Before I begin, let me warn you about a couple of points:
- I’m not a nutritionist nor am I trying to play one here
- The approach below has worked for me after trying almost every other tactic I can find on pre, peri and post workout nutrition
What you eat before a training session has a direct impact on your performance at the gym. I’m not suggesting you should pig out before your strength session (and hope you’re gonna “burn it off”) but be aware of what and how your body responds to food.
I firmly believe that training on an empty stomach is a bad idea unless you’re having a light day, although I would fuel myself up even then. The only time I find training fasted useful during the deload week. That’s after every 8 or 12 weeks of intense (which includes light, medium and heavy) training.
At the very least, have a scoop of protein with another scoop of quick digesting carb powder an hour before you train. If possible, eat. It doesn’t have to be fancy, the basics would do too. Overcomplicating it would only make you more miserable. And most of us, unfortunately, just love to do that. For example, a few weeks back, I decided to cut down on caffeine completely for a few weeks. Boy, that was a stupid decision. My lifts suffered just as well as I did. Yesterday, I decided to screw everything and go for my usual dose (between 300-500 mg, that’s the recommended dose for performance… if you’re not onto something else). I smashed the weights as usual. Felt great!
And speaking of stupid — avoiding carbs definitely feels like that. I don’t think one should unless they are into bodybuilding (and even then you need it). If not, carbs are a must, particularly around training. I prefer to have them before and after. Some athletes prefer before, during and after. Any combination is fine as long as it’s working for you. Ingesting carbs won’t make you fat. Think of it as your primary workout fuel. There’s a lot of broscience out there theorizing why carbs are evil and fats are the fuel.
I have been supplementing my primary training (powerlifting/strength) with kettlebell training in the evening for more than a year now. And almost every session felt unnecessarily dragged out and outright exhausting because I avoided carbs and caffeine like the plague! Why? The former will impact my calorific intake for the day while the latter will ruin my sleep. Guess what? None of that was actually true. And my sessions became so much more productive once I started to take them like 30-45 minutes before training. Of course, being sensible is important. You can’t expect to sleep at 11 after ingesting 250-300 mg of caffeine (which is like a scoop of your regular pre-workout powder) for the 7:30 pm training session.
I believe everything boils down to balance is the key. You possibly cannot function efficiently without any of the three macronutrients (proteins, carbs, and fat). Avoiding them is stupid. Keeping a track of what you’re eating definitely helps but doing that in the long run, is hard, which isn’t to say it can’t be done. I tracked my food for a solid 390 days before getting bored with it.
Insights on your daily caloric intake (which will vary on your training and non-training days) is generally useful regardless of your goal — overall health, strength, maintenance or aesthetics. It keeps you mindful and accountable for what you’re eating and what you shouldn’t.
Like Dan John says, “the goal is to keep the goal, the goal.” If training is a priority for you (regardless of your athletic stature or affiliation), nutrition cannot be ignored. You have to fuel up for performance because feeling shitty hasn’t helped anyone. Yes, you can get ripped but I would rather carry a strong set of abs (that aren’t visible) in an energy efficient body than a six-pack in an energy depleted body. And remember, meth addicts have six packs too.
Bottomline? It’s this:
- If you’re training seriously. Eat. Before and after. Don’t skimp on carbs or fats for protein. They’re all necessary and you can’t do without any.
- Although you can lose fat while gaining strength, it’s best to focus on one goal at a time. From my experience, it’s important that you get stronger first before losing fat. I made the mistake of focusing on losing fat first. I wish I hadn’t.
- The easiest way to eat (I didn’t cover this before but here we are!) is to eat clean. Like 90% of the time while ensuring that you aren’t abusing the remaining 10%.