Fueling for Fitness

There is a lot of buzz surrounding the topic of meals before, during and after workouts.  As I’ve talked about in the past, it is very important to ensure that your body has the fuel it needs to recover properly.  This led us to the theory that there is a window of time surrounding your workouts where nutrition has a heightened importance, however we mainly focused on the timing and composition of the post-workout meal.

Along with all the seemingly infinite fad diets that are in circulation, there are just as many theories about when and what to eat throughout the day.  Is fasted cardio the best solution for weight loss? Should we carb-load before every leg day? If we just eat protein can we gain endless amounts of muscle?

As a brief science overview, in the presence of oxygen our bodies utilize carbohydrates and fat to produce ATP.  ATP is then used as energy by the muscles and other body systems to power our bodies through a workout (or any daily activity for that matter) such as curling a dumbbell, pressing a barbell off of the chest or pulling the body up over a bar.  

While the body does contain some energy reserves, mainly fat in adipose tissue, the most readily available fuel source is going to be the carbohydrates and fats that have not yet been converted and stored as fat.  Muscle protein is also available for backup energy, but this only happens in cases of extreme energy depletion.

Interestingly, some studies suggest that certain hormonal changes during a fasted state may be beneficial to fat loss, while at the same time minimizing muscle protein use for energy.  One study by Nørrelund H, et al. builds upon previous research showing an increase in growth hormone levels while in a fasted state.  They go on to show that growth hormone plays a key role in protein preservation during fasted exercise.

So you may not lose muscle when training in a fasted state, but how does this affect energy levels and performance.  Exercising in a fasted state may be beneficial to fat loss, but if you are unable to perform to the best of your abilities in the gym, you will not be able to stimulate muscle growth either.

This ultimately comes down to individual preference and response to eating.  Some people may feel full and sluggish after eating a large meal before a workout, whereas others will struggle to add weight to their lifts without the added energy supply.

The type of workout is also important here.  For example, if you are going into the gym for heavy strength training, your muscles are going to need the added carbohydrates to fuel your progress.  When lifting in a fasted state, you may have more trouble adding extra pounds onto your lifts.

On the other hand, if you are waking up and headed out for a 30-minute run, this is not as big of a concern.  Refer to my post workout meal tips following any fasted exercise!

In terms of what to eat pre-workout, we know that consuming carbohydrate-rich meals an hour or two before exercise has been shown to boost performance.  In particular, carbohydrates with a lower GI index have been shown to increase fat oxidation (Michael J. Ormsbeem et al.). These are foods such as whole grain bread, apples, quinoa or broccoli.

Eating protein before a workout has also been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis (growth), however, the effects are much greater if the protein is ingested with carbohydrates as well (Tipton KD, et al.).

In terms of fat, there is little research suggesting that focusing on fat before a workout will help muscle growth or fat loss.  If you eat foods high in fat before working out, you may feel more full, bloated and sluggish.

Some food recommendations:

  • Peanut Butter Sandwich
  • Overnight oats with protein and berries
  • Greek yogurt and granola
  • An apple and peanut butter
  • Sweet potatoes and chicken
  • Brown rice and broccoli

In terms of food to avoid, we go back to personal preference.  Steer clear of greasy foods such as pizza or burgers, spicy foods or carbonated beverages.  These can all lead to feeling bloated and their digestion will sap away at your energy. Overly sweet items whether desserts or fruit juices should also be avoided.  While they are a source of carbohydrates, they are high on the glycemic index and are therefore digested quickly, giving you a quick spike of energy followed by a crash.

In summary, the key factor in deciding what and whether or not to eat before working out comes down to your personal fitness goals and the type of training you are therefore looking to do.  If you are looking to gain muscle, your body is going to need fuel to allow yourself to progress in your lifts. If you are looking to lose weight, training in a fasted state may work for you so long as you are still able to maintain enough energy to get through your workout, however, when training in a fasted state having a well rounded post-workout meal is paramount to muscle recovery.

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Sick for the Gym

Having just spent a long weekend battling this season’s offering of the flu, I thought it would be fitting to talk about when it is appropriate, or even safe, to train when you are feeling under the weather.

We’ve all been there, once you are in the habit of your gym schedule, nothing can stop you from getting through your workouts in the right order and on the right day.  This is a good thing, it means you have incorporated healthy habits into your lifestyle which is not easy.  However, there are situations where what is best for the body is taking a break and allowing for adequate recovery time.

Advice on this topic is mixed.  You are either instructed to stay as far away from the gym and any physical activity as humanly possible, or to continue your fitness routine as planned and to “sweat it out.”  Other advice will recommend you “listen to your body” which continues to beg the question as to whether or not you should exercise.

The first thing to consider is the type of sickness you are dealing with here.  Of course, if you are fighting something like pneumonia, bronchitis or strep throat you should 100% stay home and allow your body (and most likely some antibiotics from your doctor) to do its job of recovering.  Fever, body aches and excessive fatigue are all signs from your body to take a break.

Something like the common cold, on the other hand, may leave you with a little bit more energy to move around.  If you are questioning whether or not to work out, it is likely that you are in this “grey area.” To be more specific these are strictly “above the neck symptoms,” “such as a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing or minor sore throat” (Laskowski, 2017).

In this case, a bit of light exercise may be beneficial, helping to clear out nasal passageways to promote ease of breathing.  The key here is light exercise.  This could be a brisk walk or bike ride, preferably outdoors so you can get some fresh air as well.  These activities “aren’t intense enough to create serious immune-compromising stress on the body” (Andrews, 2018).

This gives some credence to the “sweat it out” theory, however, it is important to consider the type of workout you are trying to do.  If you are headed to the gym for heavy weight training, or high-intensity intervals your body is going to prioritize recovery of the immune system before it begins recovery for the muscles you are breaking down in your workout.  So at the end of the day, you should consider whether it will be time well spent.

Another point to consider is whether you are contagious or not.  We’ve all seen someone coughing and sneezing all over the most popular equipment.  The last thing you want to be is “that guy,” potentially putting fellow gym-goers in the same position you are in now.  At the very least, if you do head to the gym, be sure to wash your hands before hitting the floor and wipe down all equipment after you’re done using it!

Heavier resistance training may also weaken your immune system (especially in males), due in part to the effects weight training has on testosterone levels.  The reasons why are not entirely clear, however immune responses to infections such as influenza have been known to be weaker in men than they are in women (Goldman, 2013).  Because heavy strength training has also been shown to boost testosterone levels, it would stand to reason that workouts of this nature would not be recommended while one is sick.

Finally, if you have been working hard in the gym, you may be worried that all your hard earned muscle is going to start melting away if you miss a day or two.  Fortunately, evidence shows that it takes about three weeks before muscle mass begins to atrophy and that taking a little break may actually put you at a greater advantage when you return (Fisher, et al, 2013).

If a visual check of your body makes you think you have lost muscle after just a few days of being sick, it is most likely due to changes in hydration and muscle glycogen levels.  You can combat this by trying to stick to your nutrition goals as closely as possible. Remember, just because you can’t make it to the gym doesn’t mean you should throw your whole diet out the window!

There is nothing worse than starting to feel better, overdoing it and then winding up sick again the next day.  Take things slow and hopefully after a few days you will be fully recovered and ready to continue with your progress in the gym.  Listen to your body, if you start with 10-15 minutes of light cardio and feel overly fatigued, that is your body signalling for more rest.  If you have given your body the time it needs to recover, you should be back to your normal strength and endurance in no time!

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Are Late Night Meals Sabotaging your Gains?

Anyone who has faced the challenge of losing weight (which, let’s face it, is all of us) has heard the old adage “don’t eat after X:00!!” But just how much truth is behind this age old piece of advice?

There are many schools of thought when it comes to daily meal timing.  One popular way of thinking about meal timing will be familiar to anyone who counts their daily macros.  This is the “24-hour energy balance” perspective, or “calories in/calories out”. In a nutshell, you have a set of goals for how many carbohydrates, protein and fat to consume within a 24-hour day.  The only thing that matters is that you reach each of these targets, and that your total calories consumed are less than your total calories burned.

Taken to the extreme, you could save all of your meals for 11:00 at night, as long as you hit your targets.  However, this theory makes sense as all of our daily activities occur between waking up and going to sleep.  On the other, our bodies are constantly using energy even when we are asleep, and there is no “zero hour” when our calorie and macro counts restart at 0.  

Those advising against eating late at night have some merit as well, but not without their own conditions.  Night time is generally when we expend the least amount of energy. We get home from work and spend the majority of the night sedentary, watching TV or continuing to work from home.

Perhaps more importantly, the types of snacks we go for after dinner are not usually the healthiest.  Those spur of the moment trips to the fridge for small snacks add up, and if you are not careful, they can quickly become the size of an additional meal.

It should also be mentioned that insulin sensitivity tends to decrease towards the end of the day due to the fact that carbohydrate-heavy meals eaten throughout the day elicit larger insulin spikes.  A greater number of insulin spikes will reduce the body’s sensitivity to insulin between fasts. Decreased insulin sensitivity can lead to carbs being stored as fat due to our bodies decreased ability and need to utilize carbohydrates for energy.  This doesn’t take into account various diets that control carb intake or fasting time frames, but still leads one to be wary of carb intake later in the day.

I believe the solution to this problem comes from bringing these two schools of thought together.  We should be keeping track of our total daily calorie intake and spreading meals throughout the day so as to provide our body with the energy it needs, when it is needed.  However, the key here is on providing energy when it is needed.  This is an idea popularized by Dr. Benardot called “within day energy balance”.

A couple of weeks ago I published a blog discussing the importance of timing your meals around your workouts.  The idea here is the same. A larger number of calories should be consumed around your workout periods, as this is when your body needs them the most.  When your body is primed for fuel, it is going to be utilized a lot more efficiently for continued energy and recovery. When your body does not need the energy, it is more likely to store it for later use.

This allows you to be more flexible with your meal timing.  For example, if you are a night owl and typically get to the gym around 6 or 7 at night, then you are going to need to refuel post-workout regardless of what time it is.  In this case, you can follow the same general rules you would for your other post-workout meals, following a 3:1 carb to protein ratio. This could be brown rice and grilled chicken, or even a smoothie or shake with fruits and vegetables to provide added micronutrients.

My advice would be to do your best to plan ahead.  If you know you are going to work out early and be busy throughout the day, then start to taper off you’re eating as you approach bedtime.  Leaving 1-2 hours to digest before going to sleep is a good rule of thumb. If your schedule leads you to eat later in the day, try to plan out what you will have.  If you hate going to bed on an empty stomach, have a small meal ready to eat so you don’t get thrown off course by the ice cream or frozen pizza that may seem more convenient.

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Building Stronger Resolutions

We’re back after a little holiday hiatus that involved lots of travel and plenty of time with friends and family to make it all worth it. I hope you all had a fantastic holiday and a happy New Year!

So you have survived the holidays, however there is one more challenge to face:  trying to come up with a resolution for the new year. Anyone with a healthy knowledge of themselves, knows there is always room for improvement.  Many who are into fitness are constantly creating mini goals for improvement throughout the year, but kicking off the new year is always the biggest one.

Coming up with a resolution is often as difficult as actually executing it.  It is all too easy to get caught up in the cliché goals that we see on social media or television ads.  These are often just cheap marketing gimmicks to get you to buy some product that, deep down, you know won’t help you towards your goals.  

These are often vague such as “lose weight”, “drink less”, “exercise more” or “find a new job”.  These are not goals, these are desires. They can, however, point you in the right direction. A goal or resolution needs to be more specific.

This brings us to what the fitness world are calls “SMART” goals.  The idea behind a SMART goal is that it is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Bound.  Phrasing your goals using this framework allows you to chart a path towards achieving them.

Let’s dissect this by using one of the examples above.  Say your goal is to exercise more. This goal is so vague that you could simply exercise 5 extra minutes once and you have achieved it.  On the other hand, if you currently exercise two days a week, you can rephrase your goal to say “jog three days per week.”

You also want to consider why and what type of exercise you want to do more of.  This will give you better direction in achieving your goal.  Say you want to have greater endurance when playing with your children.  This goal now becomes both specific and measurable: “jog three days a week for 20 minutes per session to improve cardiovascular health.”  You now have a reason behind your goal that will encourage you, and you will be able to measure your improvement through changes in resting heart rate and the ability to exercise for longer durations.

Another big hurdle towards successfully achieving your goals are whether they are attainable.  The only thing worse than an overly vague goal is one that is so far out of reach you will become discouraged after only a few weeks.  For example, if the only times you are able to make it to the gym to exercise are Monday, Wednesday and Friday during your lunch break, it does not make sense to set the goal of exercising five days a week rather than three.  This would be neither attainable nor realistic. Rather, start with the goal of exercising three days a week and when you have successfully done that for one month add an additional day.

On a side note, this gives you the opportunity to continuously revisit your goals and find ways to challenge yourself.  After two or three months of exercising for three days a week, it will start to feel like more of a habit. At this point you can add another day on if you are able to rework your schedule to allow for it.  Remember, you still want to challenge yourself!

This is where having a time bound goal comes into play.  You need to build opportunities for progress into your resolution.  You may not be able to start with your goal right off the bat, rather, you will need to work your way up to it.  The first week of January you may only be able to jog for 15 minutes 2 days per week. Then the second week you would want to increase to 15 minutes for 3 days per week until finally by the end of January you have achieved your goal of jogging 20 minutes for 3 days per week.

This goal is meant to improve your life for the entire year, right?  Now you want to focus on how you want to progress once you have reached your goal.  Let’s say when you reach your goal of jogging 20 minutes per day 3 days a week you are able to move at a speed of 5.5 with 0 incline.  You want to build into your goal the target of increasing your speed to 6.05 (a 10% increase) within a month of reaching your initial goal.  This will allow you to continue progressing and prevent you from plateauing.

That may all seem complicated and drawn out, but you now have a goal of “exercising three days per week for 45 minutes to improve cardiovascular health by increasing the workload by 10% each month.”

Let’s use another example of “eating healthier.”  This is as vague as they come as eating “healthy” can mean slightly different things for each person.  So let’s make it a SMART goal. “I will eat more vegetables every day by increasing my portion size at dinner to two fist sizes, then I will incorporate the same portion size into my lunch.”

Once you’ve set your goal it is now time to make it a reality.  If you have included all aspects of a SMART goal, you will have a better grasp on how to move forward, as we have now built the steps into the goal.

My biggest advice for fitness and diet goals is not being afraid to ask for help.  Most of what we are able to find through research on the internet is not catered to the individual person.  Finding a personal trainer or coach can be the best way to make sure you have a plan that is catered to your individual goals, rather than umbrella diets that claim to work for everyone.

This is huge in terms of motivation and accountability.  It can be difficult to keep moving forward when you do not have someone rooting for you and holding you to your goals.  This can be as simple as weekly or daily check-ins to make sure you are sticking to your plan and providing motivation tips when you are having trouble.  We’ve all be in a situation where there is a much more fun option than going to the gym, but learning to incorporate fitness into your daily life habits will make it easier to make the right choice.

This goes for dieting goals as well.  The stereotype is that to be fit and lose weight you are restricted to potatoes, rice and chicken breast.  Sound boring? That’s because it is. My time working as a chef has given me the experience to ensure that healthy and flavorful meals are not mutually exclusive.  I push people to get creative with their cooking while still maintaining a healthy diet.

Resolutions and goals that require a lifestyle change are difficult to take from daily struggle to habit.  It takes time and a lot of effort, but at the end of the day, you will be happier and healthier with the body, mind and lifestyle you have created.  Email us at cmpretraining@gmail.com if you are looking for individualized exercise programming, creative and healthy meal ideas or even just that extra bit of motivation to get you out the door and to the gym!

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Fitness and Food Timing

Structuring Meal Timing Around your Workouts

The importance of meal timing

When it comes to eating habits and fitness, one factor seems to be given more weight than all others:  when and what to eat in order to maximize muscle gains. Do you eat right after working out? Right before? During?  Many people will tell you there is a small “anabolic window” that is rapidly closing post-exercise, and you, as Indiana Jones runs and dives under the quickly closing door, must put food in your mouth before missing your opportunity for gains.

Like many things when it comes to fitness, it is never as straightforward as an Indiana Jones reference.  Let’s break things down. As we work out, energy is needed to continuously fuel muscle contractions. This is true whether you are lifting weights or endurance training.  This generally occurs through the breakdown of carbohydrates and fat.  In conditions where energy from these sources is not sufficient protein may be broken down as well.

The idea behind the post-workout meal is essentially to prevent the breakdown of protein for energy and restore muscle glycogen levels to expedite muscle recovery and repair. (Semeco, 2016)  To do this, our bodies need adequate carbohydrates and protein, but just how much, and when?  

The main problem with focusing too much on the post-workout meal is neglecting the importance of eating PRE-workout.  In fact, what you eat before you head to the gym could have a greater effect on overall muscle protein synthesis than what you eat after.  As stated in a 2001 study, “the response of net muscle protein synthesis to consumption of an EAC [i.e., a protein/carbohydrate shake] solution immediately before resistance exercise is greater than that when the solution is consumed after exercise.” (Tipton, et al.)

The timing of the pre-workout meal can be up to 2 hours before hitting the gym. (Schoenfeld, et al, 2013)  Within this time frame, rushing home for a post-workout meal is not as critical, as the energy needed is still provided by what you ate before.  However, the longer you go beyond the 2-hour mark, the more important the post-workout meal will become. Because resistance training elicits greater muscle protein synthesis, having these nutrients in the body, ready to go before training will maximize their ability to fuel that process.  

As Jeff Nippard suggests, this points to the idea of a larger window that surrounds the entire workout.  Rather than focusing on just your pre- and post-workout nutrition, think of having a 4-6 hour window with your workout in the middle.  This will ensure that you always have the energy you need to get through your workout, and what is necessary to aid in muscle protein synthesis and recovery after your workout.

Because resistance training elicits greater muscle protein synthesis, having these nutrients in the body, ready to go before training will maximize their ability to fuel that process.  Eating before a workout can be tough though.  Being overly full or bloated while lifting weights, running or cycling can be uncomfortable.  This affects consistency and the amount of effort you are able to put commit.

The key here is balance.  You know you need protein and carbohydrates to fuel your workout, the trick is finding the right combination to give you energy and not slow you down.  I would suggest lighter carbs such as rice cakes, a banana or oatmeal that are quick and easy to digest. They are also easy to pack ahead of time so they are ready to eat when you are.  Since I tend to get my workouts in early in the morning, I try to have a jar of overnight oats with protein powder ready for me.

Fats are not essential for pre-workout meals, and since extra fat can lead to feeling more full and sluggish, I would suggest avoiding it if possible.

In terms of what to eat post-workout, many suggest a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein.  The carbohydrates will help to restore muscle glycogen and the protein will help with the muscle protein synthesis that is already underway. (Zawadzki, 1992)  This could be something like chicken and rice, sweet potatoes and eggs, or beans and rice.  

My go-to post-workout breakfast is three eggs, 1 cup each of black beans and rice and 150g of sweet potatoes.  This tallies up to 115g carbohydrates, 40g protein and 16g fat.  This hits the 3:1 carb to protein ratio, with some fat to help me feel more full throughout the morning and to work towards my daily macro goals.

Remember, just because you worked out and need a post-workout meal does not mean you should rush to the nearest drive through.  The quality of food you put in your body now is more important than ever. If you’re trying to build lean body mass, your muscles need quality fuel.  You wouldn’t put the lowest octane gas in a performance car, would you?

It should be noted too that this is only a small portion of your day, and you still want to focus on achieving your overall daily intake goals for protein, carbohydrates and fat.  

To sum things up, the key here is to look at the big picture.  There is a larger window surrounding your workouts in which your body needs quality fuel in the form of carbohydrates and protein.  If you happen to be training fasted, then the post-workout meal becomes more important. If you’re not going to be able to eat right after your workout, then pad that with a little bit more food before you hit the gym.  

If you’re serious about your training and getting your body to where you want it to be, knowing exactly how to fuel it is key!

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