02 Apr Pre, Peri, and Post Workout Nutrition for Beginner Lifters
What you decide to consume around your training has a huge impact on performance and body composition. Nutrient timing can set your body up for training success whether the goal is fat loss, muscle gain, or strength. If you want to grow, lose fat, and/or recover at an optimal rate, below is a brief overview for beginner lifters (6-12 months of training experience or in-frequent training for the past 3-5 years) to use as a starting point.
What You Need to Understand
- Muscle Protein Synthesis vs Muscle Protein Breakdown
- Pre, Peri, and Post Workout
- Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin (HBCD)
- Creatine Helps
The 3 States of Your Muscles
Your muscles can only be in three different states at any given time and it’s either driven by muscle protein synthesis (MPS) or muscle protein breakdown (MPB). When MPS is greater than MPB, you’re gaining muscle. When both are equal, you’re simply just maintaining muscle. When MPB is greater than MPS, you’re losing muscle. Got it?
When you’re training, part of the goal should be to maintain as much muscle as possible or build it. Why? The more muscle you have, the higher caloric expenditure you can expect. Every pound of muscle can burn anywhere from 15-30 calories per day depending on your level of activity. In addition, more muscle means an increase in insulin sensitivity which makes it easier to get leaner.
When dieting for fat loss, most of your carb intake should occur around training. The best time to have them is peri and post workout. It’s been shown that including carbs during and/or after training when glycogen stores are low, helps keep cortisol low. Cortisol is great when it’s increased acutely because it uses free fatty acids for fuel. A slight increase during training is fine because you’ll have Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin (HBCD) to help combat the potential negative effects (more on this in a bit). However, after training, you must shut cortisol down. A meal containing lean protein and carbs will aid in this effort.
Specifically, for hypertrophy, when you eat prior to training, MPS will be elevated. If you don’t, you’re not taking advantage of the opportunity to grow or even maintain it. There’s a chance that you probably wasted the opportunity to stimulate growth during that session. You can have a well-balanced meal 1.5 to 3 hours pre-workout containing the following:
Protein – 30-40g (for amino acid uptake)
Carbs – 25-35g (to help with cortisol)
Fats – 10g (for digestion)
For strength, stick to protein and fats. Getting stronger is driven by neurological adaptations. Eating carbs prior to training will either produce serotonin or GABA. Both neurotransmitters are responsible for either calming down or reducing the excitability of the CNS (central nervous system). Your CNS should be elevated for strength training. Depending on the individual, dopamine or adrenaline (dopamine is produced by adrenaline) must be elevated for better performance. Protein and healthy fats will raise or keep dopamine high. You can eat a meal consisting of the following:
Protein – 30-40g
Fats – 15-20g
If your goal is fat loss, the pre-workout meal should be based on well the individual handles stress. For people with a higher level of anxiety or are currently dealing with a great amount of stress, including carbs in your pre-workout meal can help lower cortisol and keep you focused on the training session. 15-25g pre-workout is all you need. Examples include a piece of Ezekiel bread, a cup of berries, or 1 serving of steel-cut oats. If you handle stress well, despise carbs prior to training, or are in tune with your body enough to know that carbs lower your energy prior to training, keep the carbs low or out of any pre-workout meal.
What If I Like to Train Fasted?
If maintaining or improving your performance for strength or hypertrophy is important to you, I wouldn’t train completely fasted. Including a mix of protein powder with HBCD during training will assist in keeping cortisol low and activating mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin, most vital cell signaling complex for muscle growth). An alternative would be to have a shake, a spoonful of nut butter, and some berries before you hit the gym.
For fat loss, train fasted if you want. I know many people who can’t stomach anything besides water before training. A meta-analysis of 46 studies in 2018 stated that fasted exercise increased post exercise circulating free fatty acids compared to fed exercise. However, pre-exercise feeding enhanced aerobic performance. A 2014 study, found no difference between two groups who exercised in a fasted or pre-fed state while in a caloric deficit. Both groups lost a significant amount of weight and fat free mass.
Since this post is for beginners aka “newbs”, I’ll explain peri-workout. Peri refers to “during”. So, peri-workout is anything food or supplement that you decide to ingest during a training session. Based on my own experience and the advice of those who’ve been in the iron game for a long time, I suggest using HBCD or cluster dextrin during training. HBCD is more soluble and is absorbed more easily by the body than a regular carb source. It allows you to maintain energy levels during training without causing spikes in blood sugar. HBCD also remains in your stomach for less time than average carbs, is absorbed by the intestines, and is driven to your muscles quickly.
How much you need in a session depends on the type of training. For leg days, back days, or upper/lower push vs. pull splits, 50-60g should suffice. For smaller muscle groups such as arms, delts, abs, 20-30g is all you need.
After your training session, stick to protein and carbs. The fats pre-workout and the HBCD will help in digestion so there’s no need for them post-workout. For carbs, stick to the following options to help keep cortisol low and refuel you for the next training session:
- White rice
- Rice pasta
- Cream of rice
When it comes to protein, you’re using it to spike insulin and begin the recovery process. A casein/isolate combo or a whey isolate protein powder are the best options. 25-40g has been shown to work just fine. You could also have this shake pre-workout to get the same effect on promoting MPS. A study in 2014, stated that there are no meaningful results consistently attributable to pre-workout vs post workout protein ingestion. Choose what you’d rather do based on individual preference. Therefore, you could have the shake before the session. Then, have a post workout meal containing one of the carbs from the list and a lean protein source (i.e. chicken, white fish, lean turkey, lean beef, etc.)
Some people are reluctant to taking creatine and I’m not sure why. It has amazing benefits such as but not limited to the following:
- Increases your work capacity during intense anaerobic training
- Helps regenerate ATP which is required for intense muscle contractions
- Builds muscle by raising anabolic hormones
- Reduces the chances of muscle protein breakdown
As far as which type, creatine monohydrate is backed by evidence and is very inexpensive so you almost can’t go wrong with it. However, if you have problems with bloating and retaining water, creatine HCL might be a better option. There isn’t enough evidence yet to state if HCL is better, but I’ve taken HCL for years and never had an issue.
Aird, TP, Davies, RW, Carson, BP. Effects of fasted vs fed‐state exercise on performance and post‐exercise metabolism: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2018; 28: 1476– 1493. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.13054
Antonio J, Ciccone V. “The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength.” J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Aug 6;10:36
Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA, Wilborn CD, Krieger JW, Sonmez GT. Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014;11(1):54. Published 2014 Nov 18. doi:10.1186/s12970-014-0054-7
Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon A, Wilborn C, Urbina SL, Hayward SE, Krieger J. Pre- versus post-exercise protein intake has similar effects on muscular adaptations [published correction appears in PeerJ. 2017 Aug 1;5:]. PeerJ. 2017;5:e2825. Published 2017 Jan 3. doi:10.7717/peerj.2825