These days, more people than ever realize the power of performance nutrition. Unfortunately, realizing the power doesn't mean they perform it right! Many trainees figure that as long as they have a pre-workout in them by the time they set foot in the weight room and a protein shake after leaving, they're good to go. After that, they're off the clock.
This approach is a great start, but it's by no means the end of the story, especially if you have dreams of building your all-time best physique. You may only spend an hour or so in the gym each day, but maximizing the results you get from that hour requires a 24-hour effort.
Here's the play-by-play of what your day should look like, starting from the moment your previous workout ends. Note that this schedule is designed to have you doing a 5 p.m. workout. If you work out at another time, simply adjust the sequence of events accordingly.
Are you ready? Set the clock!
24 Hours Pre-Workout: Post-Workout Shake
You just finished one workout, and you're almost exactly one day from the start of your next. It's time for a shake!
You may think this ritual is part of the workout you just finished, but in the larger context of recovery, it does more to support tomorrow's session. Fueling up immediately post-workout helps the body begin healing, repairing, and growing as quickly as possible so it'll be ready to attack the next challenge it faces with equal intensity. Skip it, and you put yourself behind the eight ball.
No need to reinvent the wheel here. If you're looking to grow, take in about 0.25 grams per pound of bodyweight of a quality whey isolate protein powder along with 0.25-0.5 grams per pound of a fast-acting carbohydrate. If you're looking to lean out, or if your carbohydrate intake is limited, you could opt for double the whey and cut the carbs, like IFBB pro Amanda Latona does.
"Immediately after my training, I take 2 scoops of Isoburn protein," Latona explains. She says she prefers this method when she's in strict show-prep mode, since the additional incoming protein can spike insulin levels on its own without a carb source.
23 Hours Pre-Workout: A Hearty Meal
Your post-workout shake is in, and the nutrients are doing their job. However, your body is also feeling the damage of your last workout acutely right now, so it's time to eat up and give it fuel to keep recovering and growing. Recent research has concluded that the so-called "anabolic window" actually lasts somewhere around 3-4 hours long, so use this opportunity to make the most of it!
Eat a solid meal at this time consisting of lean protein along with complex carbohydrates. Chicken, fish, beef, or turkey all work great alongside brown rice or sweet potatoes.
19 Hours Pre-Workout: Overnight Protein and Fats
You're now gearing down for bed, preparing yourself for the most important recovery session of your day. It should last at least 8 hours, and if you're looking to add muscle, more like 9 or 10. Cut back on sleep, and your chances of having a perfect workout tomorrow decrease dramatically.
In either case, don't go to bed hungry. Give your muscle tissues some amino acids to utilize throughout the wee hours. At this hour, you might think you can't beat the tried-and-true formula of casein, either as a powder or from a food like cottage cheese. But, there's a better option: casein along with a healthy fat like avocado.
Why include both? First, by feeding your body both fat and casein, two slow-digesting nutrients, you'll help counteract the muscle breakdown which occurs during your nightly fast. And second, healthy fats are crucial for maintaining or raising your natural testosterone levels, which can promote even greater growth.
If you're training early in the morning without food or utilizing a dietary system such as intermittent fasting, you could boost this meal with some carbs. This is how BSN athlete Dr. Sara Solomon structures her day.
"Carb back-loading yields better outcomes with fasting and fasted training, so I purposely eat my carbs at the end of my eating window, which falls before bed," she explains. "This facilitates my fasted training workout the next day, because my glycogen reserves are fully saturated."
Pro Tip: Cheat
"I eat my cheat meal at night, and then the next day I train a major muscle group such as legs or glutes and use the extra food to promote greater gains," says Amanda Latona. When training the following morning, she'll take 10 g of BSN's Amino-X beforehand.
10 Hours Pre-Workout: Breakfast Time
Welcome to the day of your perfect training session. It's time to prime your body with a solid breakfast! Don't think that only your pre-workout meal matters.
Remember that what you eat now will take hours to fully digest, so this meal will definitely help fuel that workout.
Eat a mixture of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats before you leave the house.
If you're looking to get leaner, keep the carbohydrates lower and then add more later in the day—such as in your pre-workout or post-workout meal—to keep your daily total in line.
9.5 Hours Pre-Workout: Plan Your Day
While you eat breakfast or immediately afterward, take some time to plan out your workout so you know precisely what you'll be doing when you hit the gym later on. Do this before your day gets busy and you head off to work, so you can give it your full attention.
"Each workout is an opportunity to take another step closer to the physique you desire," explains IFBB pro Ryan Hughes. "Each workout should be a carefully orchestrated plan with the main objective to destroy the targeted muscle groups."
As part of this plan, Ryan advises mapping out not only your workout session, but your pre- and post-workout nutrition, so you don't find yourself improvising or cheating during the day. Your time in the gym is precious, but it's brief. Don't leave anything up to chance.
4 Hours Pre-Workout: Lunch
With four hours to go before you hit the gym, it's time for another protein-rich, slow-digesting meal. Focus on lean protein, a few vegetables, and a good hit of complex carbohydrates.
90 Minutes Pre-Workout: The Final Meal
How this meal looks will depend on your personal food tolerance level before exercise. Some people prefer having a shake at this time rather than solid food, because they find it doesn't weigh them down quite so much. Others couldn't imagine working out without this meal inside them.
Regardless of what your meal looks like, aim to get in 0.25 grams per pound of protein along with another 0.25 grams per pound of carbohydrates. These can be a mix of slower-burning or faster-burning carbs depending on how long before the workout you're eating.
The longer beforehand, the more you should favor complex carbs over simple ones.
30 Minutes Pre-Workout: Take Your Pre-Workout
Your workout is getting close now, so it's time to pump yourself up. Do this by taking one serving of NO-Xplode mixed with water. People will do this just a few minutes before training, such as when they're in the locker room, but it's far better to give the ingredients more time to work. You don't want to be almost done with your workout before you feel it working!
A pre-workout supplement helps boost your focus and concentration, improve blood flow to muscle tissues, and prevent fatigue. It's also one more great way to reinforce the ritual of training—particularly if you have a pre-workout you really like. "I'm so in love with the new formula," Latona says of the new NO-Xplode. "I actually look forward to drinking it, which then makes me look forward even more to my training session."
Now is also the time to review what you plan to do in the gym so you're focused and fully prepared. If you're someone who likes to power up by watching a motivational video or reading an inspirational quote, this is the moment to queue it up and soak it in.
2-3 Minutes Before The Workout: Prep Your Intra-Workout Nutrition
If you've followed all the steps up to now, your body is fueled up and energized, like a racecar rumbling on the starting line. You've lived a day like the pros do, and you're set to have the workout of your life. The only thing left is to prepare your intra-workout drink.
"Mix some AminoX with some water and head into your session," says Solomon. "This is especially vital if you're using an intermittent fasting approach; BCAAs can help further enhance protein synthesis in the skeletal muscle while in the fasted state." Fasted or no, soaking up these amino acids throughout the workout session will help maximize the growth stimulus your body receives.
Now, get ready to do it all again. Are there any places you could be making improvements? Do you have any pro tips of your own? If so, let us know in the comments!