Q: I’m confused about what I should eat before and after my workout. Also, how soon before my workout can I eat something?
A: This is a good question. Eating the right or wrong things both before and immediately following a workout can make a big difference in the results you get.
Let’s start with the right foods to eat before you train. This can vary depending on your physique goals. If you’re trying to lose as much bodyfat as possible, it’s always better to train on an empty stomach. That means your last meal should be at least three hours prior to your workout, which will ensure that your blood sugar level is lower than normal so your body will release greater amounts of growth hormone.
One of the key actions of growth hormone release is fat mobilization. When you eat foods that contain carbohydrates, insulin is secreted, and that prevents any growth hormone release. Another way to boost your natural growth hormone reaction is to take a supplement that encourages it, such as Muscle-Link’s GH Stak. IRONMAN’s Jonathan Lawson told me that he got great results from taking GH Stak on an empty stomach immediately before his workouts while he was leaning out for a photo shoot.
If your primary physique goal is to add muscle mass, however, you need the maximum amount of energy for training as heavy and hard as possible. You want to be stoked full of carbohydrates, as they’re your body’s primary source of energy. No matter what time of the day you train, you should include plenty of complex carbohydrates with each meal. That will build up the glycogen stores in your muscles. It’s important to eat good food all day long so your body will be ready for some heavy-duty training when it’s time to go to the gym. Complex carbs are digested more slowly and will help build up glycogen stores more efficiently than simple sugars.
You should eat mostly complex carbohydrates with low-glycemic-index values, along with some high-quality, easily digested protein. You want to avoid foods that are high in fat and/or full of simple sugars. Combining a low-glycemic-index, complex-carbohydrate food with a high-quality protein food will help to control the insulin level while also providing your body with the important amino acids that it needs before you begin tearing down muscle tissue during your workout. One of my favorite preworkout meals is a Muscle Meals protein shake combined with one cup of oatmeal.
Foods that are high in fat will take a long time to digest. That’s why I prefer a protein drink for my preworkout meal. I know that it will be digested quickly and easily while providing the protein I need for the repair and preservation of my muscle tissue.
Finish eating your last meal at least 60 minutes prior to training. Any sooner than that and your body will still be in the process of digesting the food while you’re trying to get a pump in the muscles. If that happens, you’ll end up with either an upset stomach or a bad pump or both. As I mentioned earlier, however, if you’re attempting to lose fat, don’t eat during the three hours before your workout, and take some GH Stak to help with the fat loss before heading off to the gym.
Now let’s talk about what to eat after the workout. Your glycogen stores should be pretty much depleted after a tough session, so you’ll need to get some carbs back into your system right away. I’m sure you’ve heard of the window of opportunity that presents itself immediately following a workout. The theory is that if you can replace those lost carbs within 30 to 60 minutes following an intense workout, most of what you take in will be stored in the depleted muscle cells.
The meal following a workout should be high in simple sugars because you actually want your insulin level to go up as much as possible. The high insulin level will help to rapidly transport the simple carbs directly into the starving muscle cells. That opportunity is only available at this time because the muscle cells are so depleted. If you ate that much simple sugar at any other time of the day, you would be in danger of storing most of those calories in the fat cells.
In addition to the carbs, I include some quickly digested protein powder in my postworkout meal. Since the simple carbs are going to be directly transported to the depleted muscle cells, I take in some protein to make sure that my muscles receive the essential amino acids along with the carbs.
My postworkout meal consists of a carbohydrate drink that contains 75 grams of simple carbs along with two scoops of whey protein powder. Since whey protein is rapidly absorbed, it is preferable after a workout to my usual Pro-Fusion protein powder, which is whey protein combined with milk protein. I also add 10 grams of creatine and 4.4 grams of ribose, which are best absorbed by the body after an intense training session. [Note: John Hansen has just started using Muscle-Link’s new RecoverX postworkout formula, which includes fast protein and fast carbs along with other ingredients that accelerate the anabolic process during the window of opportunity. For more on RecoverX, see page 138 of the Nov '01 IRONMAN.]
Q: Can you tell me how a natural bodybuilder gets involved in competition? It seems there are a lot of organizations out there, and it gets pretty confusing.
A: If you’re thinking about competing in your first contest, you want to begin at the bottom and work your way up. Always enter a show that you have a good chance of winning, because the preparation is much too much work just for the experience. It’s hard to get excited about entering a competition that you know you have no chance of winning. In my opinion, it’s not a pleasant experience standing at the back of the stage during the prejudging while the judges ignore you in favor of the top competitors.
If you’re still a teenager, you could enter a local teen competition in your area. There will probably be local shows, state-level contests, regional events and, finally, national-level competitions. For example, my first contest was the Teenage Mr. Chicagoland. After that I entered the Teenage Mr. Illinois and worked my way up to the Teenage Mr. Midwest. In my last year as a teen competitor I entered the Teenage Mr. America contest, the biggest national-level teen competition at the time.
If you’re older, you should begin by entering a novice competition. Novice-level events are for those who’ve never won a title. They usually follow the pattern described for teen events’local shows, followed by state-level contests, followed by regional events, which routinely involve several states’Midwest Championships, Southern States Championships, Northeastern Championships, etc. National-level competitions do not feature novice events. By the time a competitor reaches the national level, he or she has usually won several bodybuilding contests. In fact, bodybuilders are not allowed to enter a national-level competition until they have qualified for it by winning or placing high in a national qualifier, which is usually a state or regional event.
If you’re in your 40s, 50s or older, don’t give up on the idea of competing. There are masters contests at all levels. Most masters competitions are limited to individuals who are at least 35 to 40 years of age. Some competitions are split into over-40, over-50 and over-60 divisions. There are also masters competitions at the national level, such as the NPC Masters National Championships.
Bodybuilding competition is open to anyone, including disabled people. The Amateur Bodybuilding Association (ABA) began holding competitions for wheelchair-bound and physically challenged athletes, and the National Physique Committee (NPC) followed suit by adding a National Wheelchair Championship. It’s a fantastic idea.
The biggest bodybuilding organization in the world is the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB), which boasts a very impressive 172 countries as members. The IFBB is famous for sanctioning most of the top professional events, including the Mr. Olympia. Since the NPC is the amateur organization in the United States that leads into the professional division of the IFBB, the NPC is extremely popular here.
As a natural bodybuilder you have many competition choices available to you. You could enter only natural or drug-tested bodybuilding contests, in which competitors submit to drug tests to ensure that no steroids, growth hormones or other illegal drugs were used in preparation for the event. There are many different rules for natural bodybuilding competitions. Some natural shows are for bodybuilders who have never used a bodybuilding drug in their lives. Other competitions are for those who are seven years drug-free, five years drug-free or even one year drug-free. You need to check the rules of the competition before deciding to enter it.
If the contest doesn’t include the word natural in the title, it will most likely not involve a drug test. That doesn’t mean that every bodybuilder in the event is using drugs, only that no one will be tested for drugs.
Drug-testing methods differ from competition to competition. Some promoters test their athletes with lie-detector tests (polygraph), others with urinalysis. The problem with these tests, as far as the promoter is concerned, is the cost. Promoters are trying to make the most money possible from their contests, and the more money they spend on extensive drug testing, the more it cuts into their profits.
The polygraph test is probably the most unreliable method of determining whether an athlete is using drugs, but it’s cheaper for a promoter to pay for a polygraph expert to come in for the day and test all the athletes than it is to do urinalyses for all the competitors.
Many drug-tested competitions do random drug testing. That means that all the bodybuilders in the contest will not be tested, only the few whom the promoter thinks should be tested. The problems are obvious. There’s a possibility that a competitor using drugs will not be tested.
My advice to natural bodybuilders contemplating competition is to check out several different contests in a variety of organizations. Notice their drug-testing procedures, how extensive the judging is and how accurate the final results are. As I mentioned above, preparing for a bodybuilding competition takes lots of work, dedication and sacrifice, but it’s a great way to motivate yourself to achieve a higher level of excellence in your physique. Make sure that the competition you enter strives for the same level of excellence.
Editor’s note: John Hansen is the ’98 Natural Mr. Olympia and a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Visit his Web site at www.naturalolympia.com. You can send correspondence to P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561, or call toll-free 1-800-900-UNIV (8648). IM