Before discussing pre/during/post workout nutrition, it’s important to analyze why you are working out in the first place. If it is simply to burn calories for weight loss or maintenance, then your workout is inherently counterproductive to optimal metabolic function which for many is a huge factor in weight gain. Calorie restriction or creating a calorie deficit will stimulate your body to convert fat and protein for energy in order to maintain short term survival. However, to prevent you from literally “consuming” yourself, your metabolism will automatically slow down to reduce the rate at which it utilizes energy. Therefore, the amount of calories you “burn” in a single workout, you must consume plus a bit more in order to meet your metabolic needs to prevent a caloric deficit and stimulate that catabolic response. In order to burn 800-1000 calories in one workout, you would have to run through your stores of glycogen in both the muscles and the liver which in itself will force a stress response and conversion of fats and proteins to glucose for energy. Understand, most people are not storing glycogen efficiently anyway so even a low intensity workout for some can cause an immediate stress response.
So, for the sake of metabolic function, we can agree that burning calories or weight loss should not be our goal during our workout. So what it our goal?
Your workout should have two primary goals:
#1) Use exercise (physical and mental STRESS) to induce physical changes that improve function, movement or sport performance.
#2) Minimize the hormonal response to the STRESS caused by the workout to maintain metabolic function.
Goal #1 should be accomplished with a qualified exercise coach that can properly design workout variables such as reps, sets, load, rest and tempo to maximize response and minimize the stress of the workout itself. This is both science and art, but mostly science. When designing programs, we NEVER count the amount of calories burned during a workout session. Read goal #1 again.
Goal #2 can be accomplished through nutrition. If sugar (glucose) is our primary and most efficient source of energy, then it is important that we not only have taught our bodies to utilize this source, but that we have adequate supplies in reserve to sustain us through our workout. Your nutritional base should already include adequate use of fruits and root vegetables along with correct proportions of proteins and fats in order to maintain your supply of glycogen in the muscles and liver. In anticipation of an intense workout, consuming foods that are anti-inflammatory as well as foods that contain needed sugar will help “top off” your supplies. This is critical since most people who have been on any kind of “diet” with low carbs, high proteins or restricted caloric intake usually do not store glycogen in the liver well.
Since glycogen stores will be consumed rather quickly in a moderate to intense workout, you should replenish your supplies during your workout to prevent the stress response and conversion of fats and protein for use as energy.
So….what should we eat or use during the workout?
Everyone is different and will require unique ratios. However the combination of proteins and carbs during and 30-45 minutes after a workout provide huge benefits in controlling inflammation, protecting the muscle and replenishing the stores of glycogen. Carbs can be most tropical fruits, but pulp free OJ provides fructose as well as magnesium and potassium which helps regulate blood sugar and mitigate the stress response. During the workout try using a mixture of pulp free OJ, gelatin, carbonated water, and pickling salt. Use tropical fruits and other non-inflammatory proteins such as dairy, eggs, white fish for post workouts to obtain additional nutrients not included in your “during” workout mix.