There are particular windows revolving around an exercise routine that need to be considered for optimizing energy, stabilizing blood sugar, enhancing muscular growth, preventing catabolism etc.
I will highlight common practices including the strategies I use with clientele and the rationale behind each recommendation. Hydration is briefly covered in this article but typically recommendations for water intake ranges from 2-4 litres daily, which is dependent on many factors. Those who are consuming under 2L daily may be under special directions from a physician.
For the common exerciser:
The goal is to not be hungry afterwards, stabilize blood sugar levels as they can drop post exercise due to receptors in the muscle, manage caloric intake and provide general adequate nutrition. If someone is exercising to stay healthy, they may find that they may get hungrier throughout the day especially as they are increasingly active and are finding they are adding additional muscle mass. Some things to keep in mind:
-If you exercise in the morning, your best bet would be to eat something that contains some carbohydrates such as a banana, dates, oatmeal etc. unless you find that you are generally not hungry in the early morning. There are no conclusive studies about fasted cardio and having something beforehand can help with improving your workout. If you find you are still sleepy, consider a better warm-up or ergogenic aids (caffeine etc.). You should try to avoid eating a minimum of 30 minutes prior to your workout unless the volume is very small as digestion can affect your workout.
-If you exercise in the evening and your last meal was lunch, consider a small carbohydrate snack (approximately 20-30 grams depending on your hunger levels) prior to your workout. If you are experiencing hunger by evening time, consider a shorter workout (30-40 min( instead of struggling. The nutrition you set yourself up with throughout the day and your activity level in your occupation will determine how hungry you will be by the time you work out. Alternatively, if you exercise after dinner, it is best to wait approximately 1 hour to allow food to travel out of the stomach and if it was a heavier meal, you may want to wait a little longer. You should have enough energy to workout after or you may actually be sleepy as a diet higher in carbohydrates consumed in the evening can lead to large levels of insulin being released and blood sugar dropping and restabilising. Your best bet would be to eat half your dinner and the rest after the workout as you might get hungry after.
If you are currently in a fat loss phase, you are most likely eating at baseline caloric requirements or you may be in a significant deficit. In any case, you need to be strategic about your food intake and assuming you want to keep your muscle mass, you would also be concerned with protein intake. Some individuals prefer to work with a higher carb intake versus a higher fat intake. At the end of the day, it depends on the intensity of your workouts and whether or not you’re consistently hungry. I take a midline approach with clients so their workouts are not sabotaged due to lower energy levels (as a diet higher in carbohydrates does tend to allow for increased performance).
-Pre: I highly recommend a pre workout snack only if you are hungry and depending on the time of day to consider something with about 10-15 grams of protein. A small handful of nuts usually does the trick or a cottage cheese berry bowl. Alternatively, if you are working out in the morning and want to get straight to the gym, nothing wrong with downing a bit of caffeine and heading straight to it. Caffeine with exercise helps with carbohydrate use or essentially glycogen breakdown.
-Peri: During exercise it has been shown to include some BCAA’s to prevent catabolism. How accurate and supportive is the research? It favours workouts on the higher end of the duration spectrum. If you’re working out for up to an hour and consuming enough protein daily, there is no reason to add BCAA’s. You should stick with water during your workouts unless you’re a competitive athlete and are looking for an edge then there are a few things that can help.
-Post: After exercise there is the anabolic window. Muscle cells are more responsive to nutrients up to 2 hours post workout. Consuming up to 40g post workout helps with protein synthesis and muscle maintenance. Having post workout carbohydrates after a workout can be unnecessary and can sometimes cause an individual to consume more calories than they can have in the day. Unless you are an endurance athlete, there is no need to consume carbohydrates post workout. This has to do with glycogen breakdown and carbohydrate utilization.
For muscle building focused programs, one has to combine the effort with the intake of food. Strategic eating will help with ensuring minimal body fat is gained and muscle synthesis is promoted. In addition, for guys who have difficulty gaining muscle mass, it is good to consider additional supplements.
-Pre: Ensure your pre workout meal contains at least 30g of complex carbohydrates and 5-30g of protein. A slice of toast will not cut it 😊. This is to be consumed minimum 45-60 min prior to the workout.
-Peri: As mentioned earlier, BCAA’s are only helpful for endurance exercise and it would be a waste to consume during your workout so do not be tricked into this. However, there is nothing wrong with intra-workout carbohydrates. Keeping blood sugar levels up will be achieved by a simple sugar drink like Gatorade or some honey with water and lemon. No need to drink the whole 591ml or 970ml… Your body typically tolerates around 300mL of liquid consumed in a 1hrs period otherwise it will get cleared out. If you’re doing a purely strength focused workout, you will not be sweating as much and will not be burning as many calories; so this must be factored in.
-Post: Anabolic window calls for up to 40g of quality protein post workout. Carbohydrate consumption is dependent on two things:
1. Length of the workout (actually doing the exercises and not resting)
2. Daily caloric intake and whether or not you will be eating an additional meal afterwards
You may be eating anywhere from 3-8 times a day in a muscle building routine.
For athletes and anyone training or exercising more than 6x a week:
-Energy levels! Muscle catabolism will occur with prolonged workouts and inadequate caloric intake. Carbohydrates help. Vitamin C among other supplements also helps with managing stress hormone release. Additional stress hormone will work against you in keeping steady blood sugar levels.
-Consider the recommendations outlined for muscle building and fat loss. Most athletes will have a difficult time gaining muscle mass while in season. It is best to focus on periods of muscle growth or fat loss during the off-season. If you never have an off-season, you need to program re-feeds and find days where you can find caloric surpluses. Smoothies can be your best friend sometimes.
-Vitamin C: aids with reduction in stress hormone
-Magnesium: assists with recovery and muscle function
-Caffeine: aids in fat loss. Can act as a double-edged sword.
-MCT Oil: can help with attaining ketosis, using fat as fuel, adding more calories in to your post workout meals.
-Creatine: helpful to increase muscle and strength post workout.
-Vinegar: helps to lower blood sugar. Other supplements exist to lower blood sugar but they are associated with drastic lowering of blood sugar.
-Supplements to manage hormone levels are available and can sometimes be useful in managing estrogen dominance.
-Supplements to help with digestion are also helpful.
Thanks for reading this article! I hope you found it helpful. There are lot of strategies not included in here. Finding the right balance with nutrition, hormones and the right exercise is not easy. Book your complimentary consultation call NOW to receive the hep you need to accomplish your goals.
How you can benefit from our online coaching program:
-Calorie and macronutrient determination
-Meal timing and daily meal planning strategies
-Full supplementation analysis and recommendations
-Exercise selection and program design
-Ongoing coaching support
The post-exercise anabolic window:
Bodybuilding contest prep and nutrition:
Reducing post exercise catabolism:
In depth guide to structured nutrition for the athlete: