So we all know the importance of the pre-workout meal. Well, maybe I’m jumping the gun. I should say that I hope we all know the importance of the pre-workout meal.
And I should qualify the position I’m coming from on this topic. This is based upon training for performance and athletic excellence. The reason I make the distinction is that there is a growing movement and popularity for intermittent fasting when it comes to weight loss and body composition changes. I’m not referring to this type of goal.
When it comes to pre-workout nutrition for a performance goal wer’re looking to hydrate and top up the body’s supply of glycogen. Glycogen is the body’s stored form of carbohydrate which can be found in the muscle and liver. If we have some carbs before training this can help ‘spare’ muscle glycogen or minimize the depletion of this energy source.
And while carbs are our best source to accomplish this we want to make sure to keep the pre-workout levels of fats and protein a little lower. This may seem contrary to what you’ll see many ‘meat heads’ doing as they suck on a protein shake while warming up on the treadmill. Don’t follow this lead. Too much protein slows gastric emptying and impairs performance.
But while we hear all the time how important it is to eat before training, how important is it really? How much does it impact your performance? Can one meal really make a difference?
Consider the following session I had with a client this week. This client wears a heart rate monitor while training and of course we are monitoring loads, recovery times and outputs on energy system work. And for this particular workout the client had not had a pre-workout meal.
Here’s what happened.
When we got to some of the conditioning sets at the end of the workout this client was suffering. He was having difficulty completing the workout. But it wasn’t just his mood or a subjective feature that is difficult to assign a real number. His heart rate was beating in the mid 170s for a set that would normally have him around 160 bpm.
But here’s the kicker.
His performance was off by over 10% as well.
In other words his body was working 10% harder than it normally does but was achieving 10% less performance. Am I saying this was entirely due to a missed meal? No. Obviously nutrition is only one aspect contributing to optimal athletic perfomance. But it obviously impairs performance by as much as 20%.
And when you think about it 20% is huge!
That’s the difference between deadlifting 440 lbs or 400 lbs. It means your competitor is done the 100 m and you’re at the 80 m with 20 m to go. It means for every shift or effort during your game or sport you have work harder than your opponent and still be a step behind.
Remember how we said earlier on how the pre-game meal is meant to be glycogen sparing? Well without a pre-game meal you will have tapped into and potentially drained your body’s stores of glycogen and thus compromised the rate and degree at which you’ll recover from competition. In other words, if you play again soon you may still be at a liability in terms of your performance.
Make sure if your training is geared around sports performance that you don’t skip or miss a meal before training or competition. It just puts you at too much of a disadvantage to have any chance of being your best.