In order to make the best bodybuilding gains you must pay special attention to your nutrition before and after the workouts. Most people are aware that nutrient timing is as important as nutrient composition. In other words, it’s not just what you eat, but when you eat it that gives optimal results. As the man says, “Timing is everything.” Consuming the right foods at the right time can have positive effects on body composition: which means more muscle and less body fat.
Health-conscious people are told to avoid simple carbohydrates, and for good reasons. It’s not true all the time and in every situation, however. Following a heavy workout, there is a metabolic “window” - so to speak - where the body preferentially shuttles glucose into the liver and muscles to replace lost glycogen via both insulin-dependent and non-insulin-dependent transport mechanisms. Translated, this means your body will shuttle carbs and protein into the tissues you want (muscle) instead of storing them as fat after a workout.
To carry the analogy further, the metabolic window doesn’t stay open indefinitely, so you need to take advantage of the opportunity while it lasts.
Pre/Post Workout Bodybuilding Nutrition Research
A number of studies have found that a post-workout drink containing simple, high-GI carbs and protein increases protein synthesis dramatically. The two work synergistically to create an anabolic environment that’s superior to either nutrient alone. In addition, some recent work suggests that a pre-workout drink may be superior to a post-workout drink, and consuming both may be best of all!
Research looking at the issue has gotten a great deal of attention in the sports nutrition world. One particularly interesting study, “Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise.” (Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 2001 Aug;281(2):E197-206), compared the anabolic responses to a carbohydrate and amino acid supplement taken either before or after resistance exercise. It’s counterintuitive to think taking in these nutrients before the workout is superior to post-workout, but according to this small study:
“…results indicate that the response of net muscle protein synthesis to consumption of an EAC solution [carb/amino acid drink] immediately before resistance exercise is greater than that when the solution is consumed after exercise, primarily because of an increase in muscle protein synthesis...”
Since this study was published, several researchers have proposed that providing amino acids/protein and carbs both before and after a resistance workout represents the best of both worlds. This is the premise of the book “Nutrient Timing” by John Ivy and Robert Portman. They present compelling evidence that the right mixture of nutrients, taken at key points in the muscle growth cycle, will optimize improvements in muscle growth, strength, and power, as well as enhance recovery from exercise.
Overall, there’s a solid body of scientific evidence to support using a blend of fast-acting carbs and amino acids/protein for both pre- and post-workout nutrition. It’s definitely a “hot” topic among sports researchers. It’s also a topic that seems to create endless speculation and conversation with non-scientists looking to get the most of their time in the gym. Everyone wants to hear the latest word, it seems.