Intra-Workout Nutrition: Fat Loss vs. Muscle Gain
The days of sipping on plain old water during workouts are long gone. That is, if you’re serious about taking your physique to the next level. With the recent increase in research on nutrient timing and supplements, our knowledge of peri-workout nutrition has exploded the past few years. If you have been slacking in this department, it’s time to unlock some serious gains.
Peri-workout nutrition refers to the periods before, during and after your lifting session. While it’s a good idea to maximize all three of these periods, intra-workout is an area where most fall flat. As with all other facets of nutrition and training, your intra-workout cocktail should be specific to your current goals. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Adding carbohydrates pre-workout can provide you with ample amounts of energy to fuel an intense lifting session. The right amount of quality protein post-workout will start the rebuilding process and lead to muscle gain. So what can intra-workout nutrition do for you? First, let’s look at what is happening in the body while you lift.
*If you want to know the exact protocols I use with clients for peri-workout nutrition, check out my book on it here: Feast.Fast.Fit. – Train Your Body to Torch Fat, Build Muscle, and Never Diet Again
Exercise is unique in that it changes the way the body responds to nutrients. This is why resistance training is such a powerful tool for reshaping your physique. Because of this, serious lifters started playing around with adding different nutrients and compounds during their weight training session. What they found was that the right blend of nutrients can have a positive effect on their progress and physique.
Where does energy come from during exercise? Generally, it will depend on the type, duration and intensity of the exercise. ATP is our immediate fuel that supplies muscle with the energy to contract. Unfortunately, the amount of ATP that we have within our muscles isn’t enough to keep up with the demands of repeated contraction. In order to get more ATP to keep up with your workout, the body has a couple of other pathways to help; aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen).
The aerobic system can provide ATP but it’s a slow process. The anaerobic system on the other hand, quickly produces energy during short duration, high intense activity. Lifting weights is primarily anaerobic, whereas long distance running would be aerobic. However, the aerobic system isn’t only being beneficial for endurance exercise. Believe it or not, in between your sets of heavy lifting, the aerobic system is working to help you recover. So don’t be afraid to throw some cardio into your routine.
Enough of the boring stuff. How does this help you get jacked? Your body is using up a ton of energy during your workout and if not properly fueled or hydrated it can lead to decreased performance. I’m sure you have had some workouts where you have great energy with an incredible pump while others you feel flat and weak. This is not a coincidence. Nutrition plays a role here but so does your fluid and electrolyte balance. Proper hydration is actually anabolic.
There’s more to the “pump” than just blood flow. When your muscle cells are dehydrated there is a strong catabolic effect which you’d like to avoid. The workout itself is catabolic enough as energy and muscle are being broken down. By staying hydrated and including some potent amino acids you can tip the anabolic-catabolic seesaw back towards anabolism (growth).
Should you use intra-workout nutrition?
Assuming you have the rest of your diet in order, intra-workout nutrition is a no brainer for serious weightlifters. That being said, not all intra-workout drinks are created equal. Now it’s time to decide exactly what you want intra-workout nutrition to do for you. Are you after fat loss? More muscle? Improved recovery? If you are after all three, there isn’t much room for error. However, when done right, the proper blend will significantly improve your physique and performance.
The latest debate in the fitness world has become whether or not to add carbohydrates during your lifting session. While there might be some instances where it’s helpful, I certainly wouldn’t classify it as a necessity. The rationale for including carbohydrates in your intra-workout drink is to halt protein breakdown. Sounds good, right? If your creation of new proteins (protein synthesis) exceeds your breakdown of proteins (protein breakdown), you will gain muscle tissue.
The inhibiting of protein breakdown occurs because of insulin, not specifically carbohydrates. Insulin will increase protein creation and limit protein breakdown, which is why it’s considered an “anabolic” hormone. The common misconception being that only carbohydrates cause an increase in insulin. This isn’t true. For example, the amino acid – leucine, creates a large insulin spike when ingested.
Leucine is a muscle building amino acid that can single handedly stimulate our growth pathway (mTOR), thus leading to muscle protein synthesis. When taken during your workout, leucine will provide an anabolic effect which is why I recommend 5g in your intra-workout drink.
Here are some guidelines to help you determine what you need in your intra-workout drink based on your current goals:
Intra-Workout Nutrition for Fat Loss
It’s important to remember that fat loss can only occur with a sensible diet and training program. The peri-workout window can certainly enhance your overall program, but what you do over the course of the entire day is still critical. You must have periods of a deficit in calories as well as proper macronutrient ratios.
With fat loss in mind, it’s best to leave excess calories and carbohydrates out of your intra-workout drink. Taking in too much energy during your workout will really hamper the amount of energy being burned. After all, if you are trying to drop body fat and shed unwanted weight, you need to burn more energy than you take in. Keeping insulin elevated for too long is another issue as it will limit fat being freed up and used for energy.
If you are constantly refilling your carbohydrate (glycogen) stores during your lift, you will limit how depleted they would normally be afterwards. This isn’t helpful for fat loss as glycogen depletion increases fat mobilization and oxidation (freeing and burning of fatty acids).
Repleting glycogen will also have a negative impact on your post-workout insulin sensitivity and responsiveness, which are two of the most powerful effects produced by weight training. When you are more sensitive to insulin post-workout, more of your carbohydrates are going to be pushed into muscle tissue rather than fat tissue. If you are insulin sensitive, less insulin will do more (that’s a good thing). For those reasons, I believe carbohydrates are best left out of your intra-workout drink when trying to recomp or lower body fat.
A scenario where you might use carbohydrates intra-workout during a fat loss phase is if you train fasted or enter training in a depleted state. If that is the case, you would take in just enough fast-acting carbohydrates to get you through your training session. Ideally, you will enter your workout with full energy stores but sometimes that doesn’t happen
Knowing this, it’s best you build your intra-workout drink based around amino acids that will promote protein synthesis, pull water into muscle cells and still keep calories low. Outside of the anabolic signaler, leucine, these other amino acids can be useful – glutamine, citrulline malate, and glycine.
Fat Loss Drink: 5g L-leucine, 5g L-Glutamine, 3g of L-Glycine, 3g of citrulline malate, Water.
Intra-Workout Nutrition for Muscle Gain
If you are focused on maximum muscle gain or having the fuel to undergo long, strenuous workout sessions, intra-workout carbohydrates can be beneficial. When you are trying to gain mass, carbohydrates are your friend. The more you can include, while still keeping body fat in check, the better. Intra-workout carbs give you an opportunity to increase your daily carbohydrate intake at a time where they are very unlikely to be stored as fat.
In terms of performance, intra-workout carbohydrates can serve as a rapid source of energy and help to keep your higher volume sessions productive. If you recall from earlier, lifting weights is mainly anaerobic, which uses the breakdown of carbohydrates for fuel (glycolysis). Keeping enough of this preferred fuel source around will make sure strength stays elevated.
The type of carbohydrate is important because you want a fast-acting and easily absorbed source. If it requires too much digestion, a lot of blood flow will be diverted away from working muscles and to the stomach. This is not ideal. Because of this, you need to be careful in choosing the right carbohydrate to add.
Popular choices include cyclic-dextrin, coconut water, and glucose tabs. The coconut water is a great choice because it not only provides easy to digest carbohydrates but useful electrolytes as well (potassium and sodium).
Keep in mind, if you are having pre-workout and intra-workout carbohydrates, you do not need to rush into having carbs post-workout. Your body should have more than enough stored carbohydrates (glycogen) and at that point you will only need quality protein.
Muscle Gain Formula: 25-50g of easily digested carbohydrates, 1-2 liters of water, 5g of leucine + additional amino acids.
There are a lot of so called absolutes when it comes to the world of nutrition. In reality, there are a lot of unique ways to alter your nutritional programming to fit your personal metabolism and goals. The main purpose of intra-workout nutrition is to capitalize on a time where muscle cells are sensitive and protein anabolism can be increased.
If you are a hard-gainer or have trouble maintaining stamina throughout your session, the muscle building drink will take your workouts up a notch. If you’re trying to strip fat in a hurry and maintain lean muscle, make sure to include leucine and keep your intra-workout drink carbless. By staying hydrated and providing the right muscle building nutrients, you can supercharge your gains.
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