Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pre Workout Nutrition, Workout Nutrition & Some Musings.

It's being shown to me, from discussion with my clients, and from viewing the blog hits, that diet is something that needs more discussion. I'm always struggling to find articles to write, as it's hard for me to get into the mindset of the client. I've come to the conclusion I probably can't write too little on diet.

As per a session yesterday with a client: the client was being punished for not coming to his training sessions outside of ours (I asked him to do 1 interval session a week on top of our 2 sessions), I don't like doing this and normally don't,  training should be a fun, co-operative experience, for the most part. Anyway we did a 20 minute circuit EDT (*workout below), instead of our customary 10 minute one, simply to remind him how important extra training sessions are. We get to the intervals and he's destroyed, now keep in mind, he only did 2 more total sets than he normally would have, not a Herculean effort by any stretch (though admittedly, nothing to sneeze at either), he complains that he's out of energy, I inquire as to his nutrition throughout the day, he informs me, his last meal the night before was about 9pm, his first meal in the morning of our sessions was at 9am (a nice 12 hour gap), his next meal at 12pm, a chocolate bar at 4pm and training at 5pm. Not hard to see, if this represents a standard day, why a 80kg man would be out of energy on this diet (and why results might be hard to come by).

Now, before you get down on me for slamming this client, allow me to say, I take this is a failure on my part, not his.  I'm a big believer that your clients failure is your failure, no matter the circumstance. It seems to logically follow that if your client, who is your responsibility, can't achieve their goals with your expertise, leaving aside their own foibles, laziness and inability to follow your program, then it is you, the person they hired to get the job done, who is responsible (I would admit there are degrees on this scale, and some clients are their own worst enemy with years of bad habits to break). I have failed to educate this client on dietary intake, I have failed to show him, when and how and what to eat, I have failed to stay on top of him, to keep him interested and motivated to follow the training and most importantly, the diet. Consider this part of my step toward fixing that.

I have discussed post workout nutrition here, and workout nutrition here, so for today's purposes I'll discuss pre workout nutrition, while also touching briefly on workout nutrition too, as they can be somewhat interrelated and the success of such can largely determine the quality of your workouts.

There are several schools of thought on the idea of pre workout meals, at university they taught us about "carb loading" but one thing that I didn't take away from that, and it was taught mind you, I should have, was the incidence of pre workout "carb loading" and cardio/endurance/steady state training. University taught, moderate protein intake, high carb intake, and distance running. Bells should have gone off, but I didn't know enough, and those protocols work for the prescribed audience. When it comes to muscle building, staying and/or getting lean, weight training etc, the variables change somewhat. It seems if you're either on a lean up or muscle building program a pre workout meal, 1-4 hours prior to training, that is full of carbs, is ostensibly not appropriate (this would apply more to "event training" as in an Ironman event or distance event).

Ivy and Portman encourage in their book Nutrient Timing a 3 phase system that can work for muscle building or leaning up, it includes an "energy phase", 10 minutes prior to and including the workout itself (I discuss this topic in some detail here), supplementing with a high carb, moderate protein drink. Following that, they then recommend what they call the "anabolic phase" which ranges from immediately post training to roughly 45 minutes later, a surge of protein and carbs (preferably a shake immediately post workout), which was also discussed here. They then recommend nutrition guidelines for the following 18-24 hour period dubbed the "growth phase", this is where the muscle growth and strength gains occur. Ivy and Portman had this to say on the "growth phase":
"The supplement recommended for the rapid segment [the first 4 hours after training] of the growth phase is a high protein snack that can be used between meals and at bed time during the sustained segment [the following 24hours after training]. Such a protein snack or supplement enables you to stimulate protein synthesis by raising the amino acid levels in your blood between meals... elevated amino acid levels stimulate protein synthesis and slow protein degradation thereby increasing your net protein balance. Most important, the high-protein snack does not stimulate insulin. Whereas insulin is essential at specific times, continued elevation of insulin along with carbohydrate consumption is not desirable.This insulin elevation can lead to increased fat deposition, elevated blood cholesterol levels and metabolic disorders." (Ivy & Portman, Pg- 78, 2004)
The reason I discuss the "growth phase" is this is where the bulk of our nutrition occurs, it demonstrates why a structured and well kept diet, with adequate and regular intakes of protein are essential (this goes out to my vegetarian readers most importantly) for fat loss, or muscle gain. Tom Venuto lists in his book The Body Fat Solution, protein as the 2nd highest priority (just under focusing on a caloric deficit first and budgeting calories wisely) in his "10 Body Fat Solution Nutrition Rules":
"Start each meal by picking any food from the lean protein group. This includes eggs (eat the yolks in moderation due to the high calorie density), turkey breast, chicken breast, lean red meat, bison, game meats, fish, shellfish, and also high protein dairy products such as low-or non fat cottage cheese, cheese, milk or yogurt. Protein supplements such as whey, casein, or mixes of both can make protein nutrition easier [vegetarians can use rice or pea protein]
Protein is vital when your calories are restricted. Protein protects you from losing muscle, it decreases your appetite and makes you feel fuller. Many of the body composition benefits to low-carb diets are actually benefits of higher protein intake." (Venuto, Pg- 122, 2009)
Dieters can apply the principles in all of this to their training as can muscle builders (though I would obviously emphasize a greater total caloric intake for builders), it is obviously only a prima facie treatment of the pre and during workout nutrition issue, but coupled with the rest of this blog, I hope the point is getting across. If a client comes in, having only the bare basics of their daily nutrition covered, if they've eaten junk (i.e- a chocolate bar, pre workout), and/or have failed to adequately meet their protein needs etc it follows that their workout will suffer, just as in the example of my aforementioned client.

*Props to coach Dos Remedios and his awesome and highly recommended book Cardio Strength Training (a must have for all trainers!) for the principles used in the design of this program (any fault in design or structure are mine, not his).

Client's program- Circuit EDT- Phase 1- 10 minutes- All exercises x 10 reps.
  • Jump Squat
  • Goblet Squat
  • Pushup
  • Inverted Row
  • Fitball Rollout

Intervals- until end of session (generally x 5-7 are completed)
  • 30 seconds @ maximum intensity (usually done on the X-Trainer at a resistance of 14)
  • 1 minute active recovery (with a resistance of 6-8)


Ivy J., Portman R., (2004). Nutrient Timing. Laguna Beach, California. Basic Health Publications, Inc. Pp-78.

Venuto T., (2009). The Body Fat Solution. New York, New York. Penguin Group, Inc. Pp-122.


  1. Interestingly, since I read Nutrient Timing (well, I'm about 90% of the way through - thanks for the recommendation Rob), I’ve been taking protein powder in a drink bottle to work, then mixing it with water from the tap and sculling it before I walk down to the gym for my afternoon sessions (or before I walk out the house before my Monday morning session) as part of the “get your carbs in” pre-session, and the first couple of times I’ve felt a step up in endurance and energy, though I always wonder how much of it is mental / placebo effect – you know, you think you’re doing something to give yourself more energy so you work out harder…

    I do remember failing completely in a session about 2 or 3 years ago (crushed by Lucy when you were on break) when my eating habits sucked and I was in the "coffee-for-breakfast then train on an empty stomach" mentality. Dark times...

  2. Thanks for the comments buddy!