There is very little disputing the fact that breakfast and the post workout meal are the 2 most important meals in a bodybuilder’s day. Breakfast is important because you have literally been fasting for 7-8 hours whilst sleeping, and, the post workout meal is so important because you’ve just broken down your muscles through rigorous training and burnt off a ton of energy. Without getting some quick energy – and the right nutrients – into your system, your muscles will begin to break down in order to repair, rather than grow to repair.
I’m not going to discuss breakfast any further in this article, but I will talk about pre and post workout meals, and why consuming protein and carbs during each meal is important.
The pre-workout meal:
Imagine you’ve eaten next to nothing for several days, and suddenly, you hit the gym. It would defy the laws of physics for you to have a session of equal performance to your regular, fully fuelled sessions. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even manage to finish.
This is an exaggerated example, but, this is basically what is happening when you train without eating first. Your muscles simply don’t have enough energy stored in them (glycogen) to perform. The result is you can’t lift as heavy, you can’t lift as much volume, you can’t fatigue enough muscle fibres – and it’s a wasted session. In essence, your training session begins with the knife and fork, an hour or so before you touch a weight.
The best pre-workout meals to eat are ones which include plenty of carbohydrates and a good dose of protein. Carbohydrates are the quickest nutrient to be assimilated into energy for the muscles, so they are essential if you want to get the most out of your session.
Ingesting protein before a workout helps to keep you in a positive nitrogen balance whilst you train. So, for the hour or so that you’re lifting, your body isn’t in a protein deficit, so catabolism of the muscles isn’t taking place.
The post-workout meal:
Arguably even more important than breakfast is the post-workout meal. You’ve just broken down your muscles by training, depleted their glycogen stores almost completely, and now your muscles are in a desperate state to repair. They need both energy (glycogen) and protein to do this.
Your post-workout meal (and your pre-workout meal) should make up the bulk of your daily carbohydrate intake. This is because the carbohydrates are put to their best use during these times. By eating meals of plenty of carbohydrates throughout the day, you can encourage unwanted fat gains because they aren’t being burned off so quickly.
Again, protein is very important during this time – so get plenty of it (it should be the biggest protein intake of the day in any one meal). Your muscles are now broken down and, a ready supply of protein to keep you in a positive nitrogen balance means catabolism of the muscles doesn’t begin, and if the body does begin looking for protein to burn as a fuel, it won’t turn to the muscle – but to the readily usable protein you’ve just eaten.
Protein shakes are an excellent choice for post workout, because they are very easily ingested, whereas food needs time to digest and may take a bit longer to really get into you system.