Maximize Muscle Growth!! How to time your food around workout times…
Updated: Jan 20
Who doesn’t want to build muscle???
Well, questions always arise on how nutrition plays a role around workout times. In fact, much information is out there and trust me, it is very confusing. The reason for this blog is to attempt to simplify a topic that varies heavily, based on the individual, by putting out some general statements that work.
Post workout training, does drinking protein work? What about meals? What kind of food? Well first, it is important to understand that training and food windows do play a role for everyone! However, the level of importance changes depending on a few things:
Training Volume & Intensity
All of these factors will change up your training and nutritional needs. Although it is important to be detailed with pre/intra/post nutrition, the overall daily totals are the most important. Here is how I rank them:
Quality of Food… I believe that where our food comes from, and that it is whole real food, is the most important thing with any nutrition. In fact, science has shown that our Gut Microbiome is of the top priority.
Quality of Fat… Fat is the hormones super food. Without healthy fat, you are setting yourself up for disease, obesity, anxiety, depression and a variety of other health ailments. The only fat I recommend is Omega-3, grass-fed animal based, coconut oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and avocado oil.
Total Protein Consumption… the amount of quality protein you eat, daily, is extremely important for health, fat percentages, muscle gain and everything in between. As a general rule I recommend 1 gram of protein per 1 pound of bodyweight (it varies for obese or highly overweight individuals).
Calories keep it simple… if you want to lose fat / weight, you should run a calorie deficit. If you want to gain weight / muscle, you should run a calorie surplus. Yes, I can add exceptions per individual and their training age, but those statements are still true.
Those are my main focal points with nutrition and training (well health as a whole too), which means those should be your top priorities. Once those have been successful made into a habit in your life, and you are looking to get lean by adding more muscle, then we can start getting more detailed.
1. Pre to Post Workout Meals…
Make sure your pre-workout and post-workout meal is within 5 hours of each other. For example, if you eat your pre-workout meal at 12:00pm, well then, your post-workout meal should be (latest) at 5:00pm at the latest. My 5-4-3 method frames it in windows, which means the length of time between your pre-workout meal and post-workout meal. It looks something like this:
5-hour window… High Body-Fat Percentage… Goal is to lose weight
Overweight and has not been doing resistance training
Just starting a training routine
Does cardio and weights, a few times per week, but mainly is trying to be active
4-hour window… Average Body-Fat Percentage… Goal is to lose fat, add some lean muscle
Engages in typical exercise, cardio or activities is the majority of their training
Does resistance training a few times per week… typically under 60 minutes with low to moderate intensity
3-hour window… Leaner than Average… Muscle Gain is priority with desire to not pack on Fat
Has years of training, consistent training.
Weightlifter, Powerlifter, Cross Fit, Athlete, etc…
Goal is performance based for the most part.
Trains for at least 60min in duration… 4-5 times per week
Now, this is a general guideline that I use, which can be adjusted based on a variety of things. For example, someone who trains fasted early in the morning (first thing when you wake up) will not have eaten prior; in this situation I suggest getting protein and carbs in to your system immediately following your workout, or even during at times.
2. Pre-Workout Meal
Typically, the purpose of this meal is to fuel your workout, or at least that is most people’s intention. However, if you are going to use this meal to truly fuel your workout it typically needs to be eaten 2-3 hours ahead. Instead, look at this meal as having to do with training success and something that can be helpful towards you achieving your goals!
Here is how I classify the pre-workout meals and how I look at them by the macronutrients…
1. 30-60 min… I am not a huge fan of this merely because you will be digesting your food as you begin your workout. This will often leave you feeling lethargic and fatigued (probably need to run to the bathroom too!). That is my main issue with that meal; however, if you haven’t eaten in a while and you are hungry, then it is better to eat something than nothing so you are not distracted during your workout.
If you work out anytime 2 hours post waking up, you should eat before training.
General Macro Range: 25-35g of protein – 20-30g of fast sugar/carbs – 5-10g of fat
30 minutes before… choose 25g of protein and 20g of carbs, with 0-5g of fat
Ø Example Meal: 1 level scoop or protein powder and a small banana
60 minutes before… choose 35g of protein and 30g of carbs, with 5-10g of fat
Ø Example Meal: ½ of a chicken breast, about a 1/3 cup of rice & a ¼ avocado
If your heavily overweight, looking to lose weight, I’d recommend skipping the carbs when 30 minutes ahead and just sticking with the protein shake. It will be enough.
As general guidelines people will need to adjust the macros, based on weight, density and height (goals too).
Example… 120lb female / 30min out / 20g of protein / 25g of carbs / 5g of fat
Example… 185lb man / 60min out / 30-35g of protein / 35-40g of carbs / 10-15g of fat
Additionally, if you are following a specialized diet like KETO, for example, you will need to restrict or even eliminate the carbs and replace them with healthy fats. Modifications are necessary anytime you are working towards or using something specific, which is why it is important to find help if you are trying to be specific. If your goal is general weight / fat loss, or muscle / weight gain, then you should be fine following the general tips that I just laid out.
2. 90 minutes prior… I like this window for mid-morning, afternoons and evening workouts… really anytime but the first thing in the morning. It takes about 90 minutes for your food to start digesting so the energy will be optimized from your pre-workout meal. For this window of feeding you should select carbs that are lower glycemic, like sweet potatoes, some healthy fats and high-quality protein.
Example… 185lb male / around 18% / 45-50g carbs / 35-45g of protein / 15g of fat… this breakdown will help you feel satiated with more sustainable energy
Example… 125lb female / around 18% / 35-40g of carbs / 35g of protein / 10-15g of fat… the food should be something like steak or chicken, a sweet potato, and some veggies
3. 2+ hours prior… although this is still a pre-workout meal, considering it will be the last meal prior to your workout, it should not be looked at as a reduced meal. For this time frame I suggest going with a higher calorie meal that will leave you feeling fuller and more satisfied. Something with balance that is high in protein and carbs, combined with some healthy fats and fiber.
3. But wait… is eating or drinking Intra-Workout necessary?
Again, as everything else, this is often individualized and really dependent on what you did before the workout nutritionally. Additional information can play a role too like goals, composition, duration of workout, intensity, etc… I do not recommend intra-workouts to most clients and athletes that I have because it doesn’t align with their general fat loss goals. However, here is when I do recommend intra-workout fueling:
Fasted Workouts… if you train fasted, with intensity, for longer than 60 minutes you might want to ingest some carbs and protein (or liquid EAA’s). You could choose about 10-20g of liquid carbs plus 10-15g of whey protein.
Strength & Power Workouts… If your goal is for strength and power increases then boosting an intense and longer than 60-minute workout with about 15-25 grams of carbs/sugar intra-workout can be helpful to remain anabolic.
Performance Workouts… in general, anything with intensity that lasts over 60 minutes, particularly for leaner athletes, could benefit from adding some intra-sugar to keep the energy levels up and thriving…
If your goal is fat / weight loss and you are on the heavier end of the spectrum or have a higher than average body fat percentage then you should skip intra-workout carb consumption.
This is important but it may not be as important as it has been sold. Science has proven that protein is necessary for building muscle; however, pounding a shake immediately after the workout may not be the number one priority like previously thought. The most important priority for post-workout nutrition is to know when the last time you ate was. Post-workout meal timing needs to be prioritized around the last meal you had pre-workout. This was explained in the first topic of this blog, where I broke down the 5-4-3-hour method.
From experience, ingesting a whey protein shake is helpful following a workout because it allows for quick (necessary) digesting of protein during a window that can become highly anabolic. Whether you add carbs / sugar to the post-workout shake will depend on your goals and composition:
Fat & Weight Loss… someone who is overweight with a moderate to high BMI should avoid carbs and simply ingest 30-40g of protein.
Build Muscle & Burn Fat… someone who is closer to average (BMI) that needs to build muscle to burn more fat, weight loss isn’t a priority, should ingest some carbs on very intense and longer workout days. Ingesting 35-45g of protein with about 20-30g of simple carbohydrates.
Build Muscle… this person is primarily looking to build muscle, wants to maintain a lower BMI, and mainly trains resistance training. I often suggest to this person to ingest 40-50g of protein with 35-40g of carbs.
Performance Enhancement… most athletes train for longer than 60 minutes and do so with intensity. I often recommend to them eating protein and fat, even if they are around average on the BMI scale. The amount of protein to carbs or carbs to protein will be dictated on the specific training session that they engaged in.
The macro breakdown for post-workout, like all the other windows of eating, will be dictated by the following:
Male or Female
Intensity & Duration of Training
Exercise Selection of Training
As with all tips and nutritional guidance, this whole thing is very individualized. You need to find out what works best for you and sometimes th