For your mass gain workout to be maximally productive, your pre and post-workout nutrition must be supplying the body with the right nutrition at the right time.
If you don’t do this, if you forget to eat before or succumb to that desire to fall onto the couch and “veg” for a couple of hours after your training, you are cheating yourself out of muscle gains.
While you will only be in the gym engaging in intense resistance exercise for less than one hour, it is what you eat in the 90 minutes before and the 90 minutes after that workout that can determine how effective that hard work will be at moving you towards your goals.
Paying attention to your overall nutrition is important, paying attention to your pre and post-workout nutrition is critical.
If you get nothing else right, get this right…
The Four-Hour Window
This “four hour window” (90 minutes before, 60 during, 90 after) will be the most important period of time in your program in terms of feeding your body for muscle growth.
It is during these four hours that you can significantly enhance your ability to build muscle. The body will be both most in need of muscle building nutrition and most receptive to it.
Pre-Workout Nutrition – The 2nd Most Important Meal
Your pre-workout meal is the second most important meal of the day, topped only by the post workout meal. The goal of this meal is to prepare the body for the assault you will soon be putting it through.
During intense exercise, as stored energy is used up, the body will turn to glycolysis to replace this energy. Glycolysis is the process of converting sugars (carbs) into ATP and ultimately the very energy you need to contract a muscle. Therefore, it stands to reason that you want the ingredients (carbs) that make energy to be readily available. Not having them will impair your ability to work to your full potential.
The pre-workout meal needn’t be all that different from one of your normal meals (assuming you make eating for mass gain a practice). It should be focused on protein and complex carbohydrates. It is important that both of these macronutrients be present.
The meal should be consumed about 60-90 minutes before exercise begins to allow the body time to digest and make the nutrients available to the body during exercise.
Complex carbohydrates in your pre-workout meal will help ensure you have adequate energy levels for your workout. Another practice to consider is consuming simple carbohydrates (fruits, fruit juices) and/or whey protein in a quick drink 15 to 30 minutes previous to the workout to provide the body with an immediate energy source.
Post-Workout Nutrition – The Most Important Meal
The basic goal of weight training for mass gain is to force the muscles to break themselves down (catabolism) and then rebuild (anabolism). When the workout provides sufficient trauma to the muscles, small tears in the muscle fibers and connective tissue are created. In the hours and days following the workout, the muscles will attempt to rebuild themselves and become stronger and better able to deal with such trauma in the future.
The above process is called adaptation.
Notice that I said they will “attempt” to rebuild themselves to be stronger. In order to accomplish this goal, they need to be provided the raw materials to do the job – They need good post-workout nutrition.
The muscles need carbohydrates to replace their drained fuel sources (muscle glycogen) and they need protein to begin the rebuilding process. The better the materials you provide them, the better work they will be able to do. The sooner you get them the materials, the sooner they can get started.
The goal of proper post-workout nutrition is to quickly and efficiently refuel the muscles and then provide them with the raw materials they need to rebuild themselves to be bigger and stronger.
For mass gain, a good goal is to try and make your post-workout meal about 15-25% of your total daily caloric goal (if your diet calls 3,000 calories a day, your post-workout meal would be about 450-750 calories). It should contain a quality carb mixture and a quality protein source.
The Three Steps To Ideal Post-Workout Nutrition
A sports drink is a good first step in post-workout nutrition. It will act to quickly replace energy stores, replace lost nutrients and also create an insulin spike more on the importance of insulin.
High glycemic index fruit or fruit juice can also address this need as well as some “creatine plus” products and other bodybuilding supplements made expressly for this purpose.
Providing the body with a quality protein source is the second step on the post-workout nutrition agenda and it should follow the first step as quickly as possible. A liquid source is ideal because it can be processed and utilized by the body quicker.
Studies have shown that time is truly of the essence, the sooner the body is provided with these materials the quicker it will exit its catabolic state and enter an anabolic state (the less muscle you will lose and the quicker you will start building new muscle).
The third step in proper post-workout nutrition is the post-workout meal. Consume this meal as soon as your stomach and schedule will allow it. This can vary by individual. Generally, the longest you want to go is 90 minutes post exercise but ideally you would want it within the first 30 minutes.
The resulting muscle gains you experience as a result of your workout can possibly be dramatically affected by how quick you are able to re-supply the body with muscle building nutrition.
The post-workout meal should be heavy on protein and carbohydrates. While protein builds muscle, do not forget the important role carbohydrates play in the process. By providing an insulin spike, carbs provide the body with an excellent transport system for the nutrients to reach the muscle cells. The insulin release and the sensitivity of the muscle cells (caused by the trauma of intense weight training) is also the reason most recommend taking creatine at this time.
In short, there is no other time that the muscles are as receptive to being fed as in the post-workout period. Bodybuilders often refer to this as their “free time,” a time when they can eat anything and not have to worry about it turning into fat. The muscle cells are incredibly hungry for nutrition and will suck up all you can give them, lessening the chance that fat cells will instead be the recipients of the provided nutrients.
Upping Your Caloric Intake On Workout Days
It can be an effective plan to up your caloric intake on the days you work out. To do this, you DON’T include the post-workout meal in your daily calorie counts. This will mean that you take in 15-25% more calories on your workout days than non-workout days.
Some call this cycling; others just consider it disregarding the caloric intake that is simply replacing what the intense workout took out of you. Whatever you call it, it can be an effective way to keep the body adjusting and growing.
Time To Pick Carbs…
Picking the right carbs becomes very important when you are dealing with pre and post-workout nutrition. High-glycemic foods can help create an insulin spike which can help get the nutrients to your muscles. To learn more about using the glycemic index, read The Glycemic Index, Insulin and Bodybuilding.