This is a topic that I find really interesting. There are so many ways to optimize for intense workouts, but there is a common thread that we can see in most of them: intentional preparation to maximize our efforts in our workouts. As obvious as that might sound, it’s the foundation of all the pre-workout nutrition / supplementation that folks have been experimenting with forever. We all want to make the biggest gains we can make every day that we’re grinding. Given that there are many schools of thought surrounding pre-workout loading, I am going to take a stab at highlighting some good options and focus on one supplement that I think is fairly compelling. My bias is that the benefits of working out on an empty stomach are overshadowed by the risks of the potentially catabolic effects on muscle. When we run out of fuel stores and our workout is on full tilt, our body looks for fuel elsewhere. The risk is that your body can begin to breakdown the protein in your muscles and turn it into glucose; this lovely process is known as gluconeogenesis. Not pretty.
So the essence of getting our bodies ready for intense workouts is grounded in a very simple idea: fuel. What’s the best way to fuel before a workout? Depending on your guru, there are a variety of opinions. I fall in the common sense camp: just eat a balanced meal. When you eat a solid meal about an hour and a half to two hours prior to workout, you ensure your body’s ability to actually complete the digestion process and integrate the fats, carbs, and protein into a working formula. There’s your fuel. There is some compelling evidence that confirms that the amino acids that we have on board prior to working out are in fact utilized in muscle building at least as well as the post workout aminos we get in that shot of SFH or Progenex. So what are some options for fueling?
At the risk of stating the obvious, there are a number of great combinations for pre-workout meals, but essentially it should be a “zone” style meal that is balanced; a sweet potato with some chicken and a salad would be a classic combo; or in the morning you could hit some bacon and eggs with potatoes, a bowl of berries and a glass of raw milk. If you are in a pinch and you realize that you are not going to be able to eat far enough in advance of your WOD, (because you’re in the gym at 6am), then a really simple quick alternative is a whey protein shake and some fruit; or maybe hit an OH My BAR; that would be a quick and easy way to top of your glycogen stores and get some BCAAs circulating efficiently. The word on the street is that this type of fueling creates a “hormonal milieu” that is optimal for anabolism (muscle growth). The bottom line is that you don’t want to go in to a workout with the tank on empty. Fuel up.
Ok, now the other quick sidebar that I want to hit is on the amino acid Beta-Alanine (BA). The other day one of our members mentioned that he was “tingling” as a result of a nice dose of BA prior to a workout. He asked me about it and I had a relatively vague response; like I thought it was included in an L-Arginine blend that I have used in the past. But afterwards, I realized that I was not fully dialed in on the science behind this supplement; turns out it’s pretty bad ass. So here’s the dealio: when we exercise our muscles produce, as a bi-product, H+ ions. These Hydrogen ions lower the PH on an intercellular level in our muscles, creating an acidic state, leading to muscle fatigue and burnout. Countless peer reviewed studies on humans, (not lab rats), have shown that supplementing with BA raises the cellular level of Carnosine, another important amino. What does Carnosine do? It acts as a buffer to those H+ ions; effectively maintaining the PH level and reducing acid build up. The effect of this buffering is more endurance, and greater capacity in our strength sets. Fact or fiction, you can do what I always do: just try it for yourself. There is a suggested 6mg loading phase of BA for about two weeks, then tapering to a 4mg dosing for a total of 12 weeks. The increase in Carnosine levels in the studies I reviewed was substantial; and performance was definitely improved in a number of areas. I am not suggesting that you do this, but if you’re like me, you’re always up for a good experiment.
So there you have it…eat a good meal well before you WOD and if you’re looking for a buffer you can check out Beta-Alanine. More soon.