbitrary. Just be sure to get an adequate amount of protein and calories by the end of the day.

 

Protein 25-50g
Carbohydrates 20-50g (Individual Preference!)
Fat 5-20g (Individual Preference!)
Timing: ~ 1-3 hours post-training

 

 

My Current Peri-Workout Nutrition

To end this article I thought it’d be fun to provide my current peri-workout nutrition protocol. In all honesty, it’s not much of a “protocol” as I usually just go by feel and do what I’m most comfortable with. That being said, I do tend to stick to the same meals, macronutrient profiles, and timing.

 

As a brief reminder, I am a college student and my time availability and cooking resources are rather limited. As such, my food choices are anything but extravagant and are truly rather boring.

 

Yeah I’m making excuses…but a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do!

 

My Calorie and Macronutrient Breakdown:

Pre-Training

Intra-Training

Post-Training

Total

Protein

~40g

0g

~50g

~90g

Carbohydrate

~25g

0g

~45g

~70g

Fat

~5-8g

0g

~5-8g

~10-15g

Total Calories

315 calories

0 calories

445 calories

760 calories

 

Pre-Training – 60 minutes beforehand

 

Meal Option 1:

  • 6-8oz Chicken/Beef/Fish
  • Some type of cooked veggie or salad
  • Oatmeal/Brown Rice/Quinoa

 

Meal Option 2:

  • 2 Scoops Dymatize Protein (Chocolate or Vanilla)
  • 1 Packet Quaker Oats Oatmeal

 

Post-Training – 60 minutes afterward

 

Meal Option 1:

  • 2 Scoops Dymatize Protein (Chocolate or Vanilla)
  • 2 Packets Quaker Oats Oatmeal
  • 1 Apple

 

Meal Option 2:

  • 6-8oz Chicken/Beef/Fish
  • Oatmeal/Brown Rice/Quinoa
  • 1 Apple

 

Wrapping Up

I hope you enjoyed this piece and were able to take away some quality information.

 

If there’s only one thing you take from this article, though, let it be this:

 

The most important component of nutrition in regard to strength-performance is to consistently hit your caloric and protein guidelines during any 24-hour time period.

 

Until next time,

 

Never Minimal. Never Maximal. Always Optimal.

 

-J