Is it time to ignore the sports supplement industry advice?
What you eat and how much of it is the key, says Karen Coghlan
If you go the gym to lift heavy weights, be it a barbell, a dumbbell, or a kettlebell, then you need to ensure your nutrition is on track for two main reasons.
First, to be able to perform your workout to the best of your ability, so you can hit your five sets of 10 reps instead of burning out at four. And second, to recover properly from it, so the next time you hit the weights, you will be stronger and perhaps bigger, if building muscle is a goal.
If you do not give your workout nutrition a second thought, then you are running the risk of diminishing returns from your training. In other words, you will get less out of your training than you are putting in and your efforts in the gym will be largely wasted.
The sports supplement industry has led us to believe that we should slam a protein shake immediately after our workout before we've even racked the weights, and so, we have developed a fear of missing out on that all important "window of opportunity" for muscle gain.
However, it's not as important as you might think, and the concept that muscular growth is hindered if there's a delay in feeding the muscles with protein directly after training is outdated.
In order of importance, what we eat and how much we eat comes first. Then after that, the timing of what we eat should be considered.
For regular gym-goers and most resistance training athletes, the overriding factor for optimal muscle growth and repair is hitting their overall daily calorie, protein, and carbohydrate targets, instead of focusing on the specific timing of it.
Nutrient timing need only become a greater concern if you train in a fasted state, perhaps first thing in the morning or if you're an elite athlete, training several times a day.
Another misconception in the sports and fitness industry is to minimise fats in your diet after training. The ingestion of fats has been shown to have no effect on muscle repair or recovery, so yes, you can have your peanut butter spread on your protein pancake after training after all!
For the strength training athlete, or regular gym-goer, simply spread your fat intake evenly throughout the day and your muscle will repair, build and grow just fine.
As for protein, eating sufficient amounts is essential for improving body composition and performance by preventing muscle breakdown during training and increasing new muscle growth after.
The recommended daily allowance for protein is just about enough to prevent protein deficiency, but it's far from optimal if you are an active person who lifts weights. We need some protein to survive, but we need more protein to thrive, at least in the gym anyway.
before, during, after
If gaining strength or building muscle is a goal, then it is important to make sure you are eating enough protein near enough the training session.
However, for the regular Jo or Jane and most athletes, a fool-proof guideline is to eat a solid meal with both protein and carbs within two hours before and two hours after exercise.
A good serving size of protein at each meal is one palm for smaller women and two palms for bigger men. Examples are lean meat, such as chicken, turkey, beef, or fish.
If you eat regular, balanced meals spread evenly enough throughout the day, then the body has a constant supply of the nutrients it needs for superior strength and muscle gains.
This especially holds true for the post-workout meal. There is no need to slam the shake if you have sufficiently fuelled up on protein before your workout.
If you ate a regular full-sized meal roughly 90 minutes before training or an easily digested protein snack within half an hour, and your training lasts less than 60 minutes or so, there is probably no need to take on additional protein and carbohydrates during your training.
The one exception is for those who train in a fasted state. If you train first thing after you wake up and can't stomach solid food so early in the morning, then consuming a meal rich in protein within an hour or so after training becomes more important.
Alternatively, liquid nutrition is always a great pre-workout idea for early gym-goers, so a scoop of protein powder in a shake with an added carb source, such as a mushed banana or oats, would be ideal within 30 minutes before training.
If buying a protein powder, opt for a good quality whey. Whey isolate is the purer form and is usually suitable for those who are lactose sensitive, however, it is more expensive. Otherwise, a whey concentrate is fine.
To sum it up: eat protein, go to the gym, lift heavy weights, and then eat more protein for optimal strength and muscle gains.
Karen will be speaking at the Irish Cyling Show being held in the RDS on April 18-19. Karen is a personal trainer and runs online nutrition and fat loss programmes. See www.thenutcoach.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org