Nutrition around the period pre, peri (during), and post training is a topic of much debate with many varying theories and ideas about what is optimal to consume during this time frame. For myself and the rugby league players I train peri-workout nutrition is very beneficial especially because they are part time athletes who come to training directly from work and often have 4-6 hours between there afternoon snack until the time they get home to eat dinner.
Many of them lose muscle mass due to a lack of nutrient intake and breakdown of muscle tissue from the hard training we do if they do not comply with peri-workout nutrition strategies. We have to go straight from the gym onto the field to do our skill work, it’s not optimal but it is the reality we are faced with. Below are some of my general recommendations to help maintain muscle mass, increase training drive, increase work capacity, and optimize recovery.
I like my athletes to consume a meal 1-2 hours before training. This time frame is very individual but generally this gives them enough time to digest the food enough before hitting the gym. It may be consumed on the way to training if they are travelling a long distance or are stuck in traffic.
The meal before training should consist of protein, fats, and some green vegetables or salad. I don’t like to eat carbohydrates pre-workout as they increase insulin and serotonin which is the calming/relaxing neurotransmitter. I want them to have drive and focus for their session so we generally just tell our clients to eat some form of red meat and a handful of nuts. This combination will enhance dopamine and acetylcholine which are the neurotransmitters for drive, focus, and attention span. You can read more about the methodology behind this here.
Many of them will ask about pre-workout supplementation. As we train of an afternoon many of the athletes are tired from a hard day at work but I don’t like to use stimulants like caffeine as I find it is too late in the day for them to unwind and get a goodnight’s sleep once they get home from training. What I recommend is they take fish oil that has a high concentration of DHA, some creatine (in phases), and/or a herbal preparation that we use. This allows them to have energy to train but still calm down afterwards.
Intra workout I like to use BCAA’s, beta alanine, and coconut water. BCAA’s have been shown to increase lean muscle mass, prevent muscle breakdown, improve insulin sensitivity, increase work capacity, and reduce muscle soreness. The dose is something we individualise for the athlete but in general I like to use 20-40g.
Beta alanine can help improve anaerobic power output, increase time to fatigue, decrease fat mass, and increase lean muscle mass. With the dosage of beta alanine it is very individual with some athletes needing only 1-2g and others needing 10g. It is something you need to experiment with to find your optimal dose.
I like to add in some coconut water during the workout to help replenish electrolytes as many players drink a lot of straight water throughout the day but often are low in electrolytes. They could also use an electrolyte powder but as many of the boys are on a budget I find coconut water to be cost effective and beneficial. I don’t recommend commercial sports drinks to replenish electrolytes.
I recommend my players take the intra workout nutrition both in the gym AND during the field session. This is something many of them don’t know until I point it out to them. By doing this they will greatly improve their work capacity and the speed of their recovery between sessions.
Post-workout I like to use two different shakes, one for after the gym and one for after the field session. Post gym I like to use whey protein (if not sensitive to it), glutamine, and some glycine. Post field session we tend to use whey protein, leucine, glutamine, glycine, taurine, and a carb powder if the athlete is lean enough.
In addition to this shake I like the players to take some vitamin C and magnesium. Once they get home and eat their dinner I like them to add in some carbs at this point, something like sweet potato or rice. Again the amount will depend on the athlete and how well he deals with carbohydrates and the goal at that point in time.
Before bed a drink made up of glutamine and inositol is also recommended to further calm down the nervous system, decrease inflammation, and promote a deeper sleep.
This is by no means an extensive list and as I mentioned it is just some general recommendations to help any part time athlete who works long days and then goes to training be able to recover from the work load and enhance performance.
For those of you that are keen to read more about peri-workout nutrition you can read an in depth article by Paul Carter here
For more information on nutrition and how we individualise it you can read this article