With all the emphasis placed on post-workout nutrition and supplementation, it’s easy to forget about the second part of the equation: the pre-workout meal. Yet scientific evidence informs us that pre-workout nutrition is just as crucial to optimal gains as its counterpart. That’s why in this article we’ll uncover the best ways to eat for maximum anabolism and prime your body for great results with the help of both types of meals.
Why pre-workout nutrition matters
Protein, being the only macronutrient that directly stimulates muscle protein synthesis, is a crucial component of muscle growth and effective post-workout recovery (and muscles grow while you rest, not while you train). Because of this, most bodybuilders aim to eat a high-protein whole food meal as soon as possible after finishing their workout or consume various types of protein-enriched shakes in an attempt to use the full potential of the post-workout nutrition window, and that habit undoubtedly helps them stimulate better growth and accelerate muscle recovery.
However, multiple studies have shown that maintaining a protein-rich pre-workout nutrition can also have a major influence on protein synthesis and muscle gains. Namely, protein synthesis naturally declines during a hard workout, but if you consume an adequate amount of protein before you begin your session, this can help prevent the exercise-induced dwindling of anabolism. So in order to maximize anabolism, you should be paying equal attention to both your pre- and post-workout meals.
The basic nutrition rules for bodybuilders
That being said, almost all of us are well aware of the most basic once-and-for-all principles of bodybuilding nutrition:
- Nutrition is responsible for 50% of your muscle building results.
- It’s of vital importance to calculate your macros and consume the right amount and type of food according to your body composition and goals.
- To maximize performance and gains and avoid the promotion of fat storage, fuel your muscle building process with clean, as-high-quality-as-possible foods and supplements.
- Divide your total caloric intake into 5-6 small meals, spread more or less evenly over the course of the day.
- Emphasize lean protein sources which help build and repair muscle tissue and complex carbs, which are your body’s main source of energy.
- Don’t exclude dietary fats from your diet because they are crucial for optimal hormone production.
That’s pretty straight-forward and doesn’t seem so hard to follow, right?
Except that there are a few important things to take into consideration when planning your diet regime.
All you need to know about carbohydrate intake
While the majority of your carb intake should consist of complex carbs such as the ones found in whole grains and potatoes, simple carbs also have their place in a bodybuilder’s diet.
Complex carbohydrates form muscle glycogen, which is the fuel your body needs to train hard and heavy. Because of their slow rate of digestion, these carbs provide you with longer lasting energy levels and help keep your blood sugar levels constant by promoting a steady release of insulin, one of the body’s naturally occurring anabolic hormones that also influences fat storage. In addition, most sources of complex carbs are rich with dietary fiber, which is another nutrient with significant health and muscle-building benefits. The way to optimize complex carb intake is by making sure to eat smaller servings of carbs more often instead of eating large amounts of carb-abundant food in one sitting – this also ensures a steady flow of insulin into the body instead of promoting insulin spikes and sugar crashes. In order to make insulin work for your muscle building process instead of hindering it, you need to control your insulin levels to avoid excess fat storage because spiking insulin levels all throughout the day unavoidably leads to fat gain over time.
The main way to use insulin production to your advantage is – you guessed it – by reducing your intake of simple, high-glycemic carbs as much as possible. However, there are times of the day when you could actually benefit from elevating your blood sugar and stimulating an insulin surge, and those are before and after a strenuous training session.
Why? Because among other things, spikes in insulin levels at those crucial moments help drive all the other nutrients from the meal to the muscles, and that’s a growth-promoting opportunity you shouldn’t miss.
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