Is it possible to develop the perfect workout and bottle it? Could you gather up all the intensity, the unexpected strength, the supercharged endurance, the freaky pumps, and guarantee it every time you step in the gym?
Let's face it, not every workout is what you hope it will be. It's rarely as good as that nearly spiritual experience you have once in a blue moon. But maybe it can be. With the right pre-exercise nutrition and supplementation, every workout can be a masterpiece. A steady string of them, and you've got a new physique full of personal strength records and shirt-popping muscles. With the right pre-exercise nutrition, you can expect increased strength, energy, and mental focus and stimulation. Because there are so many beneficial metabolic responses occurring during exercise that don't occur at any other time during the day, it is absolutely crucial to ingest the right blend of pre-workout nutrients to take full advantage of this window of opportunity. By taking these nutrients in the right doses and ratios, you maximize exercise-induced reactions, such as improving the absorption of nutrients, stimulating hormones that build muscle and burn fat, and increasing blood flow, leading to increased strength and pumps.
At the same time, there are many potential negative stresses your body undergoes during exercise. Fortunately, pre-workout supplementation can also protect your body against many of these stresses, including the increased free radical production and catabolic hormone release that can hinder your progress and compromise your immune system. Regardless of your training goals, the type of workout you perform, or your sport, effective pre-exercise nutrition and hydration is an absolute must. We can look at the pre-workout timeframe as a two-hour period of time prior to your training session.
Using this model, we can follow simple rules for nutrient and water intake. For your food intake, we'll follow the "one to two" rule. This refers to the amount of time before your workout and also the amount of carbohydrates, in grams per kilogram of body weight. For example, if your workout is two hours away, you should ingest two grams of carbohydrates for each kilogram of body weight. (To determine your weight in kilograms, just take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2.) If you weigh 200 lbs., that's 90 kilograms. Multiply that by two and you get 180 grams of carbohydrates. If your workout is one hour away, ingest one gram of carbs for every kilogram you weigh (90 grams in this case).
Now, just to be clear, you'll be eating once. You don't need to eat two hours prior to your workout and then again one hour before it. Just pick one time and eat once. That sounds like a lot, doesn't it? But to maximize both performance and recovery, as well as subsequent strength and mass gains, your pre and post-exercise meals are your most important of the day.
What's just as important, however, is what you're putting in your mouth. The type of carbohydrate you ingest in this pre-workout period is absolutely crucial. We want "slow-release," high-energy, most bang-for-your-buck carbohydrates.
Here's a quick list of the types of carbohydrates you should be proud to ingest: whole-grain breads, wheat pasta, oranges, peaches, grapes, whole-grain cereal, barley, lentils, yams, vegetables (minus potatoes, carrots, and corn), almonds, walnuts, and oatmeal.
Stay away from simple carbohydrates, excess sugars and fats, processed foods, anything with high-fructose corn syrup, and heavy, slow-digesting meals. You're not going to need a lot of protein and fat in the pre-exercise window. Limit your protein to one-fourth the amount of carbohydrates. For example, if you take in 90 grams of carbohydrates one hour prior to training, you can have up to 22.5 grams of protein. You should have no more than half that amount in fat.
Let's not forget proper fluid consumption in the hour prior to your workout, either. The lack of it, more importantly, is what leads to poor muscle contraction, dizziness, headaches, and fatigue. Sometimes you have a poor workout and just don't know why. Suspect dehydration. To ward it off and maximize workout potential, consume at least 16-20oz. of cold water two hours prior to exercise. Do it again one hour before. Then, fifteen minutes prior to exercise, drink another 16oz. of cold water. This is important. First of all, cold water (59-70o F) empties the stomach at a faster rate, and secondly, maintaining an elevated stomach fluid volume allows those fluids to empty at a faster rate. If that sounds redundant, it is. It's doubly important. The faster those fluids get out of the stomach and eventually into the bloodstream, the faster you can cool the body during exercise, allowing it to focus solely on optimum performance.
Okay, so what about using supplements in the pre-exercising window? There are several that can kick-start your workout, increase strength and endurance, limit fatigue, and even improve recovery. Here's a quick list of difference-makers:
1. Alpha-GPC and Acetyl-L-Carnitine. Muscle contraction is a complex process, but one of the major components is a chemical called acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates muscles to contract. During workouts, it becomes depleted, leading to fatigue and weaker contractions. However, if you have more available prior to and during your training session, you'll be stronger and have greater muscular endurance. L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, or alpha-GPC for short, is a nutritional precursor to acetylcholine, providing the choline component. It alone can stimulate the cascade of muscular events that lead to stronger, more powerful contractions. With Acetyl-L-Carnitine, a substance with a large range of neurological and potentially hormonal effects, the results are also prolific. This unique form of carnitine is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and act as an acetycholine precursor by donating its acetyl group. Combine a deliverable form of choline from Alpha-GPC with an acetyl donor from Acetyl-L-Carnitine, and you create the ultimate combination in precursors for acetylcholine synthesis.The combination of proper nutrition and effective supplementation is the key to consistently intense, focused training sessions - the type that lead to personal records in strength and muscular endurance. Remember, your workout truly begins in the crucial two-hour window prior to entering the gym. Plan accordingly, and every workout will be a growth session leading to new muscle and strength gains. Good luck.
2. Beta-alanine. When you're weight training and you just have to end your set, whether it's due to fatigue or a "burning" in your muscles, it's most likely due to the buildup of hydrogen ions (H+), which in turn increase acidity in muscle. This is precisely what you don't want when training. Simply put, this acidic buildup stops muscle contraction cold. That's where beta-alanine comes in. It kicks off the processes that halt the growth-killing upsurge of hydrogen ions. Because acidic buildup occurs in all types of activity, in all muscle fiber types, and beta-alanine can absorb it, it?s rapidly becoming the premiere training supplement for anyone looking to get stronger, leaner, and more muscular.
3. Creatine. No stranger to the nutrition world, creatine has perhaps the best reputation of any strength/power supplement. As stated above, there are many factors that contribute to muscle fatigue, most notably acetylcholine depletion and the build-up of hydrogen ions. Another contributor to fatigue during exercise is the depletion of ATP, our most readily available and usable source of energy. Creatine is the substance that replenishes the loss of the phosphate group that's pulled off an ATP molecule to release energy. Creatine essentially puts the ATP back together, to be used once again for energy. Since high-strength and power activities (i.e., weight training) deplete ATP the quickest, creatine is most beneficial for anyone engaging in them - anyone trying to get bigger and stronger.
4. BCAAs. Branched-chain amino acids have been around forever, but they never seem to be short on new benefits. The latest? The ability to reduce central fatigue, the type of fatigue that results from a tired brain. Sometimes you just feel sluggish and bored prior to and during workouts, and often it's a result of depleted brain neurotransmitters. BCAAs work to combat this by reducing the brain's uptake of tryptophan, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel sleepy. BCAAs also work in muscles themselves, increasing energy output and strength.
5. Tyrosine. The powerful neurotransmitters epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine are all derivatives of the amino acid tyrosine, underscoring the importance of tyrosine for optimal neurological function. Tyrosine at the proper dose has been shown in human studies to improve performance, mood, and psychological function under stressful physiological conditions such as exercise. It can also improve cognitive function, improving focus and concentration. Many of these positive attributes of tyrosine are believed to come from its ability to manufacture these neurotransmitters and prevent their depletion during exercise. This makes tyrosine an ideal pre-workout compound, but only in the proper dosage (2-3 grams) and timing (prior to exercise).
6. Caffeine. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system by triggering the release of epinephrine from the adrenal glands and by indirectly blocking a chemical in the body called adenosine, which has calming effects on the central nervous system. There is what's considered an "optimal" level of nervous system stimulation, so taking too much of a stimulant such as caffeine can actually worsen performance. Finding the correct dose and ingesting it with proper timing can aid greatly in helping you achieve the optimal state for the most intense and focused training sessions. What's the most effective dose