Nutrition for Competitive Athletes or Those Looking to Build Muscle Mass
Here’s some information for athletes looking to put on muscle mass or who are competing. This is a little trickier category to pin down because every body is different and will have different needs for maximizing performance.
See the full article from Charles Poliquin for more detail, and for help customizing a plan that’s right for you, talk to Brad at the gym. He’s happy to help troubleshoot and get you on your way.
Tip #1: The ideal workout nutrition plan—it’s individual and should be based on all the following factors:
- Training status plays a huge role in dictating nutrition needs. Untrained, deconditioned individuals have vastly different nutritional needs from physique-oriented trainees or elite athletes.
- Gender. Women burn more fat during exercise than men, which means they will use as much as 25 percent less muscle glycogen, so refueling guidelines are different.
- Age. Both quality and quantity of protein are more important for older trainees than youngsters.
- Volume, intensity, and training mode. If you’re trying to lose fat, training in a state of low glycogen is not a bad thing, whereas if your goal is long-distance performance, low glycogen is bad news.
- Training fasted or fed. Eating before working out makes during-workout nutrition unnecessary unless you’re doing an ultra-distance event. Working out on an empty stomach increases the benefit of immediate post-workout nutrition.
Tip #2: How to use protein when trying to put on muscle.
- A review of studies suggests that if you eat a high-quality protein meal pre-workout, getting protein either in a shake or meal in the 30 to 60 minute “window” of opportunity after training is not necessary unless you are an advanced trainee such as a body builder. But, the realities of a busy life make not eating in the few hours before training a common practice. If this is you, post-workout nutrition is well worth it to promote recovery and prevent catabolic processes. The best source is fast-digesting whey protein to promote muscle growth.
- If you ate a protein-rich meal before training, post-workout you can go for either whey protein or a high-protein meal containing 10 grams of essential amino acids any time in the 2 hours after your workout.
- What if you ate a meal pre-workout and were planning on eating a full meal 2 hours after training—should you take whey protein? Go for it. This is where individual needs and common sense come in. If it doesn’t suit you for some reason (too busy, can’t afford it, don’t like it, are allergic to protein powder, forgot it at home, you’d rather eat real food, or your dog ate it), don’t take it. You won’t start losing muscle or massively delay recovery.
Tip #3: How to use carbs when trying to put on muscle.
- First, let’s review when carbs are not necessary: They aren’t needed to trigger protein synthesis or produce an insulin spike.
- Many trainees think the extra insulin spike from carbs will further enhance muscle building, but this is not supported by the research.
- However, it is possible that taking carbs with protein over the longer term has some additive effect on muscle gains by enhancing the hormonal environment.
- Plus, carbs add calories, which can be essential if you’re an extremely active athlete like the football players mentioned above who weren’t hitting their recommended calorie intake.
Tip #4: How to use carbs for athletic performance.
- Consuming carbs during training can improve central nervous system drive, boosting performance even in cases when glycogen stores are not depleted.
Tip #5: What Foods to Eat & What to Avoid Before Training
- Sports drinks that contain sugar in any form whether it’s high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, or sucrose.
- Foods that are high in fructose because they reduce the body’s use of fat for fuel and can cause problems in the gut during training. Fermentable fruits such as apples and pears are not ideal.
- Foods that are fermented in the gut are generally not well tolerated during training. These include wheat, most grains, beans, and for some people, dairy.
- Huge amounts of caffeine and other stimulants because they can stress the adrenals, which will only cause problems in the long run. Caffeine can radically enhance performance, but you don’t need all that much—1 to 4 mg/kg of bodyweight will do the trick.
- Proteins that contain problematic nutrients such as beans, milk (whey protein is generally not a problem because high-quality sources will be lactose free), and fatty animal products.
- Beans contain a type of carb called a-galactosides, which we don’t digest but the gut bacteria will. Therefore, when you eat them, you feed the beneficial gut bacteria, but you also may have gut issues in the process.
- Milk contains lactose, which is not easily digested by some people.
- Some animal protein sources like bacon, cheese, and fatty meats contain large amounts of saturated fat, which take a longer time to digest. But, if they suit you, go for it.
Here’s what to eat pre-workout:
- Lean meat and fish tend to be your best protein choice because these foods don’t contain other nutrients that cause problems. If you’re okay with lactose, Greek yogurt is a good, “quick” protein source.
- Useful fat sources for cooking are those that are easily used by the body like medium chain triglycerides such as coconut oil. They bypass digestion and are absorbed directly into the liver to be used as an energy source.
- The omega-3 fats in fish are also recommended because they are anti-inflammatory and enhance blood flow.
- Nuts are another good fat source since they don’t contain other compounds that are more challenging for the body to deal with.
- Vegetables and low-fructose fruit take a while to digest but they tend to be tolerated well as long as you don’t eat large amounts. They do contain water and fiber, both of which may be disagreeable when training, in which case don’t eat them.
Tip #6: What To Eat After Training
- If you’re eating low-carb, or just generally mindful about carbs, this is the time to eat them, especially if you want to eat high-sugar carbs.
- You probably depleted glycogen somewhat while training so the carbs you eat will go to replenish them rather than be stored as fat. Higher fructose fruits such as pears, apples, and grapes are generally okay as well.
- If you’re doing twice-a-day training, competing in a tournament, or did endurance exercise for longer than 90 minutes, consuming a carb supplement, or eating fast digesting carbs such as white potato, sweet potato, yam, or white rice is indicated. Pair it with high-quality protein for faster glycogen repletion.
- Animal protein provides a greater array of amino acids than plant protein, making it ideal—beef, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, and wild game are all good options. Plant protein sources are recommended as condiments or for variety.
- Caffeine should generally be avoided, especially if you consumed it pre-workout, in order to give the adrenals a rest.
- High-antioxidant foods such as green veggies and dark colored fruits are highly recommended because they will reduce oxidative stress and accelerate recovery.