Opinions on pre-workout nutrition are like the protein shaker buried in the bottom of your gym bag. Everyone has one, and most of them stink.
So you’ve just smashed your squats, dented the gym floor with your deadlifts and left another leg day in your wake. Your endorphins are running high, and you’ve got a seam-splitting pump. You’re in the fast lane on the highway of gains, and there’s nothing that can slow you down, right? Think again
If you think that simply downing a protein shake and letting nature take its course is a perfectly passable recovery plan, then you’re just not optimizing your muscular growth! Guys like Kai Greene and Williams Falade know that getting teardrop thighs and a chest which makes grown men weep, takes more than just a few hours of pumping iron every day.
Soul-crushing sweat sessions are important, but it’s about what you do during the space in between that really maximises your gains.
If you fill the void in between workouts with family-sized pizzas and late-night Netflix binges, that’s going to be reflected in your physique and lifts. If you want that herculean physique, then you’re going to want to extract the most from every waking moment for a true muscle metamorphosis.
We’ve created an in-between bible for serious lifters, written to steer you through those 24 hours between workouts, starting from your final rep.
00:00: YOUR FINAL REP
You’ve just massacred your muscles with another brutal session. What’s happening to your body right now?
Those heavy squats just caused microscopic damage to your muscles, and until that damage is fully repaired, it’ll limit your ability to generate peak muscle power. This is why recovery is so revered: without it, you’ll embark on a cycle of lethargic lifts and painful plateaus. Those lunges will feel a whole lot heavier, and your workouts will suffer.
00:30: POST-WORKOUT MEAL
So you’ve wiped the sweat from your brow, packed your gym bag and reached for your phone to browse UberEats. Think carefully, because your between-training journey starts with good nutrition.
Eating quickly after your workout is beneficial for recovery, and can maximise muscle growth in more experienced lifters. The aim of the post-workout meal is to create an insulin response, which helps to slow the breakdown of protein. If you keep spurning that post-workout snack, you could also be potentially missing out on maximizing the effects of anabolism.
But what’s anabolism?
If anabolism isn’t in your lifting lingo by now, it should be. Forget intermittent fasting or intuitive eating, your nutrition as a lifter should be based on keeping your body anabolic.
Browse any bodybuilding forum and you’ll probably read something like
‘Anabolism is the constructive part of metabolism, using energy to build base molecules into parts of the body’
On a less scientific level, anabolism is about using nutrients to repair the muscle tissue, on the pathway to those bulging biceps and boulder shoulders you’ve always dreamed of.
But for anabolism to take place, the body needs enough nutrients for the muscle tissue to absorb pre and post-workout. Without these nutrients, you’ll get the dreaded catabolism. There’s a reason catabolism sounds like cannibalism, and that’s because your body is literally eating itself, breaking down all of your hard-earned muscle gains as a way of surviving. Like that sweat-soaked guy who never wipes down the bench, you should avoid catabolism at all costs.
So what exactly does a good post-workout meal look like?
You should be aiming for 0.15 to 0.25 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, and about 0.25 to 0.4 grams of carbs. Because your glycogen stores will also be drained from all of those supersets, make sure you’ve got a fast-digesting, moderate-to-high GI carbohydrate source, as well as a fast-digesting protein source. For now, avoid too many fats, as they can slow down the digestive process, and you don’t want to pump the breaks on your body’s absorption of those sweet, sweet nutrients.
Quick absorbing protein sources include
Quick absorbing carbohydrate sources include
-Short grain white rice and rice cakes
01:30: H20 TO GROW
Following your 5AM grind and post-workout meal, you’ll want to focus on keeping your water intake up throughout the day. If there’s anything we’ve learned from Castaway and 127 Hours, it’s that not enough water is bad. Really bad. But lifters pounding the weights six times a week need more than just enough water to maximise their gains. Your body needs water to help transport nutrients to your cells and form the structures of protein and glycogen, as well as excrete any waste products once they’re metabolised. If you don’t buy into the hydration hype, you’ll feel lethargic and your strength will suffer during your next session. This is why athletes should be aiming for around 5 to 10 litres of water every day.
04:30: MUSCLE BUILDING MEALS
Your nutritional narrative doesn’t end with your post-workout meal. Those 4-5 meals you eat in between sessions are going to depend on your personal ambitions and aims (Bulking for winter or shredding for beach season? What are your macros?). However, something that all lifters can do is include more anti-inflammatory foods with their meals to improve recovery and repair muscle tissue at a faster rate.
Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods include berries, which contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, and fatty fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel, which contain long-chain Omega 3 fatty acids, all of which have anti-inflammatory properties. Some of this unheralded fitness fare is also great for increasing your white blood cell activity.
10:00: A DIFFERENT KIND OF FLEX
Keto diets, free weights versus machines, is that guy squatting 6 plates natty? There are plenty of polarising debates in lifting, but few are as contentious as stretching.
Some swear by it, that guy in the squat rack who’s three rotator cuff surgeries deep says it’s pointless. You be the judge.
Spending time on your flexibility and static stretching every day can have immense benefits. Cable curls and lat pull downs are great, but bodybuilding exercises like these don’t take the muscle through its full range of motion, which means your muscles will be shortened after weights, as well as full of lactic acid. If you neglect stretching, your muscle will retain this shortened range of motion, which can decrease muscular development. Just 20 minutes of stretching will improve tissue length, which is vital for lifters who want to stay healthy and uninjured.
From a pure recovery perspective, you’ll also get a serious elevation in blood flow after releasing a static stretch, which benefits recovery by improving velocity of red blood cell flow and the delivery of nutrients, while also removing metabolites.
Another possible way of decreasing muscle tension is foam rolling. Self myofascial release has the potential to alleviate muscle fatigue and soreness, improve circulation and reduce localised tightness. Just 20 minutes of foam rolling after that brutal back squat session can decrease muscle tenderness!
12:00: LOUNGE AROUND
You’re a lover of gritty, sweat-drenched lifting sessions. Doing nothing just isn’t in your DNA. But finding a moment to take a step back and relax is important for lifters, who can often become so immersed in obsessively tracking micronutrients, measuring food in grams and fixating on PB numbers.
Whether it’s browsing bodybuilding forums, watching Pain & Gain or cooking a cheat meal, it’s essential to mentally recover. Recover and recharge in the comfortable fleece fabrics of our Ryderwear Men's Loungewear.
15:00: THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP
Whether you’re partying until dawn or falling down a YouTube rabbithole of Ronnie Coleman videos, most lifters just don’t get enough sleep. Unfortunately, this means most lifters also aren’t optimising their gains, as sleep has such a profound effect on muscle growth.
Sleep is when most of your growth actually takes place. During REM (Rapid Eye Movement), the body is able to restore bone and muscle tissue, replenish immune cells and circulate human growth hormone.
Between 60% and 70% of natural human growth hormone secretion takes place during early sleep, which is when the deepest sleep cycles occur. If you’re not hitting the hay early enough, it’s going to have an adverse effect on your HGH levels. One study even showed that after just 1 week of sleep reduction to 5 hours per night, daily testosterone levels decreased by about 10 to 15% in young men.
The effects of this can be monumental, as shown by one study that explored how sleep deprivation affected muscle gains and recovery, comparing a group who slept 5.5 hours per night and another which slept 8.5 hours per night. After just 72 hours, the group who slept 5.5 hours gained 60% less muscle mass than the group who slept 8.5 hours. Another study showed that after just one sleepless night, your muscles already show signs of increased protein breakdown, while having elevated levels of proteins and metabolites involved in fat storage. For lifters grinding every day at the gym, eight hours of sleep should be the bare minimum.
23:00: RISE & GRIND
Every lifter has their own pre-workout nutrition ritual which they swear by. For some, it’s as simple as a shake and some oats on the way to their morning sweat session. For others, they won’t train until they’ve meticulously blended 6 different black market protein powders and drank them under the moonlight at exactly 4:47AM while chanting an ancient Austrian hymn to summon the strength of Arnold.
We’ll keep it simple so you can decide what works best for you.
20-60 grams of carbs is ideal to ensure glucose is readily available in your bloodstream for energy to crush heavy lifts, as well as 20-40 grams of protein. For most lifters, the perfect pre-workout meal is around 120-90 minutes before training, however this becomes tougher if you’re a member of the 5AM workout club. While we’d love for everyone to wake up at 3AM to whip up a batch of protein pancakes, we need to favor realism over idealism. If you’re short on time, opt for fast-digesting carb sources like quick oats, bananas, rice cakes, and a quick-digesting protein source such as whey (a good pre-workout shake can be your saviour).