For your mass gain workout to be maximally productive, your pre and post-workout nutrition must be supplying the body with the right nutrition at the right time. If you don’t do this, if you forget to eat before or succumb to that desire to fall onto the couch and “veg” for a couple of hours after your training, you are cheating yourself out of muscle gains.
While you will only be in the gym engaging in intense resistance exercise for less than one hour, it is what you eat in the 90 minutes before and the 90 minutes after that workout that can determine how effective that hard work will be at moving you towards your goals.
This “four hour window” (90 minutes before, 60 during, 90 after) will be the most important period of time in your program in terms of feeding your body for muscle growth.
It is during these four hours that you can significantly enhance your ability to build muscle. The body will be both most in need of muscle building nutrition and most receptive to it.
Sample Pre and Post-Workout Nutrition Plan
Your pre-workout meal is the second most important meal of the day, topped only by the post workout meal. The goal of this meal is to prepare the body for the assault you will soon be putting it through.
During intense exercise, as stored energy is used up, the body will turn to glycolysis to replace this energy. Glycolysis is the process of converting sugars (carbs) into ATP and ultimately the very energy you need to contract a muscle. Therefore, it stands to reason that you want the ingredients (carbs) that make energy to be readily available. Not having them will impair your ability to workout to your full potential.
The pre-workout meal needn’t be all that different from one of your normal meals (assuming you make eating for mass gain a practice). It should be focused on protein and complex carbohydrates. It is important that both of these macronutrients be present. The meal should be consumed about 60-90 minutes before exercise begins to allow the body time to digest and make the nutrients available to the body during exercise.
Complex carbohydrates in your pre-workout meal will help ensure you have adequate energy levels for your workout. Another practice to consider is consuming simple carbohydrates (fruits, fruit juices) and/or protein in a quick drink 15 to 30 minutes previous to the workout to provide the body with an immediate energy source.
The basic goal of weight training for mass gain is to force the muscles to break themselves down (catabolism) and then rebuild (anabolism). When the workout provides sufficient trauma to the muscles, small tears in the muscle fibers and connective tissue are created. In the hours and days following the workout, the muscles will attempt to rebuild themselves and become stronger and better able to deal with such trauma in the future. This process is called adaptation.
Notice that I said they will “attempt” to rebuild themselves to be stronger. In order to accomplish this goal, they need to be provided the raw materials to do the job – They need good post-workout nutrition.
The muscles need carbohydrates to replace their drained fuel sources (muscle glycogen) and they need protein to begin the rebuilding process. The better the materials you provide them, the better work they will be able to do. The sooner you get them the materials, the sooner they can get started.
The goal of proper post-workout nutrition is to quickly and efficiently refuel the muscles and then provide them with the raw materials they need to rebuild themselves to be bigger and stronger.
For mass gain, a good goal is to try and make your post-workout meal about 15-25% of your total daily caloric goal (if your diet calls 3,000 calories a day, your post-workout meal would be about 450-750 calories). It should contain a quality carb mixture and a quality protein source.
Bodybuilding Supplement Guide
Note: Getting a supplement specifically made for post-workout nutrition isn’t necessary. MRPs and weight gainers make good post-workout drinks. A sports drink combined with some whey protein is also good.
But you do want to get good carbs and protein to your muscles as soon as possible which is best accomplished by a liquid source.
I use this in combination with a protein powder drink for post-workout nutrition. More calorie-intense than most sport’s drinks, this one is good for those who have trouble gaining and maintaining weight. In my opinion, opt for the pre-mixed bottles for the great taste (nothing is better after an intense workout).
A sports drink is a good first step in post-workout nutrition. It will act to quickly replace energy stores, replace lost nutrients and also create an insulin spike more on the importance of insulin. High glycemic index fruit or fruit juice can also address this need as well as some “creatine plus” products and other bodybuilding supplements made expressly for this purpose.
Providing the body with a quality protein source is the next thing on the post-workout nutrition agenda and it should follow the first step as quickly as possible. A liquid source is ideal because it can be processed and utilized by the body quicker. Whey protein powders, certain meal replacements and weight gainers can fill the bill.
Studies have shown that time is truly of the essence, the sooner the body is provided with these materials the quicker it will exit its catabolic state and enter an anabolic state (the less muscle you will lose and the quicker you will start building new muscle).
Following your workout, consume your post-workout nutrition meal as soon as your stomach and schedule will allow it. This can vary by individual. Generally, the longest you want to go is 90 minutes post exercise but ideally you would want it within the first 30 minutes. The resulting muscle gains you experience as a result of your workout can possibly be dramatically affected by how quick you are able to re-supply the body with muscle building nutrition.
The post-workout meal should be heavy on protein and carbohydrates. While protein builds muscle, do not forget the important role carbohydrates play in the process. By providing an insulin spike, carbs provide the body with an excellent transport system for the nutrients to reach the muscle cells. The insulin release and the sensitivity of the muscle cells (caused by the trauma of intense weight training) is also the reason most recommend taking creatine at this time.
In short, there is no other time that the muscles are as receptive to being fed as in the post-workout period. Bodybuilders often refer to this as their “free time,” a time when they can eat anything and not have to worry about it turning into fat. The muscle cells are incredibly hungry for nutrition and will suck up all you can give them, lessening the chance that fat cells will instead be the recipients of the provided nutrients.
Upping Your Caloric Intake on Workout Days
It can be an effective plan to up your caloric intake on the days you workout. To do this, you DON’T include the post-workout meal in your daily calorie counts. This will mean that you take in 15-25% more calories on your workout days than non-workout days.
Some call this cycling, others just consider it disregarding the caloric intake that is simply replacing what the intense workout took out of you. Whatever you call it, it can be an effective way to keep the body adjusting and growing.
Time to Pick Carbs…
Picking the right carbs becomes very important when you are dealing with pre and post-workout nutrition. High-glycemic foods can help create an insulin spike which can help get the nutrients to your muscles. To learn more about using the glycemic index, read The Glycemic Index, Insulin and Bodybuilding.
Also check out this Jeff Anderson article which has some good suggestions for pre and post-workout carbs – The Right Bodybuilding Carbs.
It’s All In The Timing: Pre & Post Workout Nutrition
Most people are aware that nutrient timing is as important as nutrient composition. In other words, it’s not just what you eat, but when you eat it that gives optimal results. As the man says, “Timing is everything.” Consuming the right foods at the right time can have positive effects on body composition: which means more muscle and less body fat.
Health-conscious people are told to avoid simple carbohydrates, and for good reasons. It’s not true all the time and in every situation, however. Following a heavy workout, there is a metabolic “window” – so to speak – where the body preferentially shuttles glucose into the liver and muscles to replace lost glycogen via both insulin-dependent and non-insulin-dependent transport mechanisms. Translated, this means your body will shuttle carbs and protein into the tissues you want (muscle) instead of storing them as fat after a workout.
To carry the analogy further, the metabolic window doesn’t stay open indefinitely, so you need to take advantage of the opportunity while it lasts.
A number of studies have found that a post-workout drink containing simple, high-GI carbs and protein increases protein synthesis dramatically. The two work synergistically to create an anabolic environment that’s superior to either nutrient alone. In addition, some recent work suggests that a pre-workout drink may be superior to a post-workout drink, and consuming both may be best of all!
Research looking at the issue has gotten a great deal of attention in the sports nutrition world. One particularly interesting study, “Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise.” (Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 2001 Aug;281(2):E197-206), compared the anabolic responses to a carbohydrate and amino acid supplement taken either before or after resistance exercise. It’s counterintuitive to think taking in these nutrients before the workout is superior to post-workout, but according to this small study:
“…results indicate that the response of net muscle protein synthesis to consumption of an EAC solution [carb/amino acid drink] immediately before resistance exercise is greater than that when the solution is consumed after exercise, primarily because of an increase in muscle protein synthesis…”
Since this study was published, several researchers have proposed that providing amino acids/protein and carbs both before and after a resistance workout represents the best of both worlds. This is the premise of the book “Nutrient Timing” by John Ivy and Robert Portman. They present compelling evidence that the right mixture of nutrients, taken at key points in the muscle growth cycle, will optimize improvements in muscle growth, strength, and power, as well as enhance recovery from exercise.
Overall, there’s a solid body of scientific evidence to support using a blend of fast-acting carbs and amino acids/protein for both pre- and post-workout nutrition. It’s definitely a “hot” topic among sports researchers. It’s also a topic that seems to create endless speculation and conversation with non-scientists looking to get the most of their time in the gym. Everyone wants to hear the latest word, it seems.
So what’s the latest word?
The place to discover cutting edge research on a topic is to attend conferences where researchers present their most recent findings. This is a much faster way of getting current info than reading scientific journals, as it can take many months (even years!) to publish the work researchers submit for review and publication.
Each year, I attend various scientific conferences that apply to my interests, research, and business. This year I attended the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) conference in Las Vegas. The ISSN is a relatively new organization and this was their third conference to date.*
A session on the role of nutrition in exercise and recovery was particularly interesting. One standout study**, “Effects of protein and carbohydrate on anabolic responses to resistance training” looked at the effects of carbs, creatine, and whey – taken alone and in different combinations – on LBM and/or strength. The conclusion was that the combination of all three (whey, carbs, and creatine) was the most effective and that there appeared to be a true synergism between these nutrients. This study also confirmed that these nutrients, taken both before and after training, have a greater effect on lean mass and strength than when taken at other times of the day. I don’t think that comes as a big surprise to most people “in the know” about such things, but it’s good to see it confirmed under controlled conditions.
The take home lesson is this: if you want to optimize your nutrition to gain muscle mass and strength, it’s vital to consume a combination of fast-acting carbs and protein during the workout “window.”
Here’s what I recommend: mix 30-50g of high quality whey with 75-100g of high GI carbs (such as glucose, maltodextrin, etc.,) and 3-5g of creatine monohydrate and drink half immediately before you hit the gym, and the other half immediately following your workout.
To make it extra simple, I use a pre-made carb drinks (e.g., TwinLab Ultra Fuel, etc.) and add the whey and creatine to that and mix it up. You can “roll your own” of course by buying various carb powders in bulk. I just like the convenience of the pre-made carb mixtures myself.
As you can see, I don’t use a complicated formula for the amounts of protein, carbs, and creatine to take pre- and post-workout. Why? Because – while focusing on such minutiae would make me look smart – it probably won’t have any effects on you. Following the K.I.S.S. (“Keep It Simple, Stupid”) system works best here. The above formula is more then sufficient to supply the nutrients required to take advantage of the metabolic window. Some people take it a step further by dividing the formula into three parts, to be consumed before, during and after the workout, but I don’t see the need for that either. I doubt there are any real benefits to it, but more research is needed there.
This isn’t a miracle mixture, of course. If your training and/or nutrition over the rest of the day aren’t up to snuff, this pre- and post-workout drink won’t make up for those shortcomings. In conjunction with a good training program and diet however, combining pre- and post-workout nutrition will clearly add to your success. And remember, it’s not rocket science, so don’t make it any more complicated then it needs to be.
How To “Time” Your Diet For FASTER Muscle Growth!
It’s true that the grueling workout you’ve invested at the local “iron jungle” will stimulate your muscles to grow bigger and stronger. But ultimately it’s your diet that will provide the “building blocks” for this new growth.
However, there’s more to a bodybuilder’s diet than mountains of canned tuna and protein powder. Timing your meals just right will provide you with a competitive edge that will allow you to build muscle faster and help burn those extra layers of fat covering up your hard work.
When you wake up, you’re at the end of a 7-9 hour fast and your muscles are screaming for nutrition. Start off with a potent protein drink for fast absorption mixed with some complex carbs for fueling your day.
For my “top secret recipe” of the world’s best mass building breakfast, go to: Anderson’s Pre-Workout Meal
1-2 Hours Before Your Workout
You’re about to send your muscles into the “combat zone” so shouldn’t you provide them with the ammunition they need to “take the hill”?
Load up on some complex carbs that will provide the long lasting fuel you’ll need to power through your intense workout. Add a full dose of protein to provide a ready source of amino acids and give your muscles a head start on the growth process as you stress the muscle cells during your workout.
Immediately After Your Workout
You’ve used up the glycogen (stored carbohydrates) in your muscle cells as fuel for your workout and if you don’t replenish them fast, you’re bound to short circuit your growth.
Within 45 minutes to an hour after your workout you need to down a high glycemic, high protein drink while your body is primed for fast absorption. Take in between 75 – 100 grams of sugar and about 25% of your day’s total protein requirement along with a healthy dose of monounsaturated fats to help stimulate testosterone production.
You’re about to enter another long period of fasting at bedtime, but it’s also a prime time for your body to repair and build muscle. The problem is that your metabolism slows way down when you sleep so a large meal before turning in has the potential to trigger fat storage.
To provide the building blocks your body needs for growth while minimizing fat storage, eat a light meal consisting of slow-digesting protein and some easily digestible carbs. A bowl of cottage cheese with some fruit is ideal or mix a scoop of protein powder (one with casein in it is best) into some milk or water. Be sure to avoid high carbs and fat calories at this time.
The “Muscle Nerd’s”
Pre-Workout Power Potion Recipe
To provide your body with the fuel it needs to power through your workout, you need nutrients that will support the complex demands you’re about to place on it.
That means a plentiful source of carbohydrates and protein that will not only provide a ready source of energy, but also supply the right amount and type of protein to allow your muscle cells to begin the “repair and build” process, forcing them to grow bigger and stronger in the shortest time possible.
This Pre-Workout Power Potion Recipe will give you everything you need to turbo-charge your workouts while providing a ready source of amino acids to avoid muscle loss and begin the growth process.
Follow the directions below and consume this mixture about 1-2 hours before your workout …
Ingredient 1: 1.5 cups Skim Milk
Milk is probably one of the most overlooked supplements there is! It’s loaded with both fast-digesting (whey) and slow-digesting (casein) proteins for a steady supply of amino acids…and it’s been proven in research to be a powerful growth hormone releaser!
Ingredient 2: ½ Frozen “Slightly Green” Banana
Ripe bananas have more sugar content than bananas that are still slightly green and will result in more of a quick “sugar rush” instead of supplying long term energy to power through your workout. Grab a bunch of “slightly green” bananas at your local supermarket, peel them all, and place them in a plastic bag in your freezer to break up and add to your protein blender drinks as desired.
Ingredient 3: 2 Tbsp Natural Peanut Butter
“Natural” peanut butter (NOT the commercial hydrogenated garbage!) is loaded with mono-unsaturated fats…perfect for helping you raise your body’s testosterone levels for increased muscle mass and rapid fat burning. Look for a product that ONLY lists “Peanuts” and “Salt” on the list of ingredients.
Ingredient 4: ½ Cup Raw Oat Bran or Uncooked Oatmeal
Raw oat bran, like oatmeal, is a complex carbohydrate that is ideal for supplying tons of sustained energy for your workouts…AND the rest of the day.
Its finer texture makes is a better option for blender drinks, but if you only have access to oatmeal, make sure you put the dry oatmeal alone in the blender first and give it a few seconds on “high” to break it up a bit more.
Ingredient 5: ½ Scoop Vanilla Whey Protein
In addition to the casein protein from the milk, whey protein will provide you with additional, ready-to-deliver amino acids that will provide your muscles with a “jump start” on the recovery process.
Vanilla flavored powder seems to go best with this drink but chocolate flavored is another great option!
Directions: Ok…this is pretty self-explanatory, but here goes…
Add the first 4 ingredients in the order listed and blend on “High” for about 15 seconds. While it’s still blending, open the top and add the protein powder. Blend for another 5 seconds…stop… drink…wipe the “smoothie mustache” off your face…and enjoy your workout!