If you have to train after a long day at work or at odd hours, get better results by planning your diet to help you sustain optimal energy, mental focus, and drive. This article will provide the top 10 nutrition tips to improve your workouts if you can’t plan your day around training.
Tip #1: Eat Protein At Breakfast
Eat a different kind of protein every morning for breakfast in order to set yourself up for an energizing day. This is the single best dietary tip for optimal leanness, energy, and mental acuity.
Eating protein at breakfast is like making an investment that you’ll benefit from at the end of the day when you need to call on that extra focus and power to achieve PRs and outperform your competitors. Best results will always come if you raise the stimulating chemical messengers dopamine and acetylcholine first thing in the morning.
Another benefit of the high-protein, low-glycemic profile is that it will help you stay lean because you will need less calories to feel satisfied at subsequent meals.
Tip #2: Don’t Train on an Empty Stomach
Eat a mixed meal of protein, low-glycemic carbs, and healthy fats prior to your evening workout to burn more fat and get more out of that precious hour that you’ve been waiting all day for.
Research shows that eating a slow-digesting meal prior to exercise makes the body burn significantly more calories after the workout than training on an empty stomach, and a greater proportion of those calories will be from body fat.
Eating pre-training boosts excess postexercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which is the amount that the metabolism is elevated after exercise as the body recovers from training. EPOC is considered the true indicator of the value of exercise for body composition.
Tip #3: Eat A Solid High-Protein, Slow-Digesting Meal Prior to Training
Contrary to the popular thought that fast-digesting carbs or high-carb workout shakes are best pre-workout, you will achieve optimal results from eating a solid, high-protein meal and allowing time to digest—at least 45 minutes.
Naturally, you need to individualize your pre-workout meal for your needs, but be sure to eat foods that will keep blood sugar stable or slightly raise it.
A series of research studies show that athletes who ate low-glycemic carbs with protein at breakfast and lunch and then trained in the afternoon burned more fat during exercise compared to those that ate high-glycemic, fast-digesting carbs. The athletes also had greater work capacity and reported less feelings of hunger during the day than a group that ate high–glycemic carbs such as cereal and plain white bagels.
Tip #4: Minimize Cortisol: Use Green & Black Tea
You will naturally elevate cortisol during your workout, but you don’t want to drive it higher with poor nutritional choices at the time that body should be winding down for day.
One way to minimize the cortisol response from training is to use green or black tea. Two fascinating studies show that tea can actually speed recovery from exercise as measured by the degree of delayed–onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and lower cortisol stress response. For example, in a study of trained men, taking a dose of black tea extract for nine days resulted in less DOMS, higher antioxidant status, and lower cortisol after a sprint interval test to exhaustion.
A second study showed that taking a green tea extract prior to a stressful exercise test produced both lower cortisol and decreased markers of inflammation.
Try drinking tea during the day and supplement with a tea extract post-workout to help clear the pathways to greater growth and strength.
Tip #5: Try Caffeine For Greater Training Drive
Unless you are very sensitive to caffeine and stimulants, get some caffeine, either in supplement form or from a high-powered coffee for greater motivation and drive.
Try taking 2 grams of vitamin C with your post-workout feed to accelerate caffeine clearance—you get the added drive from the stimulant, but you metabolize it within the duration of your workout.
Studies show caffeine taken pre-workout increases fat burning and endurance, while minimizing muscle pain from training. Research shows that taking caffeine before training can lead you to self-select heavier loads and do more total reps, speeding strength and muscle mass gains. However you do habituate to caffeine, so if you find your energy and focus varies day to day, use caffeine only on the days you really need a boost.
Tip #6: Support Blood Flow by Avoiding High-Fat Meals—Do Get Omega-3 Fats
Support blood flow to the muscles by including omega-3 fats from fish in your pre-workout meal so that your muscles get the nutrients they need, and you get more out of your workout.
Avoid high-fat meals because the fat, especially saturated fats, will hinder the dilation of blood vessels for up to four hours after eating, and you don’t want a bunch of fat sitting in your stomach right before a workout.
For example, a study found that after participants ate a high fat meal containing 50 percent saturated fat from eggs, hash browns, and sausage blood flow, dropped by more than 50 percent.
Fish oil, on the other hand, will increase blood flow and improve vasodilation, thereby lowering blood pressure. Fish oil helps get the blood to the muscles during training, while simultaneously improving insulin sensitivity and gene activity.
It’s a no-brainer to include a small dose of omega-3 fats from wild meats, fish, and the healthiest nuts like walnuts and almonds in your pre-workout meal.
Tip #7: Get Protein and Creatine During the Post-Workout “Window”
The good news about training in the evening after work is that you can wreck your body and put all of your remaining mental focus into an awesome workout. Make the most of that time, but don’t neglect recovery with poor post-workout nutrition.
If your goal is putting on muscle mass, liquid protein from whey is best for quick digestion to repair tissue and enhance protein synthesis. If you're trying to lose body fat, you may want to eat your protein in the form of whole foods.
Creatine can be taken before, after, or both, and you should get significant strength and size gains. Research does suggest that taking 3 to 5 grams of creatine with whey immediately after workouts is most effective—one study showed strength gains of 10 to 21 percent.
Tip #8: Eat “Yin” Protein for Dinner
Don’t skip eating at least a solid meal after training, but be sure to get proteins that will calm you and get you ready for the ultimate recovery: sleep.
Avoid red meats in favor of white meats such as chicken, turkey, white fish, and beans. All of these contain the amino acid tryptophan, which will increase levels of serotonin to calm and get you ready for bed.
More serotonin-boosting foods include brown rice, milk, sesame seeds, peanuts, and almonds. Be sure to include antioxidant-rich vegetables in this meal to enhance the immune system and eliminate any inflammation from training.
Include fruits and vegetables that elevate the hormone melatonin, which helps synchronize circadian rhythms and regulate the sleep-wake cycle, including tomatoes, grapes, cherries, walnuts, and the many seeds such as flax, fenugreek, sunflower, fennel, and mustard seeds.
Tip #9: Calm the Central Nervous System with Key Nutrients
Bring down the Central Nervous System (CNS) by getting magnesium, taurine, and R-form Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA).
Magnesium calms the CNS, lowers stress, decreases sympathetic nervous activity, and will allow you to relax.
One study showed that in people who normally reported poor sleep, taking magnesium significantly improved self-reported quality of sleep and lowered biomarkers of inflammation associated with sleep deprivation.
Taurine and ALA are antioxidants that will help get rid of inflammation after workouts and will calm the CNS. ALA has been shown to help creatine load into the muscles and aid recovery. Taurine will help lower cortisol–remember it’s especially important to clear cortisol after evening workouts, otherwise you will be in a more catabolic state and may feel too agitated to go to bed.
Tip #10: More Dietary Strategies for Getting the Most Out of Evening Training
• Add glycine and glutamine to your post-workout shake because glycine has been shown to lower cortisol and glutamine will boost the immune system. Muscle an strength gains from training will correlate with the strength of the immune system.
• Try eating a little bit of dark chocolate or adding organic cocoa powder to regular fat yogurt for your pre-workout meal because the antioxidants in cocoa improve blood vessel dilation and blood flow to the muscles.
• Yogurt or workout shakes are pre-workout meal options if more solid proteins don’t work for you. Be aware that milk proteins are particularly “insulinogenic,” which means they will cause persistently high insulin levels. If insulin sensitivity, diabetes, or body composition is an issue, you may want to avoid milk protein.
• Quinoa or beans are more meal suggestions from our team at Poliquin Group.