Fueling Your Fitness

You’ve no doubt see some of these “pre-workout” concoctions floating around on supplement store shelves. What’s that about? Do you really need to mix a drink BEFORE your workout too? Well … no. But, you DO want to enter your workout in an optimal state. Now the sports nutrition sellers would have you believe that the optimum state is cracked out on enough caffeine, vein dilators, and blood thinners to bleed to death if you dropped a dumbbell on your toe. That’s not optimal. Rather, a stable flow of glucose through blood to well rested and thoroughly hydrated muscle cells is optimum. Much of that is accomplished the day (and night) before the workout.

However, to make sure you have enough “attack” energy, try eating a light snack of starch with a touch of protein or 15-20 minutes before hitting your workout. This will ensure your blood sugar is “topped off.” Just avoid too much fiber or fat, as too much of these could make you feel full and sluggish. The timing and amount here are important. Too much food too early (a full meal an hour before the workout, for example) will have the opposite effect, making you want to nap instead of train.

You’ve heard the advice to eat protein immediately following a workout. Ever wonder why? Intense exercise stresses and breaks down muscle protein. Yes, even aerobic exercise does this. In response, the hormones that aid protein synthesis become immediately primed and ready to start the repair and rebuild process. Now think about it this way. If you had a ton of ready, willing, and able workers show up to begin building your dream house … would you want them to be short of materials? What a waste! So get that post-workout protein in – ideally within 30 minutes following your training. Additionally, include a little carbs with that protein to help replenish muscle glycogen and muscle water while stimulating insulin to drive the protein into the cell. So if you didn’t, now you know that you should get protein post-workout.

But did you know there is another key time that the body is primed for rebuilding and repair? You can probably guess it – sleep! Growth hormone elevates during deep sleep, and protein synthesis picks up the pace. With the lack of external movement energy needed, the body can focus on internal fixes. Muscle repair becomes a primary project. So be sure to consume pre-bed protein. That may be as simple as a quality dinner that includes some lean meat, if you go to sleep soon afterward. For many people though, a post-dinner snack is in order. The perfect combination is a slower-absorbing protein like casein (milk protein) with a fruit like banana (which can also aid more restful sleep). But if you are staying away from dairy, mixing some whey protein in a little almond milk works as well, since the fat in the nut milk will slow the absorption of the protein, helping to last the night.