3 Science-Backed Ways to Level Up Your Workouts with Nutrition
I don’t know about you, but the theme of everything food- and fitness-related this year has been to “get creative” for me. Picnics instead of date nights, family zoom happy hours instead of Sunday night dinner, and lots of at-home, playground, and staircase workouts.
Whereas before I was on a pretty regular workout schedule at the gym, when social-distancing became more serious and all the gyms closed, I felt like I had to learn all over again how to have an effective workout without my beloved rowing machine, dumbbells, and squat rack. The truth is, four months later, I’m still figuring it out. But one thing I know for certain is that all the progress I made in the gym will not be lost—that’s where nutrition comes in.
I’m sure we’ve all heard that saying “abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym”. Well, this post isn’t about how to get rock-solid abs. Actually, the topic of today’s blog post is about improving your overall workout progress with a few simple nutrition hacks, no matter what your workout routine looks like these days. Hopefully, when gym life as we know it returns to normal, you’ll take these tips with you to pick back up with the fitness goals and aspirations you no doubt had at the beginning of this very special year!
#1. Your New Favourite Pre-Workout Drink
Move aside, protein shakes, electrolytes, and creatine powder (JK- Shante, you all stay). There’s a new pre-workout drink in town: beet juice!
I’m laughing as I write this, because I know so many readers are going to roll their eyes (or gag) at that. BUT hear me out!
According to a new study, drinking beet juice before a workout is an amazing way to improve power, speed, and rep volume. In a randomized control trial, participants were either given beet juice or blackcurrant juice two hours before pumping iron at the gym. The researchers found that those that drank the beet juice were able to bench press with more power and speed, and perform more reps before failure.
So, if you’re looking for a way to improve your performance at the gym, maybe you should try incorporating beet juice into your pre-workout snack/meal. You can make your own juice at home if you own a juicer (I love juicing raw beets, carrots, ginger, and cranberries) or you can easily buy a cold-pressed juice at your local grocery store. Just look for one that isn’t too high in sugar per serving.
If you’re thinking that you need more than a juice to keep you going at the gym, I feel you. That brings us to tip number two!
#2. Double Trouble: Don’t Mix Collagen and Protein Powder
Collagen peptides are trending in the health world—and for good reason. They contain easily absorbed amino acids to help with everything from skin health to gut health. If you’ve never used collagen peptides, they are a fine, white powder (similar to a protein powder) made from hydrolyzed beef (or chicken and/or egg) collagen that dissolves well in anything hot and cold. They’re totally unflavoured and give a really nice frothy quality to shakes and iced coffee.
It seems like a lot of traditional protein powders are getting a face lift these days with the addition of collagen. However, if you’re looking to increase the protein in your diet, these may not be the best bang for-your-buck—financially and biologically. This is because when combined, the amino acids in protein powder (like a whey isolate or pea protein, for instance) and collagen peptides compete for absorption.
So, if you struggle to get enough protein from real, whole-food sources, and you want to use both a protein powder and collagen powder, I recommend consuming them away from each other. My go-to pre-workout “meal” lately has been a red juice made with beets and a coffee with 20g of collagen peptides mixed in. The coffee and sugars in the juice help give me energy and the protein keeps me full and helps to improve muscle protein synthesis during my workout.
#3. The Right Way to Fuel Your Body Before and After a Workout
Fuel matters. Just like you wouldn’t put diesel into your Honda Civic, you need to choose the right fuel for your body before and after a workout. Normally where I’d recommend meals balanced in macro-nutrients and a variety of micronutrients throughout the day, focusing on carbs and protein around your workouts is preferred.
There’s been a lot of debate on when and what to eat (or whether you should eat at all) when it comes to working out. But in a new study on meal timing and post-workout muscle protein breakdown, researchers found that eating immediately after a workout (as opposed to 90-minutes later or waiting until your next mealtime) resulted in the least amount of muscle protein breakdown. The type of meal made a difference too: a higher-protein, mixed-nutrient meal favoured suppressed protein breakdown.
So, if you want to increase your chances of growing muscle and reducing recovery time, eating a nutrient-dense meal immediately after your workout that focuses on high-protein and high-to-moderate carb, is the way to go. I’m pretty lazy after a workout, so I like making a green smoothie. That way, I can space my collagen and protein powder consumption out enough to increase absorption of both. However, if you prefer a solid, whole-food meal after you workout, eggs, lean animal-protein, or plant-based protein with a side of veggies and/or other complex carbs is a great option.
No matter what your workouts look like these days, hopefully these tips will help improve your performance and bring you a few steps closer to your fitness goals. And fingers crossed—gyms are starting to re-open now, so maybe we’ll all be able to make up for any lost progress in the second half of this year! Will you return to the gym any time soon? Or are you going to stick with your quarantine-workout for a little longer? Tell me in the comments below!