Progressing slower than you think you could be? Maybe your muscles are taking a long time to recover, or you’re feeling super sore after a workout. The fact is: training is hard – and you’re not alone in thinking that it is. If it wasn’t, everyone would be doing it. Fortunately, you can make things a little easier for yourself by eating the right food at the right time.
What you need to eat will always very depending on who you are and how your body works. For example, someone with a lot of muscle mass can store glycogen better, so will need more carbs before and after a workout. Here, you’ll find some general tips, and a couple of nutritional case studies (the long distance cyclist and the bodybuilder). Hopefully they’ll give you an idea as to how you can craft a winning nutritional strategy.
For nutritional guidance for your own specific fitness goals, pop down to Grow on Oxford Street and talk to one of our experts.
Thanks for reading, and happy (g)rowing.
The Grow team.
Pre-workout nutrition is known as the ‘energy phase’. It’s at this point that you make sure your body has everything it needs to perform at its best. With enough carbs and protein, we can reduce glycogen depletion (the stored form of carbohydrate and our primary source of fuel whilst exercising). You can also minimise protein breakdown in the muscle, which prevents muscle loss and even cortisol, a stress hormone.
The aim here is to replenish, repair, refuel and ready up for the next workout. Making the right choices now mean, overall, you can recover much faster. Once again, you should eat carbs and protein ideally within 30-60 minutes of the workout. This is when your muscles are most proficient in absorbing and storing nutrients and energy. It’s also when they need it most! The aim of this intake is to replenish the glycogen, previously stored in the muscle, which has been depleted during the workout. Another essential role of the post-workout meal is to reduce protein breakdown and increase protein synthesis in the muscle (muscle building).
Long-distance cyclists need a steady supply of energy for hours at a time. That’s why they’ll build up their muscle glycogen stores by increasing their carb intake in the 48 hours running up to a race. On the morning of the race, they’ll top these up by eating a carb-based breakfast of toast, cereals and juices. They’ll need to do this 3 hours before the race, as eating too close to the race could result in stomach cramps. To avoid overeating and placing a strain on the stomach at breakfast, it’s likely that they’d have a carb based snack half an hour before the race.
Muscles are able to store up to 120 minutes worth of carbs at a time. For this reason cyclists need to ensure they’re consuming carbohydrates (often via energy drinks) every hour to maintain enough energy supply to the muscles. Caffeine drinks during the final stretch will also provide mental focus and endurance.
The cyclist will almost immediately refuel on carbohydrates, protein and electrolytes to begin the recovery process. They will then consume a real food, carbohydrate based meal (along with protein and lots of vegetables) within 1 hour of the race.
The bodybuilder needs nutrition that will provide increased muscular strength, better endurance and more energy over a shorter period of time.
Similar to the cyclist, they will eat a pre-workout meal, one to two hours before the workout. Their meal will usually consist of moderate to low GI (glycaemic index – meaning the rate energy from food is released into the blood stream), along with protein for muscle growth, and essential fatty acids, which help maintain testosterone levels.
For an increased burst of energy a bodybuilder may also take supplements, 30 minutes before the workout, such as:
Again, glycogen stores will need to be topped up to limit the breakdown of protein within the muscle and boost muscle repair. Straight after the workout, they’ll have a small meal that can be ingested and absorbed quickly. For convenience, this will more than likely take the form of a shake, containing carbohydrates and protein. The carbohydrate will cause an insulin spike and it is this spike that is key for muscle growth.
Insulin is a hormone created by the pancreas. It controls blood glucose levels and controls how carbohydrates and fats are metabolised. It transports nutrients around the body, acting as a ‘key’, which unlocks the cell membranes and allows glucose, amino acids and creatine to enter the cells.
Insulin instigates biochemical reactions that both decrease muscle breakdown and increase protein synthesis (from the amino acids that have just entered the cells). Another benefit of insulin is that it helps blood vessels to relax and dilate, allowing greater blood flow to the muscles and therefore even more nutrients into the body. Improving vascularity through vasodilation is another appeal for the bodybuilder.