Training | Deidre Bloomquist | 08/25/20
When it comes to your training regimen, you probably have a program in place that tells you exactly what to do on a daily basis and provides structure for your workouts. But what are you doing before stepping foot in the gym to ensure your performance is optimal?
If you’re not focusing on nutrient timing around your workouts in preparation for optimal performance, you’re likely missing a huge piece of the puzzle in reaching your athletic goals.
There are four major strategies to keep in mind when it comes to getting ready to perform your best in the gym, whether it’s a regular training day or competition day.
Protein as part of your pre-workout routine is often an overlooked component of performance nutrition, but adequate protein is vital for preventing the excessive breakdown of muscle fibers during exercise.
Through repetitions in strength training, stress and tension are put on muscle and their fibers, causing micro-tears. These are ultimately an important part of training as these tears create room for muscle repair and growth, which result in both muscle hypertrophy as well as improvements in strength. However, excessive muscle breakdown can mean that soreness sets in and muscle fibers are unable to repair at staggering rates.
Having protein as part of your pre-workout nutrient regimen means that you are providing muscle fibers with the building blocks to repair muscle quickly and efficiently, without excess damage being done. One of the most effective ways to do this is through the use of branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s). BCAA’s used prior and during exercise is one of the easiest and most effective ways to have proteins readily available for muscle recovery.
If consuming a whole protein source, such as meat, eggs, or dairy, aim to consume around 10-30 grams of protein about 60-90 minutes prior to the beginning of your workout. Since BCAA’s are already broken down in the simplest form of a protein, they can be consumed just before and during your workout while still being effective.
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for our muscles, and are therefore an integral part of pre-workout nutrient timing, but we need to take into consideration the type of carb being consumed in order to ensure it’s available for use when we need it during exercise.
Our muscles are fueled by sugar, namely glucose which is converted to glycogen and stored in our muscles and liver for energy. This is what allows our muscles to perform and function, especially when it comes to strength training.
Without adequate carb intake prior to a workout, you might notice that you “hit a wall” during your workout that you’re unable push through. You may also notice that you experience dizziness and early onset muscle fatigue. When a movement becomes impossible to complete due to muscle fatigue, it’s a sign that you’ve depleted the glycogen stores in that muscle group, preventing you from continuing to use those muscles.
For our purposes, there are two major types of carbohydrates: simple and complex.
Complex carbohydrates are those that contain fiber and starch, and therefore require a longer period of time in order to be digested and broken down to the glucose to be used by our cells and muscles. Some examples of complex carbs include:
Since these require some time to digest, these are best used as pre-workout energy when consumed between 1-2 hours prior to the start of your workout. While complex carbs may take longer to break down for energy, one of the benefits of using a complex carb for workout fuel is that they provide longer lasting, sustainable energy that will carry you through the duration of your workout.
Simple carbohydrates are those that contain more sugar than they do fiber, and will therefore breakdown over a faster period of time in order to be used as fuel in the body. Some examples of simple carbs include:
Since these carbs don’t require as long to be digested for energy use, they are best consumed around 30 minutes prior to the beginning of your workout. While simple carbs provide quick energy, they are also short-lasting energy providers. They are usually not well-suited for longer workouts in particular.
As one of the foundational nutrients, water intake is crucial for optimal athletic performance. Water plays a crucial role in the movement of nutrients into cells for use (including sugar and muscles), provides lubrication and cushioning for joints, protects lungs from damage during aerobic exercise, and serves as the primary conductors between cells for nerve impulses.
In addition to water intake, electrolytes and a proper mineral imbalance should be considered to promote healthy water retention and ensure that the cells of the body are able to best utilize daily water intake. Without electrolytes, water can simply flush the system rather than be utilized by cells. Our cells rely on minerals and electrolytes to determine when a cell should absorb or release water. Low levels of electrolytes, such as sodium, magnesium, calcium, and potassium, can lead to hyponatremia (water intoxication) or prolonged dehydration despite adequate water intake on a daily basis.
To determine a baseline for daily water intake, take your body weight in pounds and divide it in half. This is the number of ounces you should be drinking daily in order to maintain adequate hydration levels.
In addition to water intake, you should be a regular electrolyte source in place to promote hydration. This might look like an electrolyte supplement in the form of a tablet dropped in your water or powder mix, or it might be using lemon and other citrus fruit juices squeezed into water as they contain a balanced amount of electrolytes naturally. You may also consider adding a pinch of sea salt to your water before and after your training to provide the body with adequate sodium, the body’s most important electrolyte, as well as replenishing any lost sodium stores through sweat loss.
Pre-workout supplements have become a popular part of pre-workout nutrition but are often unnecessary and provide a host of chemicals to the body that put more stress on the body than needed in order to complete a workout.
If using a pre-workout supplement, look for one that has as few ingredients as possible to avoid overloading your digestive system and creating a detox reaction. A clean pre-workout supplement (like our's) offers a natural source of energy such as caffeine as a stimulant to create fresh blood flow to the brain when a pick-me-up is needed.
By implementing these four strategies and being aware of your nutrient timing prior to your workouts, you can drastically improve how you feel during your training, but also the strength, endurance, and recovery of your workouts to reach your athletic goals as efficiently as possible.
Functional Nutritionist based in Denver, Colorado. Certified L3 CrossFit Trainer who loves working with athletes on performance and health goals.
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