It seems like just about every personal trainer has heard of the “metabolic window of opportunity” that follows an intense training session. The famed “window” is reference to the period of time that follows a work out in which your body is most willing to accept and efficiently use nutrients, more specifically carbohydrates and protein.
While the metabolic window has shown some conflicting research as to how long it truly lasts (the Precision Nutrition model, which I follow as a Level 1 Coach, says 30-120 minutes), we can all agree that carbs and protein are necessary for recovery, growth, and results following a session like I mentioned above.
The real concerns then become when to eat, what type of carbs/proteins to eat, and how much carbs/protein to eat. There’s also the often-neglected pre-workout meal that a lot of trainers don’t focus on with their clients (or themselves).
Let’s break these two scenarios of food timing down to two goals that are common for the general population: fat loss or muscle building.
Take my Pre-Workout Food Nugget #1: whatever you eat before exercising is what you’ll use as fuel during exercise. This means that if you consume carbs before a work out, you’ll be using carbs (glycogen) as your primary source of fuel. Performance, strength, stamina, and energy should all be improved with this type of food before a workout.
Additionally, if a client chooses to eat a meal consisting of healthy fats and lower in carbs before a work out, the client will then be using more fats as fuel. Performance, stamina, and energy may drop a bit compared to carbs (especially over time), but you are also facilitating more fat mobilization and fat burning during the workout because the client’s body is using fat as fuel. The younger the client’s training age, the better the effect Nugget #1 will have.
Also note that consuming protein with either carbs or fats should be necessary as it enables protein synthesis, which helps prevents the not-so-ideal case of using muscle as fuel.
Have protein. Always.
So if a client’s goal is fat loss, you can help facilitate fat mobilization and fat burning by having the client eat healthy fats, veggies, and protein before exercising. As the client becomes more experienced you can start implementing carbs like fruits and whole grains before a workout to boost performance and strength.
If a client’s goal is muscle building (not muscle toning), a pre-workout meal that predominantly consists of carbs and proteins is the ticket.
Now for Pre-Workout Food Nugget #2: whole foods should be consumed about 90 minutes before a workout and smoothies about 45-60 minutes before a workout. If one of your clients has a faster or slower metabolism, then make sure you tweak these numbers to accommodate how they feel. A smaller meal or snack can be digested a lot easier than a bigger meal. Get to know your client and help them pick a method that works best.
A client does not have to eat anything before a 5 AM work out, but he/she should be consuming a meal as soon as possible following their work out. This brings us to the Post-Workout Nuggets.
Post-Workout Food Nugget #1: consume a meal 30 to 120 minutes following an intense and/or strength training work out, regardless of the goal. The body is most ready to accept nutrients following a big work out. Therefore, if we provide it with proper food during that “metabolic window of opportunity” then we should see better results.
If a client ate shortly before the session, let her know that she can go home, shower, prepare, and enjoy their meal without feeling rushed. If a client hasn’t eaten anything before a work out, that client should get a post-workout meal in sooner rather than later (the same goes for a client who hasn’t eaten for a few hours prior to finishing their work out).
Post-Workout Food Nugget #2: the post-workout meal should consist predominantly of carbs and lean proteins with minimal fats, regardless of the goal. If the goal is fat loss, this meal should be under solid portion control (half a plate of veggies/fruits (two fists), half a plate of protein (large palm-sized) and some starchy carbs (1 cup max)).
The muscle-building client’s post-workout meal should be the biggest meal of the day. Consisting of simple carbs like fruits as well as some starchy carbs and, of course, paired with protein.
Remember, your client’s goals matter!
Your goals matter!
Just like creating an excellent fitness program for the goal, it only seems right that we eat for the goal too. The 4 Nuggets I mentioned will accelerate your clients’ results, your results, and your reputation. Implement these tips right away and you’ll help change more lives.
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Jordan Rudolph holds a BS in Physics w/a Biomedical Concentration and has nearly 5 years of experience. He is the owner of Unity Fitness in La Crosse, Wisconsin where he specializes in fat loss, movement, and performance. Jordan’s mission is to instruct and educate individuals on how to better their lives by uniting health and fitness.