Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Trying To Build Muscle? Pre- and Post-Workout Meals Are Critical

Pre- and post-workout meals are just as critical to your muscle growth (hypertrophy) as the training. These two processes work together to make your training program successful. The rigors of training breaks down your body and you need proper nutrition and rest to rebuild your body bigger and better.


Pre-workout nutrition should mainly include carbohydrates and proteins. During intense physical activity, your body depends on fuel from glycogen made from the carbohydrates that you eat. The body can't use fat for fuel during high intensity exercise because there is not enough oxygen available.

Consuming fruits, vegetables and smoothies 1-2 hours before a workout will build up your glycogen stores. Glycogen is stored in your liver and muscles and it is broken down into glucose. Glucose is then used by your body to make energy. As a result, when your glycogen stores are low, your performance will suffer.

Research has shown the effectiveness of pre-workout protein drinks (such as whey and casein). These drinks will make enough amino acids available to take advantage of the increased blood flow to your working muscles. Also, your muscles get 2 times as much benefit from a pre-workout protein drink compared to having just a post-workout protein drink.

Endurance athletes can also benefit from consuming moderate amounts of fat (such as flax oil and omega 3s) because of the availability of oxygen during exercise or competition.


Post-workout nutrition is important to help the body recover from intense exercise. It is not necessary to eat immediately after your workout.

But there is a 45 minute to 1 hour window where replenishing your body's fuel (carbs, protein, fats) will optimize your tissue's repair and growth.
Carbohydrates are important for glycogen stores recovery. The type of carbohydrates consumed are not as important as the amount consumed (replenishment is the key issue).

So, how many daily carbs should you consume to replenish glycogen stores? It depends on your size and your sport.

Your body needs a minimum of 200 grams of carbs per day if you are a light exerciser. You will feel tired and listless without this amount of carbs.

Athletes in sports that require plyometrics, speed and weight training need about 2.5 grams of daily carbs per pound of body weight. A 180 pound athlete would need at least 450 grams of carbs each day to function properly.

Endurance athletes such as marathoners, swimmers, triathletes need high amounts of daily carbs. About 3.5 to 4.5 grams per pound of body weight is needed. So, a 180 pound athlete would need 630 to 810 grams of carbs per day. These athletes sometimes use carbohydrate loading before events.

Protein is another critical post-exercise nutrient. Protein provides amino acids which are used to repair and rebuild damaged tissues as a result of intense exercise. Again, protein shakes will work well here.

Daily protein needs for athletes should be calculated according to body weight (not by percent of calories). Daily protein targets (grams per pound of body weight) are:

--Recreational exerciser, adult 0.5-0.8
--Competitive athlete, adult 0.8-1.0
--Growing teenage athlete 0.7-0.9
--Adult building muscle mass 0.8-1.0

Your body will excrete excess protein intake.

For example, if you weigh 190 pounds and want a high protein intake (1.0 gms/lb), you'll need 190 grams of protein per day.

Protein should be eaten at least every 3-4 hours (with every meal) to insure adequate supply during the day. Your night meal should be comprised of slowly digesting protein (such as lean meats) that will give a constant release of amino acids into your system overnight.

Of course, hydration is also very important. Drink daily about a half an ounce of water for every pound of body weight (180 pound person would drink 90 ounces). If you exercise, drink a cup of water for every 15 minutes exercised. For exercise or games longer than 1 hour, a carb/protein drink is needed during the activity.

The post-exercise meal should consist of carbohydrates, protein and a small amount of essential fats. A drink, such as a smoothie, is good because it is quickly digestible. A ratio of 2g carbs/1g protein is desirable.

The carbs should be high glycemic, the proteins should be easily digestible (such as whey) and the fats should be from sources such as fish or flax oil.

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Mark Dilworth, BA, PES
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