There’s a lot of emphasis put on nutrient timing around workouts to get the most out of your workout and achieve the most muscle growth. Emphasis is placed particularly on the importance of post-workout nutrition. The anabolic window is the 30 minutes after a workout in which nutrients can take your body from a catabolic state to an anabolic state. Basically, you’re either in a catabolic state, which is your body breaking down nutrients, fats, and in some extreme cases, muscle, or an anabolic state, where your muscles are growing and repairing. While the anabolic window is a primary focus of workout nutrition, a lot less attention is paid to the pre-workout nutrition.
The pre-workout meal is the very foundation of a good workout. For a workout that contains endurance and muscle strength, it’s recommended that you consume 20-30 grams of carbohydrates, and 10-20 grams of protein 1-2 hours prior. However, if the workout is closer to 2 hours, consuming a light snack 30 minutes prior is a good idea (I. Aragon and B. Schoenfeld, 2013). A study from 2007 by Willoughby showed that participants that were heavy lifting saw an increase in performance when consuming 20 grams of protein before the workout as opposed to 20 grams of carbohydrates. Some good examples of pre-workout meals include:
- Oatmeal with whey protein mixed in (I use chocolate and mix a spoonful of peanut butter in, and you can also substitute the whey for a plant-based protein)
- Oatmeal and eggs (you can add salsa for a savory meal, or some cinnamon and honey if you want it sweeter)
- A chicken or tuna wrap with hummus and veggies
- Avocado and sliced chicken on whole wheat toast
There’s so much you can do with protein powders for pre- and post-workout meals, like protein pancakes. You can make an orange “creamsicle” shake by blending 1 scoop vanilla protein powder, 1 cup orange juice, and ice (then you can freeze it or just drink it as is). Another frozen drink is 1 cup iced coffee and 1 scoop chocolate protein. The caffeine can be beneficial to the workout as well, because caffeine can boost endurance and decrease fatigue (M. Perry, 2012).
Post-workout nutrition in the past has been thought to be the most important for muscle growth and repair, although recent research has found it to be less important. This isn’t to say if you like protein shakes after your workout that you should stop drinking them, but protein after a workout is only necessary if you haven’t had a significant amount in a few hours. Recent studies have shown that there’s been no benefit to loading up on the protein after your workout, as opposed to consuming protein regularly throughout the day. That assumes, however, you are only working out once that day. If you are working out multiple times, then a post workout meal is critical. This is also important if you are training fasted (think fed versus fasted training) (I. Aragon and B. Schoenfeld, 2013).
Endurance athletes are a little different. For endurance activities (if you’re working out 90 minutes or more), it is recommended that you eat a meal of 300-600 calories made up of mostly carbs three to four hours before. It’s important to keep your glycogen levels up so you don’t get tired. Carbohydrates are what give you energy but the protein is what repairs your muscles and builds them up. For endurance athletes, it’s important to eat both before and after, and also during, depending on the duration of the workout. If you need to eat during a workout, good choices are bananas, oranges, rice cakes, or energy chews/bars (A.H. Thompson). Typically, endurance athletes are referred to as marathon runners and other long distance runners, or if you were going to do a triathlon, but I still feel like this can be applied to roller derby because of strenuous game days, long practices, or tournaments.
Basically, nutrition is continuous. It’s not just the 2 or 3 hours before and after a workout that are important. It can take anywhere from 2-6 hours to absorb nutrients from a meal. Keeping your body constantly fueled is important; you are constantly burning calories, even when you sleep. Remember to prepare for the workout you are doing so you can get the most out of it.
Aragon, I., & Schoenfeld, B. (2013). Nutrient timing revisited: Is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Retrieved November 11, 2015, from http://www.jissn.com/content/10/1/5
Perry, M. (2013, February 06). Pre-Workout Meal Nutrition: BEST Meal Ideas! - BuiltLean. Retrieved November 11, 2015, from http://www.builtlean.com/2012/01/24/pre-workout-meal/
Thompson, A. H. (2012, January 9). ACSM | Articles. Retrieved November 11, 2015, from https://www.acsm.org/public-information/articles/2012/01/09/preventing-the-low-fuel-light-in-endurance-exercise
Weaver, C. (2014). Rethinking Recovery Nutrition: What You Eat Before Your Workout Affects You Post-Workout. Retrieved November 11, 2015, from http://breakingmuscle.com/nutrition/rethinking-recovery-nutrition-what-you-eat-before-your-workout-affects-you-post-workout