T Nation

Pre/Peri/Post Workout Supplementation

I promised on Thanksgiving Day to give rationale and studies that showed the superior notion of post-workout ingestion of nutrients vs. pre-workout ingestion of the same. Unfortunately, I, by chance, was rushed to the hospital with severe hyponatremia (ironic since a thread erupted here at t-mag just moments later) on the verge of seizure. For any doubters out there on that topic, by the way, it is for real and too much of a good thing is always trouble. In the meantime, I was emailed and PM’d regarding my posts, so I wanted to offer rationale as to why ingestion of too many nutrients prior to a workout is just not a good idea. This is what I find to be us trying to justify fixing something that has never been broken in supplementation around our workouts. [Note: references will be posted at the end of part II.]

              PART I


Now, much of what I will write about will vary based on a number of factors: goals, time of day you work out, intensity, etc… BUT STILL NOT BY MUCH!

Bodybuilders hit the nail on the head suggesting multiple feedings could increase metabolism. How could you attempt to measure this without lab values? Hunger pangs is your answer. Hunger pangs are best thought of as a preliminary starvation warning. The faster the metabolism, the more often the warning. In general, when you stick with an optimal nutrition program, you shouldn’t feel hunger pangs - except just prior to the workout - as you should be eating frequently enough to avoid them.

Now, there is something worth noting here, however. Hunger pangs can generally be relieved by a bout of moderate-to-intense resistance exercise and that training performance is enhanced when you train on an empty stomach.

Consider the practice of training hungry a vital tool in all resistance-exercise programs. In the simplest of terms, resistance exercise and eating DON’T MIX. Moreover, hunger pangs alone should not dictate when you eat. In fact the sensation of hunger has absolutely NOTHING to do with intelligently timed eating.

For example, many experts consider the post exercise meal to be the most important meal of the day, as it’s essential that trainees get recovery energy as soon as possible following a workout. The replacement of expended energy and the maintenance of a positive nitrogen balance are critical.

There’s another reason to eat after you train: exercise soothes hunger pangs. In other words, your not hungry which makes it an excellent time to eat.

So, where did this whole business of “pre-workout” nutrients stem? We’ll get there soon enough.


It is also important to note that training hungry has important biological value. When you eat, the food travels to the small intestine, where almost all digestion occurs. The conversion and use of broken-down nutrients becomes a priority to the body. In order to transport these newly absorbed nutrients to various organs and tissues, the blood vessels in and around muscle tissues CONSTRICT, while the vessels in and around the digestive system DILATE. This forces blood AWAY FROM muscles and toward the digestive system, minimizing oxygen and nutrients going to the muscles. Imagine what happens when you eat just before you train. Digestion occurs at the same time you perform the activity. This results in a tug-of-warbetween your muscles and digestive system, both desperately in need of increased blood flow.

What happens as a result? Exercise is more taxing and digestion is compromised. Neither activity receives adequate oxygen and nutrients. What are typical signs of this tug-of-war?

–> excessive rapid breathing
–> abnormally high exercise
heart rate (one of reasons
sudden cardiac death)
–> nausea
–> dizziness

The degree of discomfort and severity of the symptoms vary according to your intensity. And all can be avoided by omitting the pre-workout meal.


I have to think the rationale for this comes from a number of places:

–> “Mr. natural” (the guy who need
not worry about lifting in
the first place, let alone
nutrition who has been sipping
Gatorade throughout his
workouts from the beginning)
–> The classic Ectomorph (who too,
need not worry in technical
about a lot with the exception
of eating and eating more)
–> The aerobic fanatic (original
studies considering this type
of nutrition were done with
cyclists and runners, NOT
weight trainers)

No matter the origin, while it looks good on paper - it has shown mixed reviews in the journals - especially with its application to the weight trained/improved body composition athlete.

While glycogen levels and the obvious have been shown to remain increased throughout the workout with a meal within 1 hour prior to training (DUH!!), is this really advantageous for body composition goals? Well, I’ll sure give you the fact that you may have an increased ability to throw around more weight – but again, this too is limited. There will always be an upper limit to how much you can lift. You will still only be able to go so heavy before you risk a rupture, annihilate a joint, or risk required lengthy periods of absence from the gym, thereby halting progress anyway.



Talk about the most misunderstood and unfortunately, abused hormones by the supplement industry today. One of the proposals for the importance of pre-workout nutrition has been its anti-catabolic capabilities via suppression of cortisol if it is not increasing energy output via increased glycogen concentration (which remains rate-limited).

The problem with the aforementioned thinking is, the effects of cortisol aren’t all bad. Some of its actions are positive and tend to help BUILD muscle. So instead of looking for ways to suppress cortisol secretion, you should strive for dynamic cortisol control.


I will avoid its abuse as a fat-loss supplement which is beyond the scope of this topic. However, it is worth mentioning one or two points here to illustrate how poorly understood it is.

In a test tube, cortisol is shown to be lipolytic, although people who are obliged to use synthetic cortisol to treat various illnesses build up fat at a tremendous rate, even if their diets don’t change. It’s almost impossible to get rid of fat gained due to synthetic glucocorticoids, so, if there’s a rationale for suppressing cortisol, its the hormone’s effect on adiposity.

The amazing thing is that suppressing cortisol production won’t make you any leaner. That’s the first paradox of cortisol. An excess of cortisol will make you fat; a lack of it, if anything, will also make you fat.


It’s true that studies have shown that animals or sedentary people given cortisol see their muscle mass shrink. Muscle cells contain receptors that bind to cortisol. When that happens, it activates a very strong proteolytic pathway called the ATP-dependent ubiquitin/proteasome pathway which causes the body to literally eat its own muscles.

The good news is that weight training impairs some of the direct catabolic actions of cortisol. By putting regular tension on your muscles, your prevent the muscle cortisol receptors from working properly. It isn’t a complete inhibition, though, because training tends to stimulate cortisol release. That’s the second paradox of cortisol: training both reduces cortisol’s direct catabolic impact on muscle and increases the body’s secretion of it. The more you train, the less cortisol-based muscle loss you’ll experience. Unfortunately, more training also means more cortisol secretion, and the extra cortisol overrrides the natural defense exerted by training. Well, wait a minute - what exactly am I trying to prove then? Be patient.


Another nasty effect of cortisol is that it slows the anabolic drive. Part of that antianabolic action is mediated directly through the muscle cortisol receptors, and training prevents that action. The problem is that another part of cortisol’s antianabolic activity is indirect. Cortisol inhibits the release of numerous anabolic hormones, including GH, IGF-1, and testosterone. It has also been shown to fight the androgen receptor upregulation induced by nontraumatic workouts.

While training can partially inhibit some of the direct antianabolic effects of cortisol by impairing cortisol receptor responses, such preventative effects are localized in the trained muscles only. Training cannot overcome the unwelcome indirect effects of cortisol on the various anabolic hormones. What the heck am I trying to prove here? Again, be patient.


If cortisol can promote protein degradation and at the same time impair protein synthesis, you’d be wise to get rid of it by any means necessary, including the idea pre-workout nutrition, wouldn’t you? There’s some scientific basis to that reasoning. Animal-based studies reveal that suppressing the release of cortisol or inhibiting its actions by blocking cortisol receptors leads to increased muscle mass.

Canadian Study

4 groups:
Group #1: 10 rats (control)
Group #2: 10 rats (severely burned)
Group #3: 10 rats (burned +
given RU486 - abortion
pill that blocks cortisol
Group #4: 10 rats (uninjured + RU486)

Which group had the most muscle at the end of the experiment? Group #3, even more than Group #4. That means that RU486 not only eliminates the muscle loss due to stress, but it also promotes muscle gains. The problem with this study is that as with most of supplement company ads, rats don’t respond to cortisol in the same way that humans do, so the results proved to not necessarily apply to humans.

Bodybuilders have used this synthetic cortisol receptor blocker without much success, and RU486’s failure was attributed to its properties that stimulate cortisol release. When cortisol receptors are blocked, the body rapidly increases its cortisol production until the blocking properties of RU486 are overwhelmed.

Many attribute the potent muscle-building effects of anabolic effects fo anabolic steroids to their so-called ability to block cortisol receptors. That’s unlikely to be true, however, as most studies have failed to demonstrate a connection between androgens and cortisol receptors.

This kind of blocking the cortisol receptor effect has also been propsed in the anticatabolic mechanism of action proposed by some researchers of the pre-workout meal. Well, what then is the explaination for why many bodybuilders who partake in this activity are unable to pack on muscle mass.


Scientists have known for a long time that eating a meal triggers the RELEASE OF CORTISOL. They’ve also discovered that proteins are the most potent cortisol releasers of the macronutrients. So the more protein you eat, the more cortisol release you trigger. Scientists have now uncovered the pathways used by proteins to induce cortisol secretion, and they figured out how to block them. It’s easy to do - you just block your alpha-1-adrenergic receptors.

Giving alpha-1 blockers to humans before a protein meal blunts cortisol release, but it also blunts protein absorption. The sad-but-true fact is that you need cortisol in order to assimilate your dietary proteins properly. It’s also a fact that the protein-induced cortisol rise is very short, unlike stress-induced cortisol secretions.

So lets suggest you have protein in your pre-workout meal, you do not suppress cortisol, in fact, you increase it. This synergistically combines with the stress-induced cortisol production to make you even that much more catabolic. But wouldn’t ingestion of protein have a greater effect on suppression of stress-induced cortisol production? Actually, because you have solely a short-term increase of cortisol post-protein ingestion…stress-induced + protein-ingestion has been shown to have additive properties.

Well, isn’t sipping a protein drink or drink like Surge ok DURING the workout at least? We’ll get to peri-workout ingestion in the next installment.


Some effects of cortisol are very beneficial to bodybuilders. Weight training induces various degrees of trauma to the muscle fibers, damage that triggers some inflammatory reactions. The more severe the trauma, the more serious the inflammation, which will cause the body to manufacture more of such harmful substances as tumor necrosis factor (TNF). The muscles have TNF receptors, and when the TNF molecule activates a receptor, it activates the ubiquitin/proteasome catabolic pathway. In other words, TNF has an almost direct catabolic effect on muscle cells. Cortisol can inhibit the TNF secretion due to an inflammation, which means that cortisol possesses both catabolic and anticatabolic properties. If you suppress cortisol release, your body will manufacture more TNF and the catabolic effect of cortisol will be unopposed.

Whoa! Think about it then, if we ingest protein, we increase cortisol, thereby decreasing TNF…problem solved, right? - gimme my pre-workout drink. Hang on still, because it is that complex. Interestingly enough, it has been shown that post-protein digestion cortisol secretion has NO effect on TNF, whereas stress-induced cortisol does.


Your goal is NOT to INHIBIT normal cortisol secretion, but to CONTROL its secretion and effects, but after this discussion - I am not sure I cleared up how to do that.

Some have had success with taking synthetic cortisol and other exogenous glucocorticoids which strongly inhibits their natural cortisol secretion. Instead of having fluctuating cortisol levels, they establish an artificial baseline. This is tricky though and most likely you are hoping there is a way to control cortisol without resorting to exogenous hormones - hence, why the jump was made to pre-workout nutrition.

The one thing that is often left out of the equation is anti-inflammatory agents in a pre-workout drink. I am not talking NSAIDs nor massive dosages of BCAA’s which is not even economical for most.

I would love to keep the discussion up, however, I am getting a bit tired of typing for now and will leave you until next time when we see the pre-workout formula perfected as well as “ACCURATE” timing. The principles will conveniently spill over into peri-workout nutrition, which would solely leave us to talk post-workout which will probably be the biggest no-brainer to many of you because it is what has been talked about most frequent - however, look for a few surprises yet still there.

I have been using a whey hydro/bcaa/malto/glucose beverage 4 times on training days. I start sipping on one about 45 min out from training, finishing it by the time I arrive at the gym. I then make another to sip during the workout. I have another one just after the workout, and yet another 1 hour later. Each time I am getting 15-20gp/30-40gcarb/3gBCAA. If you guys want more specifics, I can give them…but I can say that this protocol has been more effective for me than just taking one serving during the workout and one immediately after. How much more effective is anybody’s guess, and it is hard to determine whether it is the preworkout serving that is contributing, the one an hour later, or both. I can just say it has been more effective for me in terms of recovery, slowly increasing volume while not feeling “overtrained”, adding in extra workouts, and gaining strength.

Hey Alexandar

I am not knocking anyone who is doing other things - of course, much of the protocol you have described is what has been beaten into many people’s heads. With that said, I have a couple comments based on your post.

(1) Have you experimented with each of the components you describe or if you simply threw all of the components together based on other people’s suggestions? (i.e.- have you ever tried mass quantities of BCAAs alone…btw: if not taking MASS QUANTITIES I CAN GUARANTEE this DOES NOT AFFECT THE FORMULA YOU DESCRIBED - again, will say and have already depends upon workout intensity…if you are going to the gym with a lot of lax, then sure take your 1.5g of leucine/.75g isoleucine/.75g valine which is absolutely a waste of money)

(2) If you are assuring me you already know what kind of prescription I am willing to offer in Part II and you know you have already tried it and it works far worse than what you suggest, then by all means I am listening to why you suggest that - but thus far am not convinced. Maybe before you offer view saying you have tried “everything” you should wait to see what everything has NOT been.

(3) Who may I ask suggested the ratios of P/C/F you suggest or did you experiment and find that is what worked best for you which I too had no issue with if you read my initial post fully. Unfortunately I know of many who follow nutritional schemes offered by many a guru and years later look exactly the same as they started, b/c they fell into that prescription and dismissed the possibility of why maybe some of the science was right and some wrong - thereby not challenging those “in the know.”

(4) If this sounds bogus, I offer you this - post-Part II … abandon your pre-workout scheme for 4 weeks (4 weeks wont kill ya in the grand scheme of everything will it - if yes, then perhaps you can always wonder) and tell me you have tried everything, but you must follow the protocol I put forth to a “T.” I am going to bet that 4 weeks is all you will need to be convinced.

Oh yeah, you mention “adding in extra workouts” which verifies worth to my question of what intensity level you are using?

[quote]dinoiii wrote:
Unfortunately, I, by chance, was rushed to the hospital with severe hyponatremia.[/quote]

Holy crap! What happened?!
Glad to see that you’re back and okay.

Dude, you typed all that out in one shot? C’mon, you lie! :slight_smile:

Either way, this is a great thread and I look forward to seeing the conclusion and really get the discussion rolling.


dinoii, I’m just bumping up your thread. I learned a lot the first time I read this and learned bit more reading it a second time, especially the duality of cortisol during exercise. There should’ve been more discusssion on your article by readers. Will you be writing part 2 soon? I’m curious to see what your pre-workout formula will entail.

Yeah -

I am writing part II still – outside of a one-time sit down, however this time and with the holidays and wards this is a rough time.

I hope to post soon.

and David Barr --> I will post in a different thread on the problems with hyponatremic condition which has stabilized. Thanks for your concern.

dinoiii, come with that story on the hypotramenia pretty quick. I am very interested in this topic.

hm, but Berardi points out all these reports were pre-workout liquid supplementation actually increasee the nutrient flow to the muscles since its so easy to disgest.

Perhaps there is a big different between a pre-WO drink vs. solid meal?

Good point Hiroprotagonist.

Do you think JB is suggesting that a liquid meal @ say 30 minutes pre-WO being more quickly absorbed is essentially equivalent to a solid meal ingested @ say 2 hrs. pre-WO as far as its impact on the GIT?

i dont think so … 2 hours after a moderate meal, especially if it was P+F would mean that blood insulin and glucose would be pretty low at the start of the WO; where as 30 min post a drink would be when both would be at an apex. Not similar a situation, but I would say the latter is preferable.

on a side note, few weeks back I experimented for about 2 weeks with eating a box of raisins, which is moderate GI, ~35g carbs, about 45 min before my workout instead of my usual drink of 15PRO 30CHO (which id drink like 10 mins prior to workout). My reasoning, being, the raisins might give me the same energy boost as the drink, plus fiber, anti oxidants, etc etc (raisins packed with good stuff) …

the raisins more or less sucked. compared to the raisins, the drink definately gives me more energy during the workout as well as much more of a pump.


GREAT stuff - facinating! I love to see a non-T-Nation guru posting some solid nutritional info (T-Nation gurus are still the SH#T though!). What are your credentials, if you don’t mind my asking? I’m assuming along the lines of scientist/PhD/endocrinologist?