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Sports Nutrition

Before & After

You’ve seen the shots in fitness magazines — including M&P — that show people with ordinary bodies transforming themselves into extraordinary specimens. It begs the questions: Do these people have jobs? Do they lead real lives? Or do they just spend all day training to look great? The answer is that you have to be disciplined and put forth plenty of effort. But you may be surprised by how little time it takes beyond what you’re already investing to look as good as possible when you know a few trade secrets.

\One of the biggest keys to revamping your appearance is taking advantage of the three- to four-hour window that lasts from before you train to after your workouts. Given that your workouts meet a reasonable standard — you weight-train three or more days a week, and you emphasize moderate-to-heavy weights to stimulate muscle growth — you can make a fundamental difference in your results by strictly adhering to a standardized preworkout and postworkout nutrition plan. Here, we tell you exactly what to do before and after you train to bolster your body.


When you’re trying to maximize gains, your workout really starts 30 to 90 minutes before you step foot in the gym. What you should do depends a little bit on how your body responds to whole foods and protein shakes you’ve consumed before you train. First, you don’t want to run out of gas when you’re putting your body through your training rigors. Second, you don’t want to have a full, bloated stomach that makes you feel sluggish. Third, you don’t want to take in food or supplements that make you feel queasy or cause digestive distress.

By the numbers: Regardless of whether you choose whole foods or a protein shake, strive to get in a balance of 50 percent protein and 50 percent carbs, taking in about .25 grams of each for each pound of bodyweight. In other words, a 200-pound person should consume about 50 grams of carbs and 50 grams of protein.

Whole Food: You want to provide your body with calories, protein and carbs to help support your energy levels and jump-start your recovery. Good whole food choices include starchy carbs such as bagels, white rice, potatoes or pasta, and lean protein sources such as chicken breast, turkey breast or white fish. Egg whites and very lean breakfast meats are also good options for morning training. During this meal, reduce fiber and fat consumption because they slow digestion too much. This meal should be eaten 30 to 90 minutes before your workout, depending on how much food you’re taking in and how well your body digests it.

By the numbers: If you eat a whole-food meal up to 90 minutes before training, aim for the 50/50 protein/carb ratio mentioned above.

Protein Shake: Based on timing, you may prefer to take in a shake rather than a whole-food meal. If so, then look for a fast-digesting form of protein such as whey, egg or a soy/whey blend. You can also add many of the supplements that follow to your preworkout shake. In addition, mix in a source of carbs such maltodextrin so that you’re getting that 50/50 ratio of protein and carbs.

By the numbers:Regardless of the type of protein you choose, take in the recommended .25 grams of protein and carbs per pound of bodyweight. Drink the shake 30 minutes or so before you train.

Caffeine:While you’re eating your whole-food meal, consider taking caffeine in the hydrous supplemental form with your meal or shake. Research demonstrates that caffeine in coffee or supplemental form is effective for improving strength and energy but that the anhydrous form is superior. One thing that caffeine does is increase the amount of fat that you burn, providing your body with more energy while you train. In addition, it also decreases the amount of muscular pain you experience while training, helping you pump out more reps or use more weight, stimulating better gains.

By the numbers: As you can tolerate it, take in 200 to 400 milligrams of caffeine during the hour before your workout. (Keep in mind that caffeine’s effects last for several hours in some cases and may affect your ability to sleep if you take it in the evening.)

Arginine: This is a crucial amino acid that helps boost your nitric-oxide levels. And what does nitric oxide do? It’s a crucial molecule that helps perform many functions in the body. For muscle building, its most notable effect is on blood vessels. Supplementing with arginine dilates blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow to muscles, delivering more oxygen, nutrients and key hormones for building muscle tissue. A side benefit of this is that you’ll feel more pumped — and look more vascular — as your muscles perform.

By the numbers: Take in 3 to 5 grams of arginine 30 minutes before you hit the weights.

BCAAs: As with arginine, BCAAs are also amino acids that provide muscle-building advantages. The three aminos that make up branched-chain amino acids — leucine, isoleucine and valine —are powerhouses for helping to repair and build muscles tissue (with leucine leading the pack). So why do you need BCAAs before you train if they help you after your workouts? Because recovery starts well ahead of the conclusion of your workout. By supplying your body with the materials for recovery ahead of time, you make sure they are available as soon as they are needed. In addition, your muscles use BCAAs as energy, helping to prolong workouts before you reach fatigue. They also reduce the effects of cortisol, a hormone that tears down muscle tissue.

By the numbers: As with arginine, get in your BCAAs 30 minutes before your workouts. Take 5 to 10 grams, and look for products that contain more leucine than the other BCAAs.

Creatine: Creatine is not an amino acid, but it’s constituted of them. Creatine is also among the most popular sports supplements of the past couple decades. That’s because it works. Creatine provides short-term and long-term advantages for muscle building. Taking creatine before you workout helps drive fluids to your target muscles, providing a bigger pump and the ability to lift more weight for more reps, leading to greater muscle stimulation and growth. Creatine also drives the ATP (adenosine triphosphate) cycle, producing more quick energy for better performance during your weight workouts.

By the numbers: Take 2 to 5 grams 30 minutes before each workout. Make sure to get in at least 5 to 10 grams of creatine between your preworkout and postworkout creatine supplementation.


If you eat a solid meal 90 minutes before you train, you may have trouble getting down a full protein shake 30 minutes ahead of your workout. One thing you can do is make the same preworkout shake, add a little extra water to it and sip it slowly as you train. This will prevent you from feeling bloated and will deliver a constant supply of energy and nutrients to your body. Feel free to keep adding water to the shake, making it thinner as your workout progresses.


What you do before your workouts is critical for how you perform in the gym — and important for jump-starting your recovery from the rigors and stresses of training. But what you do after your workout seals the deal. One of the things you need most after you train is calories. But you need to make certain that you’re getting the right type of calories. At this time, you want protein and carbs, but you need fast-digesting carbs to help drive the recovery process.

By the numbers:You’ll need about .25 grams of protein and up to .50 grams of fast-digesting carbs for every pound of bodyweight. This means that a 200-pound trainer should get in about 50 grams of protein and up to 100 grams of carbs. This is true whether you go with whole foods or a protein shake.

Whole Food: You want fairly lean sources of whole-food protein, similar to what you may have consumed before your workouts. Sliced turkey breast, nonfat cheese, nonfat milk and egg whites are all good choices. In addition, though, you want to add plenty of fast-digesting carbs. This means you should take in sugars. Feel free to add a sugary beverage (emphasizing dextrose or glucose rather than fructose). For instance, drink iced tea with sugar added.

By the numbers: Make sure to get .25 grams of protein for every pound of bodyweight, and take in up to twice this many grams of carbs in the form of fast-digesting carbs.

Protein Shake: Whey protein is a fast-digesting protein that’s rich in BCAAs, making it a great choice postworkout. Add slow-digesting casein to the mix because this will extend the length of time that you have aminos floating around in your bloodstream to help repair muscle tissue stressed by your workouts. Finally, get in fast-digesting carbs such as sugar — the best form is dextrose, but if you don’t have that, you can also use glucose or sucrose (table sugar).

By the numbers: Take at least 20 grams of whey protein and enough casein so that you’re consuming about .25 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. Add up to .5 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight, so a 200-pounder should get in up to 50 grams of protein and up to 100 grams of carbs.

BCAAs: While you’re already taking BCAAs before your workouts and getting some in your protein shakes, they are so beneficial that you should add another dose of them postworkout, too. This is just to assure you have plenty of these critical aminos at this time of need for muscle recovery.

By the numbers: Take another 5- to 10-gram dose of BCAAs within 30 minutes of completing your weight workout, thus ingesting up to 20 grams of BCAAs during your workout window.

Creatine: On top of what we told you about creatine earlier, another benefit is its ability to increase insulinlike growth factor (IGF-1) in muscle cells. After you train, your carbs will spur an insulin spike, critical to enhancing muscle growth after workouts. (At other times of the day, insulin spikes are far less desirable because they tend to increase fat storage.) Add your creatine to your postworkout shake to spur muscle growth after training.

By the numbers:Take another 2- to 5-gram dose of creatine within 30 minutes of completing your workout. You should get in 5 to 10 grams of creatine during your workout window.