I see it every day…the drop…the crash…the deafening of the body and that look: the scared, where-should-I-throw-up-if-I-have-to look.
I feel for you. I’ve been there. I came to realize it had a lot more to do with maintaining blood sugar levels than anything related to intensity. If your blood sugar crashes during an intense workout, it’s very shortly followed with the dizzy→pale face→nauseated→gonna upchuck performance deterioration process.
I’ve tried every supplement type of supplement out there. Whey isolate, check. Creatine, check. Beta-alanine, check. Arginine, check. Tribulus, check. Alpha Lipoic Acid, check. Phosphatidylserine, check. Saw palmetto, check. Pre-workout caffeine overdosed stimulant, check. Every vitamin. Every performance mineral (zinc, magnesium, selenium, vanadium). Just everything over the years. Here’s the other thing, I’m pretty reactive to stuff. Most stuff I feel working and notice a difference in a short period of time. The question then becomes: what’s worth my hard earned money?
Now, I’m not delusional, I’m fully aware of the power of the placebo effect. At the same time though I experiment with my supplements often to figure out how best to use them. I will say this: if paying $50 for a powder supplement of some sort gives me the benefit of lifting more, recovering faster and not being as sore, all with zero noticeable side effects: I’m going to use and buy this powder.
I have to admit there was a time I was a little more like Mr. Olympia here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gZJ-T7ajrw
I love how he doesn’t show his growth hormone, steroid and insulin “supplements.” Good thing those minerals are making up for all his “non-vegetable taking.” “That’s pretty much it for me, pretty plain and simple.”
Back to the topic at hand: as per a question asked of me this week (and many times in the past) I’m going to cover this topic only once.
What is the best thing to eat or take before a workout?
I am going to break this into two methods: the pills and powder method and the whole food method.
The Whole Food Method
Why: One could very easily argue that we, as humans, were never meant to be chugging SuperDump or NOExplodin’ blue raspberry pre-workout crack enduced stimulant supplements before performing a tough workout or activity. We were fine with food for a good half million years on this planet. Also, who’s to say the ingredient label isn’t a lie? Or that the ingredients in a supplement are in efficacious amounts? And what about artificial sweeteners, colorings and this 16 consinent anti-aromatase stuff that is supposed to help me build more muscle??!?! I will admit 99.9% of all supplements, especially in the bodybuilding realm are complete bullshit! And if you’re not willing to research, spend the money and honestly, put faith and trust in some product manufacturer’s supplement, then go the whole food method. Don’t drink some “awesome shit!” just because your buddy who looks no better or is no stronger than you tells you too. And ladies…put the fat burners down!!!
How: There’s one problem with food for workouts…digestion. Digestion of food can take a lot of effort, a lot of blood in the stomach tissues, etc to process and break those calories into something usable: glucose, amino acids and fats. No one eats a steak while running a marathon. 2 rules to follow with the whole food method: 1) Keep dense protein (think chicken), fiber and fats far away from a pre workout meal (more than 2 hours). That stuff takes a while to digest and your muscles could use the blood instead. 2) Don’t eat a lot before a workout; just enough that you think you’ll be able to fuel and get through the workout.
What: Everyone is different. Some people swear by bananas. They don’t work for me. Fruit is always a good way to go but the two problems are 1) finding what doesn’t upset your stomach while training and 2) having a fruit not too acidic (skip the orange), not too high in fiber (skip the apple and blueberries) and not too dense (skip the mango and banana). The best fruit options are melons by far! Low fiber, high water content (especially watermelon, obviously). I’ve never had cantelope or honeydew bother a person’s stomach. In fact if someone is really skinny I suggest they pack that to their workout with them and mid-workout when the dreaded blood sugar drop happens, I tell them to slam a couple of chunks of melon while resting. Still, however, fruit can bother some people’s stomachs. So the trick is finding what bland starch works. Yams? White potato? White rice? The answer lies somewhere between a slice of white bread (not the ideal but can help those with acid issues while training) and a half cup of the starches just listed. You don’t need a lot; just enough to get you through the workout.
When best: Here is where whole food can do some magic. Consume some easily digestible carbs (low fiber, not too acidic, not overly dense and best if bland about 60-90 mins pre-workout to boost blood sugar levels. Don’t worry, if your workout is hard enough you’ll burn those calories and more. During a workout, I find the whole food route is better served with water only coming in. That said, if the drop feels like it may happen then pack a ziplock of melons already cut up (cantelope, honeydew, watermelon). Post workout is by far the most important time to get nutrients into you. Here, in regards to whole food, it’s best to go starch & low fat protein: think chicken and rice. Again, go low fat and low fiber as both slow digestion which is the enemy post workout. You need nutrients in those broken down muscles NOW! If you don’t “have time” to eat at the gym right after your workout and you’re heading to work, then I suggest you pack a protein bar like this one which is essentially whey protein (as supplement free as I’m going to recommend), fruit, nuts; zero preservatives; no food additives (like palm kernel oil; WTF is that anyway?). Lastly, I will say that for those who generally workout in the evening, after dinner, it’s best to train on the whole food method. You’ll feel more satisfied before bed and not go calorie overboard right before sleep which can disrupt and destroy sleep quality.
The Pills & Powder Method (aka: dietary supplements)
Why: I, personally, can’t do whole food and then workout. It’s never worked well for me, even with my own above recommendations. My body (being of the ectomorph, low fuel storage variety) doesn’t like doing two jobs at once. It wants to either workout hard or digest and chill. Not both. Early on I quickly realized that a simple whey isolate shake with some extra carb powder was the ticket for me. Later I discovered that mixing all my supplements into a big 2L jug and sipping between sets until done (pre-intra-post) was the method that worked best for me. I will say that if you are the type that wakes up, trains in less than 60 mins of waking the whole food method is really hard to make work. You need your blood sugar up right away. Even fruit can be too slow (but again, melons are best).
How: Pre-workout: slam a mix of whatever 30-60mins before the start of your warm up. There is a whole genre of supplements for this category, usually falling into the nitric oxide category (bunk) or the stimulant category (whohooo!). These generally work best as suggested to be used: 30-60mins pre-workout. Intra-workout: sip nutrients during workout, with the main goal of maintaining blood sugar. Post-workout: get those important nutrients in you ASAP (protein/amino acids, carbs, fancy stuff like creatine, etc you may be taking).
What: The big ones are a whey isolate/hydrosylate, carbs (a slow, medium and fast delivery/glycemic index mix is best), glutamine, creatine, beta-alanine and anything else you may be taking.
When best: Follow the directions of the supplement. They put them there for a reason.
What do I do?
It would be irresponsible for me to tell you what to take or eat. I can only give you my experience. Take it as you wish. But hear me on this: GO RESEARCH THINGS FOR YOURSELF!! Sometimes a simple Google search of your product name with “review” can tell you a lot. Other people out there that like or hate a supplement will post their reviews for you to read. I think bodybuilding.com has done a good job there allowing users to rate the product.
Whole food Route:
Again, I think melons are best. Strawberries seem to be okay with me too. I don’t admit it often but my own workouts make me nervous as hell. My Monday workout right now takes me two days of psyching myself up to just not back out. It sucks. But so worth it when it’s done. When I’m anxious or nervous I really love eating a few of my lady’s special protein pancakes about an hour beforehand. Settles the tummy good. But that’s me, this recipe goes against everything I said about dense protein and fiber intake.
Protein Pancakes Recipe:
½ cup rolled oats
¼ cup Nutracleanse
1 scoop vanilla protein powder (mine is 35g of protein per scoop; Kaizen brand I get from Costco)
1 whole egg
1/3 cup low fat cottage cheese
Directions: blend dry ingredients until fine(r), mix in wet ingredients, stir well. Place in fridge for 3-5mins while frying pan heats up on medium. Pour to whatever size you want, flip every once in a while until they look browned and cooked. You really don’t need syrup or honey or any other sweeteners as the vanilla protein powder takes care of this.
Don’t you just love my guy-dumb recipe directions?
The above yields (as a whole batch so divide by as many pankcakes as you make/eat): 523 cals, 15g fat, 42g carbs (27g net carbs once minus out fiber count), 15g fiber, 58g protein.
Pre-workout: I like MuscleTech’s Neurocore. Does what it claims for me. I’ve tried every pre-workout out there and this one is my favorite thus far (yes, even over VPX’s now discontinued Anarchy).
Immediately Post-workout: 1 scoop AST VP2, 1 scoop Biotest Surge Workout Fuel, 10 more grams of glutamine and extra creatine monohydrate if it’s a creatine day (I cycle it 3 days on/3 off per the old AST/Paul Cribb suggestion).
Post-workout meal: Starch (like rice) and meat or Elevate Me protein bar if I am in a rush to my next client.
Again, that’s me, that’s what works for me. Everyone is different.
Stop twisting my arm
Okay, I yield. If I HAD to make a supplement suggestion I would say 1st and foremost: Biotest’s Surge Workout Fuel @1-2scoops sipped during workout but finish within 15 mins of finishing workout. The cheesy quote on the front of the jug about “makes the hardest workouts feel easy” is damn near true. Post-workout: AST’s VP2 or some other whey isolate powder. I’ve been using AST’s VP2 for about 10 years when it used to taste like Maalox, no kidding, it was so chalky. Best protein on the market in my opinion (Biotest’s Mag 10 would be a close second but I don’t feel it’s worth its price tag).