What are the keys to a great, productive workout? Some might answer with, “going in with a specific plan of what to accomplish, managing time, and pushing yourself past the comfort zone”. While that answer is true, one often overlooked element is how you fuel your body both before and after. Failing to plan for performance sports nutrition, is planning to fail at realizing all of the benefits of the workout.
Why You Need to Know About the Glycemic Index
Glycemic Index (GI) is essentially a measure of how quickly carbohydrates are metabolized in the body. Measured on a scale of 0 to 100, the GI can be applied to all foods with carbohydrates, however it does not distinguish between simple and complex carbs. Because of this lack of distinction, the GI should be used as but one tool in your nutritional arsenal.
Foods within the index can be categorized into how quickly the body processes the carbohydrates into energy. Quickly processed carbohydrates are called High-G while slowly processed carbohydrates are called Low-G.
High-G carbs will cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels that also deplete rapidly. Examples are:
- White rice
- Soda with sugar
Low-G carbs are digested slowly, and produce a gradual rise in blood sugar. Examples are:
- Oak bran
Energy Management during a Workout
Implementing a strategy to properly manage energy during a workout depends on a variety of factors. Every athlete should take into account these unique factors before committing to a workout-oriented nutrition plan:
Type of Workout: A triathlete (endurance) workout is going to require a much different fueling approach than a powerlifting routine.
Normal Fluctuations in Blood Sugar: For those on a ketogenic or paleo diet, factoring in the glycemic index of carbohydrates is going to be largely irrelevant. For those who consume carbs along with fats and proteins, developing a diet that keeps blood sugar levels as a constant by eating 5-6 small meals throughout the day is ideal.
Consuming the right amount of calories in relation to your BMR: Your Basal Metabolic Rate (which can be calculated here) is the amount of calories you normally expend without doing exercise in a normal, temperate environment. Once you figure out a diet that achieves a healthy balance of macros to achieve your BMR, then you can design how you fuel yourself each day based on the intensity and duration of your workouts.
Once you have established a clear understanding of the above factors, then you can design your pre-workout and post-workout nutrition plans. Here are some effective guidelines:
Pre-Workout Fuel Plan:
Intense Workouts: keep in mind that intense workouts use up stored energy extremely quickly, and the body enters a state of glycosis (converting carbs into energy) in order to fuel the activity. So for an intense workout, even if you have properly fueled your body for the day leading up to it, figuring out the right balance of High-G foods to consume before is key. Here’s a good guideline for timing:
60-90 minutes before the workout: consume a meal with lean protein and low to mid-G carbohydrates. Example: slow-cooked, steel cut oatmeal with peanut butter and blueberries.
30 minutes before the workout: mix up a whey protein shake with unsweetened fruit juice and a scoop of Clarifene, which has a powerful blend of caffeine the medium-chain-triglycerides (MCTs) of coconut oil that is ideal for sustained energy.
Endurance Workouts: For endurance workouts of less than two hours, it is actually beneficial to teach the body to rely on fat stores instead of carbohydrates. The reason being, that it is difficult to fuel the body with short term, High-G carbohydrates during such long events. However, if a ketogenic diet isn’t in the cards for you then following this guideline should be effective:
According to Ironman.com, aim to consume at least 200 grams of Low-G carbohydrates at least 1-2 hours before the event. Shortly before (30 mins) the event, sports drinks with sugar can help in ensuring an adequate blood sugar level.
Post Workout Plan:
Refueling after a workout is essential for muscle recovery and growth. Muscles aren’t grown in the gym, they are torn down in the gym and rebuilt afterwards through proper rest and nutrition. Post-workout nutrition must not be considered optional! It is essential to yield the maximum results from all of the hard work performed during a workout or event.
A good rule of thumb for a post-workout meal is that it should have at least 15-20% of your total daily caloric intake. Liquid supplements that contain both protein and High-G carbohydrates are ideal for providing fuel for muscle growth but also a quick boost to insulin (blood sugar) levels that are surely depleted from energy spent during exercise.
Blending a fruit shake with a scoop of whey protein, along with a scoop of creatine monohydrate, is hard to beat for an effective post-workout snack. However, the post-workout meal should have an ideal blend of macros, such as grilled chicken, brown rice, and steamed brussel sprouts.