In the first edition of this final edition(s) series, I discussed pre, intra and post-training nutrition when fat loss is the primary goal. In the second installment I discussed the best course of action to take in order to perform at a high level in the gym and to maximize our day-to-day workout strength, be that in the gym, sports, or competition (although I haven’t discussed the specifics of nutrient timing in regards to competition, be that in a sport, bodybuilding contest, or even a photo shoot. These are times when peaking is the plan, and I intend to write about this at a later date).
Today it’s time to move on to pre, intra and post-training nutrition when building muscle is the primary goal. I’ll be getting back to hormonal optimization again in this article, as I strayed from it in the strength and performance post, as hormonal optimization regarding nutrition is of lesser importance when strength and perfomance is concerned. That isn’t to say that those involved in these pursuits aren’t interested in maximizing hormonal output, but there are always more than one way to achieve that goal (which brings me to another side subject – I’m going to be covering how this is done, and how it can be related to any type of training shortly).
Now that I’ve set up a few future articles, let’s get started with pre-training nutrition when maximum muscle mass is the goal. This isn’t going to be as straight forward as the previous two examples, as I’m going to give you a choice as to which option you’d prefer to follow. The reason being is that in the case of muscle hypertrophy training there is no clear-cut winner as to what will build more muscle. The first method that you can use it to consume either a pre-workout meal two hours prior to training or a pre-workout shake an hour before training. That is a choice you can make yes, but not the choice I’m referring to.
The choice you get to make specific to these two options is the content of these two pre-workout options. Your choice that you need to make is whether you want to include carbohydrate. Protein in both cases is a given. As I mentioned above there is no definite advantage to either course of action regarding the final result. If you choose to not include carbs, then your levels of circulating testosterone will be higher. The advantage there is that your strength in theory will be greater, and your recovery abilities will also be greater in between working sets.
Conversely, you can make the exact same argument for including carbs. Initially, and for some time, your testosterone level will most certainly drop, but your insulin levels will increase. This is yet another example of homeostasis in action. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction in order to keep the delicate balance of hormones in check. The advantage of having that carbs available apart from the nutrient delivery advantage that insulin will provide, is that your energy levels will be higher. This in theory should translate into greater strength, which in theory should also translate into a greater hormonal response due to the increased load.
Notice I said in theory regarding both options, and notice I said that both options will provide similar results? This is where experimentation comes in. I have found my strength to be greater when pre-training carbs are ingested, but it is an extremely delicate balance. The number of carbs and the type are very specific. If you want to know what works for me, about 30 grams maximum of simple sugars mixed in with whey, an hour before I hit the gym floor is my recipe. Any more than this and I feel sluggish. Any different type of carb and I feel bloated and slow. I also opt for the first choice just as often, and go with no carbs to keep my testosterone levels at the their highest. Like I said in the intro, there is no definite sure-fire guaranteed best method, so it will be a matter of personal choice for you.
As far as intra training nutrition is concerned, you have two choices as well. Three really and they are; water, bcaa’s, or bcaa’s and carbs. Simply opting for water will mean that you will most likely receive the best anabolic response from lifting. Using bcaa’s means that protein sparing will be optimized, meaning that muscle retention is maximized, and bcaa’s and carbs means muscle retention as well as heightened glucose availability, which means possible greater strength during training.
The final decision that is ultimately yours involves whether or not you’re going to use carbs in your post workout meal or shake. Regarding timing, I still suggest waiting an hour to let your post training inflammation begin the recovery process unimpeded. The choice as to whether you include carbs in either your shake or meal post-training is dependent on whether you want to keep your testosterone levels, as well as any possible fat burning that may be taking place high, or whether you want to utilize insulin to speed the delivery of nutrients to the muscle to begin the recovery process.
I’m going to touch on the period of carbohydrate uptake that follows weight training briefly. You’ve all heard that post training is the best time to replenish depleted glycogen stores due to intense training, right? This ideal window of opportunity is only available for two hours as I’m sure you all know. What I’d like to point out is that during your conventional bulking period, consumption of carbohydrates tends to be rather high. This means there is no real need to concern your self with topping up glycogen levels, as they will be already filled throughout the day. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t opt for post-training carbs, but your choice doesn’t need to be concerned with glycogen top up.
The choice is yours in all of the above-mentioned scenarios. I recommend finding out what works best for you. I look at training as a lifelong choice, and that means that it is worth setting aside weeks during your training cycles for trial and error. You may be surprised to find that you hit on a combination that is ideal for you that you had never tried before simply because you had never explored the available options and variations.