This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker June 2011 edition
One frequently asked question on the forums is from people looking for ways to improve their energy levels while working out. However, it's not just pre-workout nutrition which needs to be addressed; it's your whole eating plan, especially in the time after your workouts. The best time to fuel for a workout is after the previous workout.
Have a good quality simple carb source as part of your post workout shake, immediately after you put down the last dumbbell of the session or step off the exercise bike. Dextrose (glucose) or maltodextrin are fine, but if you want the crème-de-la-crème of carb powders, try Vitargo. Maltodextrin in a chain of glucose and, although strictly speaking a complex carb, it's digested and absorbed very rapidly helping to replenish the stores as the time when uptake of carbs is high. Vitargo is a high molecular weight carbohydrate which is even more quickly absorbed than maltodextrin. Vitargo is pricy, but well worth it if you're a competitive athlete or you train exceptionally hard.
You'll need to follow your post workout shake with some low glycaemic index (GI) carbs - carbs which are digested and absorbed very slowly - within an hour of finishing training. Ideally have these as part of a meal. Good choices are basmati rice, wholewheat pasta, new potatoes or sweet potato. These will help top you up and provide the slow energy input. Indeed, include low GI carbs at all your meals.
So, now you've got your post workout nutrition sorted and, assuming that the rest of your food is suitable, then you can look at having something to give you that pre-workout boost. Have a protein and carb meal or snack about two to two and a half hours before your workout. Then about 20-30 minutes before have something like three oatcake biscuits. Oatcakes are low GI so will provide the energy for the end of the workout. I also suggest maybe a banana and a protein drink at this time.
The above is the 'essential' protocol for pre-workout nutrition. If, however, you want to try a commercial pre-workout drink supplement, there are some very good ones around. There are some great reviews on MuscleTalk, but look for ones which include beta-alanine, nitric oxide, taurine, citrulline malate and caffeine as the key ingredients. Like I say, these are by no means essential - and I certainly wouldn't want you to relay on them - but they can be useful aids in getting through a gruelling workout.