Strategic Eating to Get the Most Out of Your Upcoming Workout

February 12, 2008

What if I told you there was a way to get better results from your workouts without increasing your effort. Well, that is what this post is going to cover. What you eat leading up to your workout “makes or breaks” that workout. Don’t just hit your workouts haphazardly without planning in advance. Prepare your body for maximum fat loss by eating strategically leading up to that workout.
Strategic Eating

Think About Your Workouts a Few Days in Advance

If you know that you are going to hit cardio hard on Monday and Wednesday night, then it makes sense to get a bit carb depleted by the time those workouts roll around. The time to begin going a bit lower on carbs would be Sunday night and all day Monday, leading up to your cardio workout. For your Wednesday night workout, you would want to go low carb Tuesday night and all day Wednesday leading up to that workout. You would want to make Monday and Wednesday night (after your workout) the nights where you would allow yourself a higher amount of carbs.

Planning for a Party or Event With Lots of Food

Let’s say you have a wedding to go to on Saturday night and there is going to be a ton of great food, champagne, cake, beer, etc. I would recommend eating lower carbs on Wednesday and continue to eat this way until Saturday night. I would enhance the level of carb depletion, by insuring that I did cardio three days in a row leading up to Saturday. The great thing about this is that you will look extra slim and sharp for the event. Since you are carb depleted, a large majority of those calories you eat and drink at the party are going to go back to replenishing your muscles.

Hit a Heavy Weight Training Day, the Day After a Party

If you ate in the manner described above and did carb depletion followed by eating a ton of food at the party, make sure you hit the gym the next day. Focus on weights. You aren’t going to get that much out of cardio, since your muscles are loaded with carbs…but you will be super strong! Seriously, all the weights should feel lighter than normal. Take advantage of this, by having an extended session in the weight room. Many athletes do carb depletion followed by carb loading to increase their performance on the day of competition. You are kind of doing the same thing in a weird way. Who would have thought eating a gazillion calories could increase performance?

What to Eat During the Day Leading up to the Workout

I am a big believer in hitting the gym on a completely empty stomach. I don’t touch a calorie of any sort 4 hours before hitting the gym…and even that meal is normally a bit of fruit or quick digesting protein shake. I have heard arguments against this technique, but it works for everyone I know who gives it a shot. Your body has to burn fat for energy if there isn’t “carb energy” in your system. I’ve never experienced muscle loss from this way of eating and it quickly gets me as lean as I desire. Give it a try and see how it works for you.

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

dangeruss February 12, 2008 at 6:11 pm

So are you then suggesting that taking in more carbs on a weightlifting day before hitting the gym will increase productivity in the gym, assuming proper lifting techniques are practiced?

Kathy February 12, 2008 at 6:26 pm

Rusty,

It’s Kathy here the girl who had foot surgery. I started back at the gym last night. I did the stair climber (like an escalator). I did an interval session – is that what you suggest? if not what kind of program? I am in need of loosing weight – but I don’t want my legs and butt to bulk up. I was cleared today to also run and will try your sprint suggestion too. Like I said in my earlier post(s) – I’ve been doing the warrior diet with vegtables and a V-8 at lunch but I don’t seem to be loosing any weight. I am hoping going back to the gym after 2 months will jump start my weight loss. I tend to do a lot of cardio (back in the day about 1.5 hours). What are your thoughts?

Kathy

Jay February 12, 2008 at 8:22 pm

Hey Rusty,

I know everyone keeps telling you this but GREAT post AGAIN!

I often work late so unfortunately training in the evenings are extremely hard for me and I know you’ve mentioned before that exercising in the evenings are more effective. However, most days I try to get some sort of exercise in and it’s usually in the mornings. So, how can I make this sort of method work for me given that I train in the mornings?

thanks

Jon February 12, 2008 at 9:17 pm

One time I ate RIGHT BEFORE I went to the gym. Oh my god, big mistake. I felt so sick and gross, trying to run on the treadmill.

Never do what I did.

Tim February 13, 2008 at 12:12 am

rusty i got a question for ya man. I know im sounding like an ass but wanna get your opiion. I am 6 0 but I went and got weighed in a month ago i was 172 6.8% bf amzing but i went and got it measure this mourning and was 180 4.1 % bf I put on weight which i didnt want to but lowered body fat which i have no clue how it happened. I was gonna take 5 weeks of of weights and just focus on cardio. I was wondering what your best stragey is to lose 5 to 10 lbs of muscle.

Lorna February 13, 2008 at 12:17 am

Hey, I just wanted to testify that all the tips Rusty has provided really do work for fat loss.

Do not believe the hype about eating several meals a day or eating energy bars or drinking powerades before workouts. If you want to be lean, you must work out in carb depleted state as Rusty was saying.

I also wanted to encourage everyone to exercise first thing upon waking. not only will you burn more fat but you are more likely to stick to your plan if it is first thing in the morning.

yavor February 13, 2008 at 5:45 am

Rusty, I will incorporate your ideas in the regimen of two of my clients. Ok, I will include it in my regimen too lol.

Thanks for the heads up.

yavor February 13, 2008 at 6:25 am

This post had me thinking and thinking… I decided to get in the best shape of my life for my birthday – March 27.

Currently I do 3 types of workouts:

1. Lifting weights on weekdays. Here I guess I should be carb loaded
2. Playing basketball (definitely on weekends and also when it is not freezing cold on some weekdays). If I play weekends at 4pm, that would mean I need to eat my last meal at lunch and also carb deplete on Friday.
3. Almost every night at around 9-10 pm I walk my dog and also go to train at the heavy bag that my trainer/mentor has set up on a tree. This means no food after 4-5pm before the workout at 9.30. Also, If I have weight trained the same day, I’d be partially carb depleted. Which is good for the heavy bag session.

Helder February 13, 2008 at 9:29 am

Very good post again Rusty, nutrition is the most important factor, always. People usually focus just on exercise and forget nutrition, but the way one eat will influence the final results.

A in AZ February 13, 2008 at 1:47 pm

Great post Rusty. Day 1 is chest and back (2 exercises; 3 sets; 5 reps – very heavy); day 2 is shoulders, biceps, and triceps (same); rest on day 3; repeat 1 on day 4; and 2 on day 5. Each session is followed by 20 – 30 minutes of HIIT on a treadmill. All on an empty stomach. 1 hour after the gym I eat two slices of whole grain toast with peanut butter, non-fat yogurt, and a cup of coffee. Lunch is a sandwich with an apple or banana. Dinner is protein and salad. No snacking. I’ve only been at it two weeks and the pounds are melting off. My wife does the same routine. She’s more liberal on the snacking and still her jeans are falling off. Much to my delight – wink, wink. Keep up the good work and thank you for changing our lives.

Cory February 13, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Hey, Rusty great post again. Of course you know how I am eating. I now suplement my mornings with a Protein shake. Other than that a large evening meal and thats it. Work out on an empty stomach in the late afternoon early eve, usually 6 days a week, weights and ex bike. So far now a little over 35 pounds off and you can really finally see the difference.
My question is this, I have a Birthday Party on Saturday Night for my Neice and I was wondering what I should do. If I have one bad day here will it totally screw up my progress. There will be a ton of food there and of course the terrible Birthday cake. Now what I am on is the Warrior Diet so I wont eat anything all day and the birthday is at night, and Sat is my off day so I wont be missing my workout. What I thought was to try to eat really clean and low Calorie as possible on Friday, and Sunday. Then that will leave me a little more forgivness for Saturday. Or I could just stick to my normal plan and stay on the healthy diet and avoid over eating all the junk that im sure will be there. Whats your take, Everyone has to have days like this, and once I go to maintaining I know this wont be an issue but Im in losing mode right now not maintaining. Thanks for any advice.

star February 13, 2008 at 3:01 pm

Excellent information Rusty.

trif_m February 13, 2008 at 5:42 pm

Hi Rusty, nice article again.

You are definitely right about carb loading and depletion. What I like to do is to lower carb intake on non-training days because it makes cardio more productive (more burnt body fat) and because carbs eaten that day are more likely to be stored as body fat due to lack of activity.

Then, the day I go to the gym I like to drink a protein shake with some fast acting carbs in it a few hours before gym. This way I have enough energy to complete my training and the protein makes sure I am not losing muscle mass.

And yes, definitly don’t eat a few hours before going to the gym or you energy levels suck because most of the blood goes to the stomach to help with digestion.

Besides that, if you are doing hardcore interval training (ex. 1 set x 4 exercises without rest in between) you will be very likely to throw up. From my experience, not eating helps with this too.

After the workout I do a carb loading. This restores depleted glycogen stores and improves performance for the next day. Plus it has a psihological effect – most people have a thing for carbs so getting to eat those carbs I don’t usually eat on non-workout days is like a reward for training hard in the gym.

Just remember not to go overbord with the carb reloading, even though you are replenishing glycogen stores, calories still count and too many calories => goodbye progress, hello potbelly :P.

trif_m
http://burn-body-fat.blogspot.com/

Mark McCullagh February 13, 2008 at 8:23 pm

Excellent advice, my man!

I especially like what you said about carb depleting if you know you are going to an “event” where you will likely “pig out”. And the next day have a heavy lifting. That is perfect!

Not only can you then justify the indulgence but your body will actually benefit. Pretty much a win/win situation.

It’s always best to train on an empty stomach as well I think. I could tell you some gross stories about doing real heavy squat workouts in a hot and humid Gold’s Gym but………..oh, the good ol’ days………..how did we ever put ourselves through that?

A in AZ February 13, 2008 at 9:05 pm

Great post Rusty! I agree with Helder. A lot of people think that exercise is enough. But there is an adage that abs are built in the kitchen. A typical week for me looks like this: Day 1 chest/back; day 2 shoulders/biceps/triceps; rest on day 3; repeat day 1 on day 4; and repeat day 2 on day 5. All workouts are 2 exercises per muscle group, 3 x 5 (super heavy) followed by 20 – 30 minutes of HIIT. An hour after working out I eat two slices of whole grain toast w/peanut butter, non-fat yogurt and coffee. lunch is a sandwich and apple or banana, and dinner is protein and vegetables or salad. I’ve been doing this for two weeks and the weight is melting off. My wife is doing it too. She is more liberal with the snacks but her pants are falling off – which is okay with me. wink, wink. Keep up the good work Rusty! Thank you for changing our lives.

Hulbs February 14, 2008 at 3:12 am

I just wanted to back up what Lorna posted above. Rusty’s tips do work and are really amazing for lossing fat.

He helped me get from 187 @ 12-13% bf to 173 @ 6-7% bf in about 5 weeks!

Yeah, people do over emphasie exercise and under emphasise diet. Believe me if you can only be good at either diet or exercise for any particular day/week etc concentrate on diet!

Hulbs

David February 14, 2008 at 9:18 am

Hey Rusty,

I wanted to run something by you. I workout in the mornings, starting around 8am, without eating anything before the workout. I usually stop eating before 9-9:30pm. I was wondering if that is enough time to be considered working out on an empty stomach?

admin February 14, 2008 at 6:28 pm

dangeruss,

I don’t try to go out of my way to carb up, but if you are a bit more carbed up…you will experience an increase in muscle output for sure. I don’t push cardio as hard, because you will get less results for your efforts in this state. I guess I’m just taking advantage of a situation more than anything.

Kathy,

Hit that cardio hard and you will begin to lose weight again. I have a hard time doing intervals on that type of stair step machine. I do a really tough steady state cardio workout on that. Today I did intervals on the exercise bike, because of a strained calf muscle which makes sprinting tough. After 20 minutes of HIIT on the exercise bike I did 20 minutes on the Stair Step machine. I started at level 9 for a minute, then level 10 for a minute, all the way up to level 15. I held it there for 2 minutes and then worked my way back down to level 10…and held it there until 20 minutes was up. I was drenched with sweat! You should do that treadmill workout followed by 20-30 minutes of the stair stepper.

Jay,

Totally fine to workout in the mornings. Your eating plan will be different. You will eat the majority of your daily carbs in the morning after your workout (don’t overdo it if you want to lose body fat), then you will taper off on the carbs your next few meals. Your dinner should be meat and green veggies…and try not to eat too late (last meal 2-3 hours before bed). This will work very well.

Tim,

You still sound like you have a normal amount of muscle mass. You shouldn’t change a thing. You just naturally carry a bit more muscle. Great job on getting that body fat so low!

Lorna,

Great comment. I am one of those people who can’t make myself get up in the morning to exercise. Props to anyone who is disciplined enough to do that…it certainly is a nice way to get the workout done, so then you can focus on the rest of the day.

Yavor,

Sounds like a good plan. The heavy bag will build great density in your shoulders arms and chest. Boxers have a great degree of definition and muscle density do to the explosive nature of punching. I’ll have to do an article on this. Great plan to make basketball a great fat burning session. This is exactly what I mean when I say “get fit in the context of a fun and active life”. Good stuff!

Helder,

Great point…people don’t “see” nutrition when they go to gym. They see a fit guy or girl doing certain exercises and they thing that they will get the same results by doing the same thing. The funny thing is that the majority of the results they get are from factors outside of the gym.

A in AZ,

You guys are doing just about the exact routine I’ve been doing for years. Both you and your wife are going to be able to get as lean as you want with this routine. You will feel really “light on your feet” doing this routine over time. One last thing…if you want even slightly faster results add 10 minutes of steady state cardio on an exercise bike to keep that heart rate up for an additional 10 minutes. You don’t even have to push hard after doing HIIT. I find that I can keep my heart rate at 160-170 on level 10 after kicking butt on the treadmill. Great job!

Cory,

Diet hard leading up to the birthday and go ahead and enjoy some cake! Life is too short…you need to be a part of this event. Cake is a requirement for being a participant at this party. I’ll be bummed out if you don’t eat cake!

Mark,

I have seen heard and smelled all sorts of disgusting things at Gold’s gym. The Horror! The Horror!

Trif,

Great point about carb loading. After my workout I eat a controlled amount of carbs. I’ll eat a slightly smaller amount if I need to lose a couple of pounds…or none at all if I know I have a date or party coming up. Great reminder!

Hulbs,

You are getting dramatic results! Now you are going to be hooked on staying lean. It really feels good. I bet you are way more athletic now that you are 14 pounds lighter! Stick with that body fat percentage over the next few years and you will get amazing definition even on your stubborn muscle groups!

David,

That is fine, but try to make it a low carb meal like a salad with chicken breast. Think meat and green veggies.

Great Comments!

Rusty

Brandon February 15, 2008 at 12:30 am

Aside from the fact that empty stomach training burns primarily fat, you also get a MUCH larger GH response by having no carbs or other food in your system. I’m currently taking an upper level A&P college course and recently learned that a major stimulator of GH secretion happens to be LOW blood nutrient levels! Amazing! Your a genius man!

katie February 16, 2008 at 5:56 pm

Hey Rusty, thought you might find this interesting: I recently gave up meat and was looking through a copy of ‘Fit for Life’, basically a health/diet book from 1985 that advocates a mostly vegetarian diet. Anyway, I read a bunch of reviews on it beforehand and one of the main principles is eating only fruit/ fresh fruit juice before noon, and over and over and over again people were saying that this one piece of information was what helped them lose weight and keep it off!! I’m talking about people who had lost the weight ten, fifteen, twenty-five years ago. Another part of the book is separating carb meals and protein meals, and eating both with salads or vegetables. It’s interesting to see how this overlaps with some of the basic premises of the WD. Personally, I’ve noticed the biggest change from fasting or eating only fruit until (at least) noon, so it obviously works!!

admin February 17, 2008 at 3:21 pm

Brandon,

I’m not a genius, I just like to promote methods that work. Working out on an empty stomach delivers the goods as far as fat burning is concerned. The synergistic effect of increased GH levels and your body having no fuel to burn except body fat, gives your body no choice in the matter. You will burn fat during as well as long after the cardio workout is done!

Katie,

Fruit is basically engineered as the perfect food for our bodies to eat. Did you read my post on fruit?

Fruit Facts

Have a good one!

Rusty

cecilia February 18, 2008 at 2:31 pm

I completely agree.
If you work out in the morning it sets the tone for the rest of the day. You’ll be more inclined to stay healthy since you don’t want to mes up the hard work you did.

Mike February 26, 2008 at 2:55 pm

This site is freaking awesome. So many great points that I’ve never heard of before that make so much sense. I stumbled across it a few days ago and have been reading it like non stop. I just started with HIIT followed by steady state cardio and it works great. I do chest and back on days 1 and 4 and arms and shoulders on 2 and 5, each followed by HIIT and steady state cardio. On the in between day do just steady state cardio and some push-ups and situps and whatnot and again one day of the weekend. I do all my work outs in the afternoon/evening because I’m a corporate jockey for 9 hrs a day and I’m very religious about my exercise habits. I just feel the results for my efforts are VERY slow and I want to change that, HITT has helped alot.
So I have a question following the 1,2,4,5 weight and HIIT days and the diet plan. Would I alternate higher carb days while lifting, or have the higher carb days while lifting and carb depletion on the non lifting days? I guess what I’m trying to figure out is the most effective eating plan for doing two days in a row of lifting and HIIT with a day in between.
Thanks for devoting time to giving knowledge to people that aren’t so knowledgeable about all this. I’ve learned more here in the few days I’ve been reading than anywhere else

Mike February 26, 2008 at 2:57 pm

Also, any tips/advice on preventing muscle loss and preserving muscle size while losing fat? And any certain foods that help with preserving current muscle size before cardio workouts? I know you touch on points about muscle size and strength but I’m worried about losing muscle size while doing extended periods of cardio. Future post maybe?

Andrew March 5, 2008 at 11:26 pm

Flower? What flower.

admin March 6, 2008 at 1:44 am

Mike,

I must have missed your comment. Sorry it took me so long to get back to you! So you are doing two days in a row and one day off? There are so many eating strategies that will work with this setup, but here is what I would recommend.

If your main focus is fat loss…Eat low carb on your day off, low carb on the first workout day, low carb leading up to the workout on the second day, and then eat a high carb meal after the workout on the second day. The plan here is that you are in a completely carb depleted state for both workouts and by the time you hit your workout on the second day, you will be a fat burning machine. The higher carb meal on day two after working out is going to get pumped into the muscles, and none of it will get stored as body fat since your muscles are starved for carbs to a certain extent.

If you main focus is a bit of muscle size…Eat carbs on your day off, carbs on your first workout day, and only go low carb on your second workout day. The low carb day on the second wokout day will take care of any “spillage” that may occur if you ate too many carbs the previous two days.

You will have to play around a bit to find the perfect way of eating…exceptionally low body fat percentage is almost always caused by adding in a strategic low carb plan of some sort. If you are worried about losing muscle mass, then just drink a whey protein shake on low carb days after working out…on days where you are eating more carbs, go for a full-blown meal replacement shake after working out (like Myoplex).

Andrew,

At some point I am going to contact you to find out who did your blog design, or what theme you are using on your blog. Mine is probably too basic and at some point it needs to “grow up”. I don’t see a flower in that picture either!

Cheers,

Rusty

Andrew March 25, 2008 at 10:20 am

Hey Rusty,

The theme I’m using is an “off the shelf” theme with a couple mods — but nothing your average Blogger cannot do.

This guy has lots of good themes… and good prices. I’ll give him som “Luv” 🙂

Mine is the Solostream 3 Column 1.0 — about a quarter of the way down.

http://www.solostream.com/category/wordpress-blog-themes/

admin March 25, 2008 at 2:03 pm

Andrew,

Thanks a bunch! I like all of themes on that page. I will eventually purchase one of these themes for sure in the future. His stuff looks great!

Rusty

Andrew March 25, 2008 at 3:37 pm

Hey Rusty… would you edit my post above — I did not mean to use an affiliate link. Use this link instead: http://www.solostream.com/category/wordpress-blog-themes/

It was the only link I had at the time — not even sure if it is mine lol

Yea — he has some nice themes for sure. I noticed he changed his license — can only use on one web site unless you pay more — just checked the license that came with mine — can use on as many sites as you want.

Don’t blame him though.

Andrew

Sam September 12, 2008 at 12:47 am

Rusty:

Your site has been very inspirational to me, thank you so much for the wealth of information you’re providing.

I’ve been studying all of the diet pages you have here , looking for the best way to supplement my workout plan. I’m a full time college student, but I also work 25 hours a week (IT guy, not much activity besides the occasional computer lifting).

I take all of my classes on Tues/Thurs, and I have a 4.5 hour break in the afternoon, which is what I’ve been using for working out. I also lift on Saturday mornings. I’m trying to lose the stubborn fat in my chest/ab area, I used to run Cross Country so my legs and arms are pretty much fat free.

Few questions:

Would you recommend that I work in the HIIT workout you prescribed right after lifting on Tues/Thurs, or should I try to separate HIIT from lifting and go on M, W , F after work?

If I do weight training and HIIT on the same day, would a sufficient diet be: Light breakfast (I have about 6 hours before my workout break) , empty up until workout or protein shake for lunch, low-medium carb meal 1 hour after workout.

OR

If I separate the HIIT days from Lifting days, would this diet work:

HIIT days: Lite breakfast, protein shake lunch, (5 hours of work then HIIT) low carb meal

Lifting days: Lite breakfast, no lunch, protein shake after workout, medium carb meal 1 hour after workout.

I’d really appreciate your thoughts on this, thanks so much!

The Fit News July 9, 2009 at 11:37 pm

When I was 17/18 I discovered that waiting 1 hour after eating a meal was the ideal time for me to do exercise and lift weights.. I used to eat heaps so I imagine it took an hour for the energy to hit me and I could digest it all while I exercised.

As I got older I started to feel slow and lacking energy 1 hour after a meal so I left it to 2 hours and felt much better because the food was not in the top of my stomach but already going through the intestines.

Now I like to do my workout 3 hours after my meal because there the food is even more digested, my glycogen is all full up from food and I’m not dehydrated from all the water going to my stomach for the digestion process! I feel as though I have more energy now.

Mark O Brien September 9, 2010 at 3:36 am

Hi Rusty,

I must say that I am a big fan of all things interval related since reading your articles and I would like to say thanks for all the info .I have achieved more in 2months interval training than in over a year steady state cardio.I have also followed your tips on not eating about 5 hours before a workout and 1after and it works!!!
Here is my question if you could help?
I am involved in rugby refereeing where match lasts 80 minutes plus .You could run anything from 5-7miles in the game depending on the level , you also need all too be very swicthed on for decision making.Would fasting 5 hours before a game be a bad idea ?

Kind Regards

Mark
Ireland

JhorAVi November 22, 2010 at 4:44 am

Hi Rusty!
Your article is very inspiring and it fits my lifestyle. I feel more focused if I do weight training first thing in the morning with Empty Stomach. I don’t have time to eat first then wait 2 hours before training because I have to wake up earlier that way.

I’m just a bit worried that all other sites think weight training with empty stomach is very bad because our body will use muscles for energy when it can’t find carb reserves. I don’t wanna loose my not yet big muscles. Maybe your philosophy is good only for overweight people? I have a normal weight and build.

Thanks for your advice,
jhor

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