So, we got a question from one of our Superhumans that is participating in the Superhuman Kickstart. I, Andries, am a big fan of the Superhuman Method (duhhh), so I highly recommend this method when it comes to fat loss or having a social lifestyle.
To give you some background details: with this method, you push your first meal of the day to around lunch and use the ‘saved’ calories from the breakfast for a bigger lunch and bigger dinner. Making fat loss much more enjoyable.
Now the question was: “I’d like to train in the morning, would it be better if I eat before my training?”
Short answer: Mentally: No. Fat-loss: No. Performance: No. Maximizing muscle growth: Yes.
I’ve had this question before and the number one reason why people ask this question is, that most people think they can only function properly when they have something in their system in the form of food or coffee (stimulant, different topic).
The thing is, everybody has a circadian rhythm. Which basically is your biological clock saying: wake up, eat, sleep, repeat. Put simply: it’s your routine to wake up every morning at 8 am, go to the toilet and eat your breakfast.
If your body is used to this routine, you can wake up without having to set your alarm, you can estimate what time it is based on your bowel movements and you will feel hungry if you skip your breakfast. Pretty awesome, huh?
If you make a change in this routine, your body will need some time to adjust. For example, if you manage to push your breakfast to later in the day and do this consistently for a week. It’s completely normal to feel hungry the first couple of days. But if you sit through this, chances are that the hunger games don’t start until lunchtime.
The point of telling you this is that people base the thought (of breakfast or having something in the system) on a feeling that comes from the circadian rhythm and is much more of a mindset thing that you have to withstand.
So now that we’ve cleared that topic: Do you need to eat before you train?
Energy balance is the number 1 factor when it comes to losing fat. So, from that perspective, you can just skip the food if you’re not hungry, save the calories for another meal and jump straight into your workout.
However, when you are training in a fasted state, your body has a weaker signal for muscle growth. So what should you eat before you train?
There is a popular belief that you need food before you train, mostly some carbohydrates (carbs) for energy.
I need you to understand that you don’t need carbs, at all. Yeah, calm down, regardless of whether your carbs come from ‘healthy whole grains’ or pure dextrose powder (glucose), it all ends up as glucose just the same before it reaches your blood.
The thing is, non-carbohydrate substances derived from the other major nutrients, glycerol from triacylglycerols (triglycerides aka ‘fat’) and certain amino acids (protein), can be converted to glucose or glycogen by the pathways of gluconeogenesis. (2017, Bayesian PT Course #8, Carbohydrates)
So, what about exercise performance? Unless you are a professional sprint or cycle athlete (anaerobic endurance), you surely want to load up and load back on carbohydrates. But we do strength training with relatively short exercise bout, long rest intervals and moderate total energy production rate.
There are several studies that show that carbs don’t affect strength performance:
Warner 2006: https://etd.ohiolink.edu/rws_etd/document/get/ohiou1140557597/inline
Paoli et al 2012: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3411406/
Escobar et al 2016: http://digitalcommons.wku.edu/ijes/vol9/iss4/8/
Maximizing Muscle Growth
The only macronutrient that directly affects muscle growth is protein. Now, meal frequency per se does not have a considerable effect on total protein balance, but protein distribution across the day does. Put simply: you’d benefit more from eating 4 meals with enough protein per day, than 2 meals.
So if you want to maximize your result, you want to think about workout nutrition. The available evidence strongly suggests that fasted training will compromise protein balance and its resulting muscle growth and strength development. As such, it is advisable to ensure a high amount of amino acids in the blood in the period from the start of each training session until the post-workout meal.
How much protein do you need pre/post workout?
- Untrained individuals have an anabolic window of up to 72 hours and should consume at least .4g/kg after training.
- Novice trainees are advised to consume their protein with a 6-hour meal interval and eat .4/kg after training.
- Intermediates should also consume their protein with a 6-hour meal interval but consume at least .6g/kg 2 hours after working out.
- Advanced trainees are best of when they sandwich their workout within a 5-hour eating window and consume at least .6g/kg 1 hour after a workout.
To put it a bit more simple: Consume a little bit of high-quality protein pre-workout, preferably around .4g/kg. For a male that weighs 80kg that would be about 20-30 grams. For a female that weighs 60kg that would be about 15-25 grams, but with a smaller portion size of course:
- Fat-Free Quark – 300/200 grams
- Protein Shake – Preferably mix of whey and casein
- 3 Eggs – Any style
- Sandwich with Chicken – Make it more enjoyable with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and some spices
- High Fiber Crackers with lean meats – 4 crackers
- Cottage Cheese – 200/150 grams with some sugar-free jam