Many people will tell you about some sort of “importance” of pre and post workout eating/drinks, but is it really necessary and could it actually be working against your fat loss efforts?
To start off here is a very informative quick video from Brad Pilon (author of the Eat Stop Eat) about how food effects GH levels (from intense exercise). Be sure to click and watch it (less than 2 minutes).
If you remember from Fat Loss 101, the fat cells are like “storage” tanks that store fats until the body signals to “release” those fats to be used as fuel/energy (aka burned). Those signals to release stored fats are hormones.
In the case of doing intense exercise, Growth Hormone (GH) release is the goal as a muscle sparing and fat releasing hormone (increasing FFAs..or Free Fatty Acids). While high levels of insulin can lower GH response (a good reason not to eat sugar immediately post workout), it can also lower the response when taken too soon before.
The biggest surprise however to many may be that fat pre-workout is WORSE in shutting down the post workout GH response. Think of it this way, if GH’s job is to elevate the FFAs and you already elevate them with a high fat pre-workout meal…then why does GH need to be elevated much higher? Makes sense. GH is there to do a job, and eating fats before hand just do most of the work for it.
So why are you eating before your workout in the first place? Think about it.
The “fasted” state is a more ideal time to attack those intense workouts. While in this state your insulin is low/stable and you should be able to maximize GH response from exercise. Keep the workouts short and intense (20-30 min max) and then allow the GH to peak in the hour after. As GH peaks, so will the FFAs.
Keep active at a slower (more enjoyable) pace after your main intense workout while in that window of higher GH and FFAs, and take advantage of some additional fat burning. Doing too much intensity here will only lead to higher cortisol output, which is not the goal.
As I like to say…just go “Play”. Pickup a basketball, go for a walk/hike, toss the frisbee, do what you enjoy and is not going to be an excess stress on your body (physically and mentally).
You can easily implement this strategy first thing in the AM (as you are fasted from the night’s sleep) or even later on in the day. Just don’t eat any big meals a couple hours before a workout. If you feel you need something for energy to get through a longer workout, just stick with a simple food choice such as some fruit 30-45 min prior.
Remember, avoid that pre-workout fat intake if high GH post workout response is your goal!
After the workout, wait at least 30-60min before you eat anything. This is your “play” time. Don’t elevate insulin and lower that GH response that is peaking. You build muscle 24/7 so don’t think you need some super quick pwo shake (especially loaded with sugar). Supplement micro-science tends to ignore the long term muscle building metabolism of the body.
Just eat enough good nutrients during the day and you should be fine. Focus on enough protein to build muscle long term and enough glycogen replenishment for the muscles to get through your workouts. The rest isn’t worth worrying about.
A couple additional tips could be to have some (not excessive) caffeine pre workout to boost workout intensity, and/or some BCAAs pre/during to help with keeping performance high especially in more frequent workout plans.
Lastly I like this from Chris over at Zen to Fitness on why he works out fasted:
- It will activate your lean and hungry adaptive mechanism which will burn fat and build muscle, especially if you have a fasted weights workout which hits your back and shoulder area (try sprints and pushups).
- Insulin sensitivity is further improved and fasting is prolonged which can have great health benefits, including improved fat loss without disrupting our hormonal balance.