Pre-workout nutrition is a subject of controversy. While some say that nutrition is essential directly after a workout, others insist that prior to working out--or even not at all—will get you the most benefits.
There are also questions surrounding the makeup of your workout nutrition. On one hand there’s the keto crowd insisting that all carbs are to be avoided like the plague, while others say that carbohydrates are necessary in providing the energy you need for gains.
So, which is it—is there a specific formula of what to eat and when to eat it for optimum workout performance, or can you get by with eating to your hunger or perhaps even exercising on an empty stomach?
Let’s find out!
To start, let’s have a look at working out on a full tank. While this seemingly makes more sense than fasted training, it isn’t without its pro’s and con’s.
For instance, there is the obvious which is that plowing into a full meal right before hitting the gym will probably have you feeling…well, let’s just say “uncomfortable.”
Another description would be “not too popular with the gym’s janitor who just had to clean up after you.”
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a meal containing proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates about 2-3 hours before your workout. In fact, for those looking to increase their muscle mass, this is the time to fuel your efforts with complex carbs and muscle-building proteins.
However, keep in mind that the closer to your workout you eat, the less you should eat, and anything just before working out should be minimal and easy to digest.
Another approach which is gaining popularity due to the rising interest in intermittent fasting and keto eating programs is working out on an empty stomach. To some, this may seem extreme, and there is also the school of thought that fasted training depletes muscle mass due to your body essentially “consuming itself.”
However, let’s think about this for a moment, shall we?
Your body stores fat for a reason, and no, it isn’t to keep you from getting dates. Instead, fat storage is a survival mechanism which stores excess calories from plentiful times for times when food is scarce.
However, your body isn’t so silly as to bypass its own calorie stores (fat) in favor of harder-to-assimilate muscle in the event of food scarcity. If this were the case, our survival as a species would be nothing short of miraculous!
Plus, even after fasting you still have energy-providing glycogen stores in your muscles which, unless you are working out an EXTREMELY long time (as in more than 3-hours) they will utilize.
Instead, if fat burn is your goal, there may be some merit to fasted training. However, it isn’t for everyone, and it may also affect your energy levels for the worse along with a few other concerns such as the potential incitement of eating disorders.
There are also questions of which macronutrients you need to optimize your workout goals and performance.
And yes, just as with timing of intake, there is more than one theory on what is best for your needs.
For instance, studies show that endurance athletes may do better on a high fat/low carb diet than do powerlifters or other high-intensity athletes. This may have to do with the immediate availability of energy, since fat requires around 20% more oxygen to metabolize than carbs and therefore take longer to provide energy.
Granted, for either athlete getting enough protein is a vital part of gains. However, if you do both strength training and endurance training, a tiered diet which provides additional complex carbohydrates on high-intensity days and backs off on them for long steady-state efforts may be the best approach.
And you’ll also notice that we said complex carbohydrates, as in the kind which come from natural sources such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. This is because simple carbohydrates such as refined sugar or white flour tend to be empty calories which are metabolized too quickly by the body, which results in blood sugar spikes and weight gain.
When it comes to pre-workout nutrition, getting the proper calories and nutrients throughout the course of your entire day is what is important.
This is the same for training full or for fasted training, and so long as you meet your daily nutritional needs you will be fine gaining muscle and seeing the results of your efforts. This doesn’t mean that you may not need carbohydrates before your workout or that each philosophy works for everyone, just that nutritional timing may not be as critical as some make it.
However, one thing which does make a difference is having a convenient source of high-quality, delicious and nutritious prepared meals.
EatRiteFoods is here to serve you with the most nutritious, most convenient and cost-effective eating around—and yes, we deliver.
As athletes ourselves, we understand that one eating program does NOT fit all. With options that include paleo friendly, gluten-free and low-fat, you are never at a loss for great tasting, healthy dishes which flat-out hit the spot--no matter your timing of intake.
So, come visit us or we can visit you—your choice! Just order and enjoy—we do all the rest.