Muscle strength is important for everyday activities, good posture, weight management, injury prevention, and can help prevent and improve chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol (LiveStrong). We tend to solely focus on exercise when we are tying to gain muscle, but proper nutrition is equally as important. Nutritious foods provide the energy and the building blocks for muscle building.
To reach maximum potential, specific foods should be eaten at specific times before and after exercising. The timing of the foods is significant since your body undergoes two stages during and after you exercise: a catabolic (break down) stage and an anabolic (build up) stage. In order to build muscle, your body must build more protein than it breaks down.
THE CATABOLIC STAGE
The catabolic stage occurs during your workout. Catabolism is the process of breaking down larger substances into smaller substances. During the catabolic stage, glycogen is broken down into glucose and, once your glycogen runs out, proteins are broken down into amino acids to be used as energy. Glycogen is stored glucose. Glucose is a sugar found in carbohydrates that provides the necessary energy for nearly all of your bodily functions. When you have excess glucose, your body releases insulin to store the glucose as glycogen in your muscles and liver. Amino acids are the small units that make up proteins.
FOODS FOR CATABOLIC STAGE (PRE-WORKOUT)
The purpose of a pre-workout meal or snack is to give your body enough fuel to train as hard or as long as your body really can. You will have greater endurance and stamina if you are properly fueled. A meal should be consumed 1-2 hours before exercising or, if you get hungry, a light snack can be consumed 30-minutes to 1-hour prior. This meal or snack should always be low in fat; fat digests the slowest and can cause indigestion, nausea, or heartburn. A mixture of high carbohydrate and low protein is ideal – in either liquid or solid form. If you are consuming a shake, optional additions are: creatine, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and leucine.
Carbohydrates (whole grains, fruit, and vegetables) are key as they provide your body with glucose (energy).
Proteins (meat, fish, legumes, nuts, and seeds) have been shown to be beneficial pre-workout, particularly for speeding up the synthesis (making) of protein (SF Gate).
Whey and soy protein powders have been shown to increase strength and lean body mass when compared to a placebo group, but the protein powders were consumed before and after the workouts so it is unclear which made the impact. (Candow)
Leucine is an amino acid that takes part in the synthesis of proteins. It has been shown to have the greatest effect on protein synthesis out of all of the amino acids (BodyBuilding).
Caffeine taken 1 hour before exercise has shown to reduce pain and improve endurance, both making the workout seem easier and thus allowing you to work harder and/or longer (Mercola). Be wary of consuming too much caffeine if you workout later in the day – it can interfere with your sleep, which then interferes with your muscle recovery, amongst other things. Caffeine is best for those who exercise in the mornings.
Creatine is made in the liver and kidney and helps supply energy to the body and promotes the formation of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Creatine has been show to increase fat-free mass and strength. (Volek)
Water is often overlooked, but it is important to stay hydrated throughout your day, up until your workout. Drinking excess water during exercise can cause cramping, but if you are properly hydrated beforehand this will be less of an issue. Do drink whenever thirsty while exercising to prevent dehydration.
RECIPES FOR CATABOLIC STAGE
- Green Smoothie
- Classic oatmeal with banana or overnight oats
- Whole grain toast with nut butter of choice
THE ANABOLIC STAGE
The anabolic stage occurs after your workout. Anabolism is the process of building larger substances from smaller substances, like proteins from amino acids. Your muscles are composed of proteins and thus need amino acids to be built. Your body cannot produce all twenty amino acids on its own; there are nine amino acids that must be obtained from external protein sources.
FOODS FOR ANABOLIC STAGE (POST-WORKOUT)
The purpose of the post-workout meal is to replenish the body with the proper nutrients to energize and rebuild proteins. The meal or snack must be consumed within 30-45 minutes post workout; evidence has shown that food consumed any later will not promote the same benefits (Chambers et al).
The foods and supplements for the anabolic stage are relatively similar to those for the catabolic stage, but more protein and less carbohydrate should be consumed post-workout than pre-workout. The nutrients from liquid meals are absorbed quicker than from solid foods, hence the popularity of post-workout shakes and smoothies. However, eating a balanced meal after you exercise should provide adequate nutrition.
Carbohydrates restock your glycogen stores and provide your muscles with enough energy to rebuild.
Protein replenishes your body with essential amino acids for protein synthesis.
Leucine has been to shown to be essential for protein synthesis (Koopman et al)
Whey protein is absorbed by your body the quickest and is therefore a common choice. However, whey, soy, and pea protein have all been proven to have a positive effect on muscle building (Candow ; Babault et al).
Creatine has been show to increase fat-free mass and strength. (Volek)
Water is crucial for preventing fatigue and muscle aches! Don’t forget to drink up.
RECIPES FOR ANABOLIC STAGE
- Salmon and Spinach Frittata
- Tacos with Carne Asada
- Soba Noodle Stir Fry with Peanut Sauce
- Vegan Loaded Sweet Potato