Nutrition, as a whole, forms the cornerstone of good health and fitness—as the saying goes, it is impossible to out-train a bad diet. The particular nutrients consumed around the time of exercise, however, play such an important role in its productivity and results that they are worthy of as much attention as overall eating pattern.
To demonstrate the value of nutrient timing, a study was conducted in which two groups of regular exercisers were assigned to an identical supplement regimen. The experimental aspect of the study was this: while the first group consumed their supplements at breakfast and dinner, the other consumed theirs immediately prior to and at the conclusion of their exercise session. At the conclusion of the 10-week study, the pre/post-workout supplementation group demonstrated a substantially greater increase in lean body mass, as well as maximal strength, as compared to the other group; a case of identical supplementation, yet different results.
The reasons for these differences are simple enough. So long as it is supplied at the appropriate time, proper pre-workout nutrition supplies the body with energy that fuels productive workouts, post-workout nutrition provides the raw materials required to respond to exercise. This response almost invariably means becoming stronger and leaner, while also promoting optimal metabolic function and improvement in a variety of general health markers, including cardiovascular function, insulin sensitivity and alleviation of both depression and anxiety.
With the benefits of exercise well-established, and the importance of nutrient timing clearly demonstrated, all that remains is to determine which particular nutrients yield the greatest benefits before and after a workout. While it can be very challenging to navigate through the multitude of fitness trends and exaggerated claims, a select group of ingredients have emerged that can give both workouts and results from workouts a legitimate boost.
Proper pre-workout supplementation is based around three factors: providing fuel, providing focus and reducing fatigue (on a side note, in this context, fuel does not necessarily refer to calories from food, but catalysts that promote the release of energy when it is most needed). In this category, some of the most effective nutrients are:
- Creatine – Creatine is by far the most researched sports nutrition supplement of the last 25 years; as such, most readers have probably heard of it, and its benefits in the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate—our muscles main fuel source during high-intensity workouts). While multiple varieties of creatine have been subsequently introduced over the years, the original type—creatine monohydrate—has not only stood the test of time, but has continued to display effectiveness equal to (or sometimes exceeding) subsequent reformulations.
- D- Ribose – This lesser-known sports nutrient is in some ways a partner to creatine in that it too assists in the rapid production and replenishment of ATP, thereby both ensuring proper fueling of muscle and helping to delay the onset of fatigue. Its effectiveness is so widely recognized that one of its most common applications is in helping to quickly rejuvenate cardiac muscle in those who have recently experienced heart attacks.
- L-Citrulline – This amino acid is a vasodialator, helping to increase works to help maintain the acid-base balance in the body, providing a major benefit during workouts, when large amounts of lactic acid are produced, promoting fatigue and potentially cutting a workout short.
- Green Tea Extract – This powerful antioxidant offers similar detoxifying benefits to assist in handling waste products generated by exercise, while also containing an appreciable amount of natural caffeine—clinically proven to delay the onset of fatigue, and well-known to promote concentration and focus.
While effective pre-workout nutrition is based upon facilitating the best possible workout and enabling the strongest stimulus for working muscles, proper post-workout nutrition is built around recovering from that stimulus. This enables those muscles to produce the strongest possible response, which translates to increases in strength, endurance and development. For this purpose, the necessary nutrient is protein, both in whole form and in the form of specific amino acids. While certain endurance athletes—especially runners covering distances of 10 or more miles—would be advised to replenish carbohydrates as well, for the typical gym member carbohydrates are not required for protein synthesis or muscle recovery. Instead, look to the following for best results:
- Whey Protein – Derived from dairy, whey protein is the fastest-absorbing form of protein available, making it the ideal choice for post-workout muscle feeding, when time is of the essence.
- BCAAs – Also known as the branched-chain amino acids—leucine, isoleucine and valine—these are used both during workouts as a fuel source and in the immediate recovery of muscle tissue afterward. The ideal ratio for delivery and use is 2:1:1 for leucine, isoleucine and valine, respectively. In other words, a product delivering 500 mg of leucine and 250 mg each of isoleucine and valine matches this requirement.
- Glutamine – This amino acid is the most abundant in the human body, but is also among the most commonly used by the body. During periods of stress (such as a vigorous workout), the body’s reserves of this amino acid can become severely depleted, making supplementation a post-workout priority.
The importance of regular exercise for health and fitness is not to be underestimated. Nevertheless, the nutritional practices immediately surrounding workouts can definitely assist in providing extra fuel for workouts, extending energy and work capacity, and in helping the muscular system to recover and replenish itself afterward. In the case of pre and post-workout nutrition, the interconnection between cause and effect is complex; looking to the nutrients mentioned here, however, simplifies things considerably, and will go a long way towards guaranteeing that all exercise efforts are well spent.