2 Things that are Preventing you from Building Muscle
Have you been nailing every workout and tracking your food yet still not making the desired or expected progress? Have you started to feel tired part way through a workout? Have you skipped training sessions or grinded through because you don’t feel fully recovered?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above then you need to start looking at your pre and post workout nutrition.
Unsure where to begin?
I don’t blame you. Although pre and post workout nutrition is one of my key considerations when designing any nutrition plan, for years I paid very little attention to it and when I did start to take it into consideration, I hadn’t the first idea where to start. However the truth is that when you take out all of the waffle from various ‘internet gurus’ and ‘experts’ who appear credible but are in fact just promoting their own supplement lines and agendas, the whole thing is actually quite straight forward.
Pre-work out – what is it and why is it so important?
A pre-workout meal is the last meal that you eat before you train. Simple. It is a vitally important meal used to fuel or re-fuel the muscle glycogen stores if they are not fully restored since the last exercise session. It also prevents hunger and helps to avoid any gastrointestinal discomfort during the workout.
If you are training in the morning, then the aim will also be to restore liver glycogen stores from an overnight fasted/depletion phase. The meal should contain both proteins and carbohydrates, but the type of carbohydrates used should be determined by the time it is going to be eaten.
If you plan to eat around 2-4 hours before you train, then I’d be suggesting a slow digesting carbohydrate source such as sweet potato, whole wheat pasta or rice. This will ensure that it has been fully digested, not sitting too heavy on your stomach, and will be available in your muscles in the form of glycogen to be used as energy.
If you are eating closer to the time you intend to train, then a more simple carbohydrate source should be considered, for example a bagel, white rice or rice cakes. These will be broken down and absorbed by your body quickly, as a ready available fuel source.
In short, keep it:
- High in carbohydrates
- Low in fat to allow faster absorption
- Low in fibre to prevent gastrointestinal discomfort
My go-to is generally something like a large spaghetti bolognese, made with extra lean mince and whole wheat pasta. So simple, quick and easy – check out the recipe here.
Okay and what about post-workout?
A post-workout meal is exactly what it says on the tin – a meal that you eat after you have worked out. This meal is just as important, if not more important than your pre-workout meal. It is needed to replenish the fuel used during the workout and to provide the body with the right nutrients to facilitate growth and repair afterwards. Regardless of what you may have heard, the meal does not have to be in the form of a shake, nor does it have to be consumed within seconds of finishing your workout. It needs to be a balanced meal containing both proteins and carbohydrates, ideally within two hours of training.
And that brings me nicely onto the illusive topic of the post work out window…
A review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that ‘following intense exercise, athletes should consume carbohydrate and protein (e.g., 1 g/kg of carbohydrate and 0.5 g/kg of protein) within 30 minutes after exercise as well as consume a high carbohydrate meal within two hours following exercise.’ The same review also determined that adopting this nutritional strategy would ‘accelerate glycogen resynthesis as well as promote a more anabolic hormonal profile that may hasten recovery’ (1).
I’m not disputing any of the above when saying this but it is important to note that the majority of these types of studies and reviews have been carried out on professional athletes often competing in endurance and ultra-endurance events. As these athletes would often be training multiple times per day, optimal recovery prior to the next training session is key therefore carbohydrate intake should start as soon as possible to maximise the effective recovery time. For most of us, however, there will generally be at least 8 hours recovery time before the next workout and as long as you are waiting eating a balanced meal within 2 hours, that will be sufficient for adequate recovery.
Equally, during longer recovery periods (24 hours), the pattern and timing of carbohydrate-rich meals and snacks has been shown to be even less critical. When it comes to food sources, carbohydrate-rich foods with a moderate to high glycaemic index (GI) and which provide a readily available source of carbohydrate for glycogen synthesis should be the major fuel choices in recovery meals.
As a side note it is still valuable to choose nutrient-rich carbohydrates and to add other foods to recovery meals and snacks to provide a good source of protein and other nutrients. These nutrients may assist in other recovery processes, and in the case of protein, may promote additional glycogen recovery when carbohydrate intake is below targets or when frequent snacking is not possible (2).
So to summarise all of that, there are many advantages to replenishing carbohydrate stores shortly after a training session and if the period between workouts is less than 8 hours, then make it a priority but if it’s not possible, don’t panic too much and stick to eat within the 2 hour mark.
Post work out suggestions:
- Most breakfast cereals
- Most forms of rice
- White bread, bagels etc.
- Jam and honey
- Most sports drinks
- Chocolate milk (yes, really…. ideal ratio of carbs:protein)
Yet keeping it simple, you just can’t beat a large bowl of coco-pops drowned in a chocolate protein shake!
Key take away points
If you want to build muscle you need to ensure your body is primed for a workout. To ensure your body is primed for a workout you need to effectively fuel your sessions and recovery. To effectively fuel your sessions and recovery both pre-workout and post-workout is critical. Once these two small yet massively overlooked elements are covered, you can push yourself each session and increase your progression hugely!
Look to implement the guidance above if you don’t already and get in touch with your comments. Tried and tested pre and post workout meal suggestions also very welcome. If you would like any more tips on how to make your training sessions more effective, then drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out our coaching packages here and sign up to our Team JPhysique blog to receive more free articles just like this one.Subscribe to the Blog
1 – KREIDER, R. B. et al. ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review: research & recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, v. 7, p. 7-49, 2010.
2 – The Advanced Coaching Academy, Applied Nutrition and Supplementation (Fuelling for exercise).