So far we know that there are many options available to use when it comes to pre, post and intra training nutrition. We also know that those options will dictate things like energy levels and strength during training, protein synthesis during and post training, post training inflammation, fat loss, and hypertrophy. What you now want me to tell you is what the best combination of these possibilities is to reap the greatest rewards, right? If you have been reading my posts for a while, you know that’s not going to happen. Nothing is ever that simple, and this will not be an exception. I will, however help you to figure out what your best options are going forward for you to maximize your efforts in achieving your goals.
First I need to ask you a question, and your answer will greatly determine your choices. What is it that is your goal? The goals regarding fitness are many, so I’m going to break them down into some of the basic categories, and then from there I’ll try to point you in the right direction. Those categories are: fat loss, strength and performance, muscle-building, and lastly the best of all combinations, which is a happy medium of all of the above that I would consider to be the best overall option.
First, I’ll address fat loss and weight training (nutrition for fat loss LISS or HIIT cardio is another article altogether). It’s the time of year when getting ready to look great naked is on everyone’s mind. Personally, I think looking great naked shouldn’t just be seasonal, but you didn’t tune in for my opinions, at least not those kinds. Fat loss is the type of training where I feel hormonal optimization is of the utmost importance. The easiest way to do this is to train fasted. Why? It is because the easiest way to increase our anabolic, as well as lipolytic hormones, is to not eat. The quickest way to lower their output is to eat. In this case, it is literally that simple.
This is evolution in practice. When food is plentiful, and nutrients abundant, then the body has all of its recovery and metabolic needs met. When the opposite is true, and food and nutrition is scarce, then the body and all of its amazing adaptations kick in to compensate. Growth hormone production and its release goes into overdrive in an attempt to hang on to precious tissue and organs. When under stress, like weight training, output of testosterone and catecholamines increases. All of this is extremely beneficial to the entire process of fat loss and muscle retention during said process.
In the case of testosterone, due to the fact that you’re already in a caloric deficit, and muscle recuperation and growth is already compromised, any boost is going to help that process of protein synthesis and hypertrophy. Regarding growth hormone and catecholamines, both are extremely lipolytic, and will serve you well in utilizing fat for fuel. So why on earth would you ever want to hamper this process by chugging a protein shake with or without carbs immediately before training?
If you train the first thing in the morning, I would strongly advise you take advantage of your fasted state, and train on an empty stomach. If you feel this is too extreme, then some branched chain amino acids mixed in water will work. I mean the straight kind, not the great tasting kind with lots of food coloring and sweeteners added. The last thing you want when you’re trying to lose fat is any type of insulin reaction before training (which still occurs with artificial sweeteners, even if there is no sugar present). If you can’t stand the taste of those, then some whey protein powder mixed in water will also work. Whey is extremely rich in bcaa’s and will digest quickly.
I would still wait at least an hour before training however, but that’s my opinion. I don’t feel that having a load of protein that is just digesting and becoming available is ideal when training for fat loss. You want your body using fat for fuel at every opportunity, not converting protein for that purpose. You can at least minimize this by waiting a while in order to let the whey digest. If you’re a get up and go kind of trainer, I urge you to try just drinking coffee and heading to the gym. If you are training later in the day, then refraining from eating carbohydrates until after training is your best course of action.
As far as intra training nutrition is concerned, there are two schools of thought. One is that you should drink nothing but water, and allow for the greatest amount of fat usage possible during your session. The second is that you should drink branched chain amino acids during your session in order to prevent muscle breakdown. What your opinion is on those two options is of course your own. If you want mine, and I assume you do at this point or else you wouldn’t be reading this, then I would say that water only will suffice. Your body will just be converting those amino’s into glucose, which will spare muscle, but also hamper fat loss.
What about the muscle breakdown and the catabolism that will take place, you ask? Protein turnover is a fact of life. It happens all day long. Even in the case of fasted training, the net loss will be a gram or two of protein catabolized from muscle tissue. This will be easily replaced during post training in a process called protein re-synthesis. I’ll only touch on this, as it’s a whole article itself, but post training nutrient uptake is greatly enhanced when training in the fasted state. I’m pulling this number from memory, (as I am the information for this entire article) but it is at least double that of normal uptake in the fed state. Basically everything you lose by training fasted, you make up during the post training nutrition phase. As far as fat loss is concerned, that’s a double win.
Finally, I’ll deal with post training nutrition when fat loss is the ultimate goal. I personally feel that waiting to consume carbohydrate is a good idea. The minute you consume them, your fat burning that is still happening at a good rate due to the training you just endured, will stop once there is a ready supply of glucose. Wait an hour or so and have either a protein shake made up of a blend of whey and casein, or wait an hour and have a protein meal. Either is equally effective. This is specifically if you are training in the morning.
If you are training in the afternoon, or early evening, then carb back-loading is ideal. This is because insulin sensitivity is highest in the morning and early afternoon. By the evening it has hit its lowest point, however weight training due to muscle contractions will heighten the sensitivity of the muscle cells making them responsive to insulin. This means that by eating most of your calories in the evening following training will cause the largest daily net loss of body fat, while at the same time offering some of the benefits of preservation of muscle and possible hypertrophy.
As you can see, there is a lot to cover when it comes to the specifics of pre, intra, and post training nutrition, as today I only covered fat loss. In the next edition I will move on to another category When I get there, I will address the most well-rounded approach that you may wish to employ if your goals are general fitness and performance based. If you have questions, please ask, and I will be sure to either answer it in the comments section, or possibly write an article addressing your concerns.
Like I said in the beginning, there are no easy answers when it comes to the complicated mechanism that is your body. The answers I am giving here are the result of years of research and testing all of the available methods. If you have different information that goes contrary to what I have outlined here, or in any other article, I welcome your feed back. It is through discussion that we all benefit.