Pre and post workout nutrition are areas that many people feel are unnecessary. I can agree so long one is able to meet their daily nutrition needs without supplementation. After all, using supplements is intended to supplement nutrients that one may not be able to meet with their regular diet. But let’s not mistake this for an excuse to replace meals because one lacks the discipline to have food ready or even worse, fail to eat a couple times a day like a normal human being should.
A common theme I’ve found amongst a handful of people I’ve trained over the years is the perception that supplements aren’t “natural”. The irony speaks for itself as its often these same people who spend every weekend indulging in their favorite liquid carcinogen (alcohol). Add excessive cardio and a daily fluctuation of calorie intake to the equation and we’ve got ourselves a classic case of a gym rat living in a metabolic nightmare.
Eating Better Options (Beginner)
Now don’t get me wrong, learning to choose healthier food items is a great first step. Just take a look at the folks who experience acute shifts in their physique from whatever fad diet is popular this season. Just note that this leads to little to no change in body composition over time. What these people experience is often a loss in water weight and the magic of…drum roll…not eating like a piece of shit! Learning to eat better is just a stepping stone when it comes to transforming the body.
Eating What You Need (Intermediate)
Where most tend to break through the plateau is when they grasp the concept of energy balance. Without oversimplifying it: burn more calories than you intake on a daily basis overtime. But the real shift in body composition and physique transformation occurs when one engrains a steady practice of intaking the appropriate macronutrients (proteins, carbs, fats) based off their activity level or training goal. Just because you eat less than your body requires doesn’t mean you will shed mostly fat. Nor does eating more than your body requires equate to gaining weight solely through muscle growth. Needless to say, nailing down your macronutrient intake on a consistent basis will enable you to build more muscle and progressively transform your physique overtime.
It is getting to this point in which most people may start to feel that pre and post workout nutrition isn’t of much importance. So if one can dial into the appropriate calorie intake, eat a proper distribution of their required macronutrients based off their training goal, and choose healthier items most of the time: would they be on the path to building a better physique? Absolutely! But we’re forgetting one part of the puzzle and possibly one of the most important when it comes to crossing that bridge of being an intermediate level gym goer to an advanced trainee: workout intensity.
Eating For Success (Advanced)
You can always build a nice physique through consistently practicing everything mentioned above with a couple workouts a week. But if you want to achieve anything out of the ordinary and be better than the average, you need to eat to train! I don’t care how strong willed you are, if your body isn’t fueled sufficiently, you are limiting what you can gain from your training. This is where many are steered wrong into the idea that pre and post workout nutrition is useless. I bet if they disciplined themselves for a few weeks to time their nutrition right around their workouts, they would notice a significant difference in their overall output and intensity in each training session.
Convenience aside, I understand if one chooses to opt from using supplementation to meet their nutrition needs. But how would one achieve all of this without the use of conventional supplements? I provide some ideas below:
What Most Pre Workout Supplements Look Like
You want carbs in your system during your workout. Plain and simple. Why? To ensure that you aren’t depleted of your glycogen stores during the training session. However, it’s probably not the best idea to intake 1/3-1/4 of your daily carb intake an hour before a training session. Training with a full stomach isn’t the brightest idea, nor will it provide nutrients in time to fuel your training session. A small amount of high glycemic carbs will suffice (most use maltodextrin or simple sugars). Another thing most people look for in a pre workout supplement is a vasodilator, i.e. something that gives you the pump. Most pre workout supplements contain a single or various forms of the amino acid, arginine. This amino acid boosts nitric oxide levels in the blood, further enabling one’s ability to improve performance. But let’s not forget to mention the one that jazzes everybody when it comes to pre workout supplements: the stimulant! Caffeine is the most common, but take heed to the outlandish doses that make an infrequent caffeine user feel like they’re on the verge of a heart attack.
A Natural Alternative
1. Carb Source: Honey
It’s a natural immediate energy source. Glucose right into your bloodstream to raise that blood sugar after a long stretch of not eating in between lunch and your evening workout or a long night of sleep and an early morning training session. A great antioxidant that is also swarmed for its anti-inflammatory properties.
2. Vasodilator Source: Cocoa Powder (unsweetened)
It is a myocardial stimulant as well as a vasodilator, it increases heartbeat, yet it also dilates blood vessels, causing a reduction in blood pressure. Also a great anti-inflammatory and antioxidant source.
3. Stimulant Source: Coffee
Do we really need to go over why this will give you that boost? Caffeine baby! Oh, and yet another antioxidant.
4. Optional Fat Source: Heavy Whipping Cream
To slow down the digestion and release of glucose into the bloodstream.
*For those who aren’t fond of pure cocoa powder and it’s chalky taste, I highly recommend you use the honey and heavy whipping cream.
What Most Post Workout Supplements Look Like
Now that you’ve hopefully gotten what you needed out of that pre workout concoction and depleted all your energy stores from the amount of intensity you can bring to the table, it’s time refuel those glycogen stores. You got it, more carbs! Most use maltodextrin, dextrose, or sugar based sports drinks. Not only will this carry you through the rest of the day in between your workout and next meal, it will also maximize muscle protein synthesis. Pairing your carbs and protein together post workout will ensure that you are driving fuel into your muscle tissue after a strenuous training session of breaking the tissue down. After all, the rebuilding process only takes places with proper nutrition and rest. Most use variations of whey powder. Fats aren’t particularly important for post workout nutrition.
A Natural Alternative
1. Carb Source: Fruit
I like berries as my fruit of choice. Blueberries to be specific. Blueberries are: a high glycemic carb source, fibrous, loaded with antioxidants, potassium, vitamin C, the list goes on…mix in some raw honey to increase carb intake if necessary.
2. Protein Source: Greek Yogurt
Higher in protein than your other dairy products. High in calcium, B12, and a great source of probiotics.
*The serving sizes are based off someone who weighs around 180-220 pounds. If you are 140-180 lbs, use 2/3 of the serving sizes. 100-120 lbs, use 1/2 of the serving sizes. Obviously you must also take into account how this fits into your daily intake.
Adding It To Your Day
Here are some examples of what it may look like adding these into your routine based off your workout schedule if you ate 3 regular meals a day:
Training In The Morning (6am)
5:30am- pre workout concoction
7:30am- post workout
4:00pm- mid afternoon snack
Training In The Afternoon (12pm)
11:30am-pre workout concoction
1:30pm- post workout
4:00- mid afternoon snack
Training In The Evening (6pm)
4:00pm- mid afternoon snack
5:30pm- pre workout concoction
7:30pm- post workout
I get it. Some people just don’t want to use powders or mixes because they don’t want to affiliate with meathead culture. I can accept that. But to not be getting the fuel they need to get the most out of their training and still expect superior results is pure delusion. Use these “natural’ pre and post workout options as you choose. Just don’t come back to me saying you won’t get where you need to be because supplements aren’t in the cards. Namaste.