A few weeks back I suggested to Juli that PaleOMG needed a pre and post workout nutrition post. My idea was that Juli works her magic and cooks some amazing food then the Gang eats them before and after a local weekend CrossFit competition. Juli thought it would be a better idea if just I got in line behind the larger-than-life BigKat and wrote guest post. So here it is my hungry friends – these are my experiences with pre and post workout nutrition.
I am a “competitive CrossFit athlete” which in its self is a funny statement. Basically, I am really good at exercising which puts me and all other “CrossFit athletes” in good company. Having said this, I am not a nutritionist; in fact I am an engineer. I can’t and will not give recommendations. I am the sort of person that doesn’t buy into the black box approach 100% and I have done my fair share of research. I am merely sharing some knowledge and what works for me and why.
Before you can begin thinking about the gritty details of food as fuel I believe you must understand how remarkably important what we put into our body is. We must have an inclusive understanding that the nutrients we give our body is the foundation of all our endeavors. To me this is why a diet that focuses on quality rather than quantity, or lack thereof, is the better choice. I started to see the importance of nutrition while in grad school. I got on board with my friend Heather in the early days of the development of her nutrition program – it changed my life. The girl has a degree in evolutionary sports nutrition and the results speak for themselves.
So, what should you eat and when? This is a loaded question with no absolute answer. I can tell you with complete confidence that there is no magic formula like 40-30-30 that works for everyone. As we learned in kindergarten, we are all unique and special – we have different tastes, different likes and dislikes, some of us can tolerate food that others can’t, and most importantly we all have individual goals. Set your goals! Make sure they are realistic, and work towards them every day, achieve them.
This comes first because hydration is an extremely important factor for optimizing performance. The physical effects of dehydration become noticeable after 2% of the body’s normal water volume has been lost and for every 1% of dehydration, performance is compromised by up to 10%. The rule of thumb that I follow is at a minimum you need to drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day. For example, I am an enormous man weighing in at 155-lbs. This equates to 78 ounces (155/2 = 78) of daily water consumption. Additionally, for every hour of exercise you need to drink at least 20 additional ounces of water. Keep in mind if it is hot, you need to drink even more water.
Day-to-day meals for me typically consist of more good fats and less carbs than a typical Paleo diet. I have found for me this just works better. A table spoon of unsalted grass fed butter in your morning coffee can be downright glorious. So, the day before a competition I substantially increase the amount of carbohydrates that I eat – I try to eat mostly easily digestible, non-dense carbs. Increasing carbs replenishes your glycogen stores. Glycogen is the most important and widely used source of energy for exercise and is needed for any short and intense activities. I also eat a healthy amount of protein for dinner and before bed. My favorite is wild caught salmon. A few weeks ago BabyKat Sergio sent me a good article about salmon. Salmon is very high in vitamin D which promotes calcium absorption in the gut – this is one of many factors that play a role in hydration and normal muscle function. In short, muscle tissue and neurons are electronically excitable. Muscle cells and neurons are activated by electronic impulses across the cellular membrane. In muscle cells this impulse is also associated with muscle contractions. Calcium, potassium, and sodium ions are imperative for this electronic signaling and muscle contraction. Without the correct balance of these electrolytes cramps or severe contractions can occur.
The morning of a competition I try not to over eat – which is hard for me. I typically wake up a little early and eat a meal that consist of predominantly fat and protein with a medium amount of carbs. This equates to scrambled eggs cooked in coconut oil, guacamole, and some sort of vegetable. I am sure to allow for a few hours of digestion before the first event. The last thing you want is an overfull belly while you are competing.
Remember we talked about goals. Well whether you want to compete in the CrossFit games, run a marathon, dead-lift 500 pounds, or simply look better naked, we can all benefit from good post workout nutrition. The idea that pre/post workout nutrition is only important for the serious athlete is just silly. Without the right post workout nutrition you are setting yourself up for failure so give yourself the opportunity to succeed.
Intense physical activity causes cellular volumization which is largely responsible for amino acid transport as well as increased protein and glycogen synthesis. Eating protein post workout will stop the catabolic effects that training induces and promote anabolic conditions. Likewise, eating carbohydrates will refill muscle glycogen stores. Our goal is to take advantage of the metabolic window and get amino acids and sugar into our muscles at a time in which the body craves them the most. This gives us a faster and better recovery. This window typically lasts up to 30 minutes, but the optimum time is less than 15 minutes.
So what do you eat? Based on your goals this will change. I want to start off by saying that everyone will do good to lose the protein shakes in the gym. This is especially true if you are trying to lean out or lose weight. There is NOTHING better than good, nutritious whole foods to fuel your body. So I try to get protein from chicken, fish, beef, etc. – doing this will ensure that you increase your insulin sensitivity. However, I understand the convenience of protein shakes and there are benefits with them as well. Liquid sources are better at minimizing recovery and can be effectively utilized when training volume is increased or during a competition. Whey protein should only be consumed if you tolerate dairy – be honest with yourself and do the 30 day test. Personally, if I drink a shake it is egg protein. I drink whey protein on occasion but try to stick to 100% isolate, it has less lactose.
During this window is also when you should eat the majority of your dense carbohydrates (fruits, yams, coconut water). This will also help you maintain good insulin sensitivity. Fat slows nutrient absorption and should be avoided in post workout meals.
My goals revolve around competition so I consume between 40 and 50 grams of protein and about 30 grams of carbs after daily workouts – ask Julie, I always have some sort of fruit in my hand post workout. During competitions I will increase my carbs to around 50 grams by adding a yam. Another common goal is to lean out or lose weight and post workout macronutrient quantities can be determined using your percent body fat. If weight loss is your goal then you should consider a smaller carb load and protein from a non-liquid source. Experiment and determine what works best for you.
Now, to keep a common guest post theme I have to give a little love to the Gang: I believe the relationships we make at the gym are bound by something a little stronger than most. Our little group or the “Gang” as Jake calls it has grown into something pretty unique and amazing. Sometimes the weight of the world gets pretty heavy, but in that back yard, or in the gym with our friends, we are infinite. Thanks guys.
“Stay curious, stay wild, and stay f*cking hungry!”
**Photography by Shaughnessy Photography. Check out her amazing work and like her Facebook page! One talented woman right there!