Q: A few days a week, I get to the gym at 5:15 a.m., and on other days at around 9, for a total of 4-5 days of weights and 3-4 of cardio. On the days I go at 5:15 a.m., I have to do cardio first to “wake up,” then I do weights. I have to eat something prior to cardio because I’m hungry, so I bring a shake with water, protein, and about ¼ cup of Oat Bran (for the carbs) mixed together. I drink about ¼ of it prior to cardio, then the rest as I am lifting weights. Should I be drinking it all after the cardio, so it can get into my system before the weights? Or all before cardio? And if I drink it before cardio, won’t all my energy be gone by the time I get to weights? – Davida C.
A: Drinking your shake before you start cardio is going to provide you the maximum amount of energy and ensure that the protein gets to the muscle to limit muscle damage and improve muscle recovery.
The carbohydrates in the drink are digested almost immediately and converted to glucose. The body will depend on the glycogen stored in the muscle and the available glucose in the blood from the drink to provide the energy for the exercise. Waiting until after cardio to drink your protein shake is only going to postpone the delivery time of the carbohydrate to the muscle.
There are two carbohydrates at work in your shake: simple carbohydrates that will give you the immediate energy you need to “wake up,” and complex carbohydrates that will digest more slowly. The combination of complex carbohydrates and protein will fuel the rest of your workout. Workouts over an hour and a half will need additional supplementation during the workout.
Adding the Oat Bran will decrease the glycemic response of the shake due to its fiber content and slow down the release of the carbohydrates into the blood as glucose. This can be important because the Oat Bran provides more of a complex carbohydrate, and most protein shake carbohydrate sources come from simple carbs like sucrose.
The more carbohydrates you eat before the workout, the less protein your body will need to use for energy during the workout. Preserving protein to do its job (which is to rebuild tissue) is the key to getting the maximum benefit from your workout. The more protein that is left to support the maintenance and building of lean muscle mass, the higher your metabolism will be and the better you will perform in your subsequent workouts.
A pre-workout protein shake should have a 4:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio. Generally, good protein shakes contain a 1:1 ratio if taken with water. In order to get the carbohydrate into a shake you will need to add it by putting in grains or fruit. There should be 200-300 calories in a protein shake for an average-weight woman and 300-400 calories for an average-weight male.
If you are doing a pre-workout shake 30 minutes to an hour before your workout, make sure that you are eating a blend of protein, carbohydrates and fat in your next meal. That meal should occur 30 minutes to an hour after your workout to get the most benefit.
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