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Fitness Training For Middle Age And Beyond – Part Two

In part two of this mini-series on fitness training tips for the middle age and older adult, I’m going to be addressing the subject of fueling your body prior to workouts.

This is a topic where you’ll find a lot of different advice depending on who you ask.

Pre-workout nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all matter. Again, nutrition strategies will vary with an individual’s age, their unique needs, and the type of physical activity being performed.

What I’m about to share with you are recommendations for middle age and older adults who are performing resistance training and/or cardiovascular workouts which are typically 45 minutes or less in duration.

Obviously, these recommendations may be somewhat different for a younger athlete or those completing longer duration workouts or endurance events which last 60-90 minutes or more.

Lastly, let me preface this discussion by saying that I fully recognize the fact that each person, regardless of age, will find experimentation to be helpful in finding what works best for them.

I’m simply going to be sharing what I’ve found to work best for myself along with a large portion of my middle age and older clientele.

More after the jump…

In a nutshell, I believe the confusion with pre-workout nutrition strategies is centered around the following statement which many individuals mistakenly assume to be fact:

Eating before exercising will provide your body with instant energy.

The idea that pre-exercise meals, snacks, or protein shakes provide the body with instant energy can be misleading.

In order for your body to provide the muscles with fuel, nutrients that serve as energy building blocks must first be fully digested and accessible for transport via the bloodstream.

It’s faulty thinking to believe that a protein bar you just ate 10 minutes prior to your workout is going to do much to fuel your workouts. Your stored energy is more likely to come from whatever you’ve eaten at your last meal, several hours before, which has already been broken down and assimilated.

Now some will question, “what if the food or energy source comprised of simple carbs which are fast to assimilate?”

Think along the lines of a Gatorade, Cliff bar, granola bar, etc.

Although simple carbs can provide a more readily available source of energy, there can be some drawbacks with ingesting a lot of sugar right before a workout.

More on that in a minute…

It’s pretty much understood that eating a larger meal shortly before a workout can be counter-productive. The reasoning for this is pretty simple…when your body is focusing on digestion, blood flow shifts from the brain and the muscles to the digestive organs. The lack of blood flow to the muscle tissues lowers their capacity to perform and resist fatigue.

Also we’ll find a large expenditure of energy being used to conduct digestive processes which means there’s less available for muscle contraction.

But there’s something else at play here that seldom gets discussed. It’s the hormonal balances that exist in the body depending on what was consumed prior to exercise.

Again, hormonal responses may be somewhat different for someone over forty compared to those individuals who are younger. For example, things like insulin sensitivity and the rate of protein synthesis, just to name a few changes, are typically going to decline with age.

Bottom line is we just want to be considering the fact that things may have changed some since you were in your twenties and early thirties.

For someone over forty who’s looking to get or stay relatively lean and add some muscle, here are the objectives as they relate to pre-workout nutrition.

  • Avoid spikes in insulin levels prior to training, as would occur with the consumption of excessive carbs and simple sugars shortly before training.
  • Avoid spikes in cortisol levels, which may result from consuming fast assimilating carbs or pre-digested proteins shortly before training.
  • Avoid dragging down the sympathetic nervous system by eating a large meal or snack which diverts blood flow to the digestive organs.
  • Have a sufficient amount of stored glycogen (carbs) in the muscle and liver from a supportive nutrition meal that has had the time to be fully digested and assimilated.
  • Enter the training session with lower blood sugar levels which stimulates the adrenals to produce catecholamines. These hormones assist with energy production and lipolysis (fat burning).

From the above we can start seeing how some of things that are widely recommended for pre-workout options might not be so hot after all.

Things like…

  • Protein and energy bars
  • Protein shakes
  • Sugary sports drinks like Gatorade and others
  • Fruit smoothies

So what is it that I eat right before my workouts?

Nothing.

I’m entering my workouts in a semi-fasted state, having not eaten anything for several hours before. I workout at noon and for me breakfast is typically at 6:30AM. Around 9:30AM I’m going to have a protein or meal replacement shake, but that’s it until I train.

Some of you may be saying, “But Shane I could never do that, I’d be light headed and never get through the workout!”

Granted, everyone’s going to be a little bit different and really low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can be a problem. Obviously I’m not suggesting that someone who is diabetic should train in a semi-fasted state.

Likewise, if you find that you get light-headed during workouts when you don’t eat anything for several hours before, you may want to look at consuming something like one of the following choices approximately 45-60 minutes prior to training.

For those who need some food shortly before their workout…

  • Low glycemic fruits (apples, berries, etc). Stick with a small amount, like a ½ bowl or one small to medium piece of fruit.
  • Soft, hard boiled, or poached egg
  • Small serving of yogurt
  • Handful or two of nuts or trail mix

Any of these should do the trick to stabilize blood sugar levels without driving up insulin and cortisol levels prior to training.

Often times I find that individuals who get really light-headed during workouts when they don’t eat, are overly restricting calories and failing to get in supportive nutrition meals. Such would be the case with a very low calorie diet routine.

Again, I’m much more of a proponent of following the philosophy of feeding the muscle to burn the fat. In other words not attempting to starve the body into fat loss. Hormonal differences make prolonged low-calorie diets fairly ineffective for middle age and older adults.

What I personally do prior to a workout…

For starters, I’m looking at primarily fueling my workout from the stored nutrients that I’ve assimilated from previously balanced meals of carbs, protein, and fats.

These are meals that came several hours before, and not snacks consumed thirty minutes prior. So yeah, I’m basically not eating an energy bar, drinking a shake, or anything like that right before I hit the gym.

Why?

Again, because I’m looking not to drive up insulin and cortisol levels and I want to enter the training session with lower blood sugar levels so the catecholamines can do their thing.

For years I would do a whey protein shake about 30 minutes prior to training, but I stopped doing this after I turned forty and found my energy wasn’t the same anymore during workouts.

Maybe this had something to do with declining insulin sensitivity? I’m not sure, I just know I didn’t feel like I had the same energy.

I’d also come across some interesting research studies that showed how the ingestion of simple carbs or fast assimilating proteins can elevate plasma cortisol levels. Again, this is a debatable subject and the research may not be conclusive.

It just got me thinking and I started looking at experimenting with other strategies.

Out of everything I tried, what’s worked best for me is entering the workout in a semi-fasted state and consuming a product called Advocare Spark right before and during the training session.

This is a sugar-free energy drink with 120 mg of caffeine along with a broad mix of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and electrolytes. Now while the drink is considered to be sugar-free, there are approximately 10 grams of carbohydrates primarily from maltodextrin (just to be accurate).

This is not enough sugar to promote an insulin spike, but it does seem to give me plenty of enough energy to train hard even after not eating for several hours before.

I won’t get into all the differences with Spark compared to other energy drinks now. Although here’s a previous post – Advocare Spark Versus 5 Hour Energy.

I’ll just say that I’ve found it be an extremely high quality supplement that works better than anything else I’ve tried. There’s definitely a noticeable difference in mental clarity, focus, and energy when I add a packet to my water bottle before training.

Click here to learn more or to purchase.

I believe there’s something about the synergistic effects of all the ingredients that helps to stimulate, but not over stimulate, the adrenals and central nervous system.

It’s no secret that caffeine can raise the rate of thermogenesis and assist with energy and fat burning, but a cup of coffee doesn’t provide the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and electrolytes.

Drinking a hot cup of coffee right before my workouts isn’t that appealing to me either since I’m working out at noon.

So for what it’s worth…

I’ve found that being in a semi-fasted state along with using an Advocare Spark drink has been the best combination to help me stay lean while also providing the needed energy to train hard enough for developing lean muscle.

If you’re objectives are building some muscle while getting or staying lean, you may want to look at experimenting with the same.

If you find that you just need to eat something before your workouts, look to consume something along the lines of one of the options I provided you above (approximately 45-60 minutes prior).

You may find that if it’s been too soon after a larger meal or a snack with lots of carbs, that you’ll feel sluggish and have difficulty tapping into fat loss.

Remember, if you’re regularly in a state of elevated blood sugar there’s going to be little need for your body to tap into energy reserves (fat).

That “healthy” fruit smoothie that’s loaded up with probably 50 grams or more of sugar that you consumed before your workout (which you thought was doing you good and providing all this energy), is more likely spiking insulin levels, sapping energy, and blunting fat loss.

Regardless of what you do pre-workout, there’s little question in my mind that post-workout nutrition will always trump in importance.

Don’t wait hours to eat after your workouts. The hormonal shifts that occur following strenuous exercise are in your favor and you can optimize fat burning and muscle development if you consume high quality, nutrient dense proteins, and carbs.

In short, train hard and then go eat a healthy balanced meal.

Specific post-workout recommendations are another topic for another day. That’s a wrap on part two of this series, if you didn’t read Fitness Training For Middle Age And Beyond – Part One, click that link to go to the article.

Also here’s a link to part three of this series.

Feel free to leave any comments or questions below.

Shane Doll CPT, CSCS is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. If you’re looking for a personal trainer in Charleston, you can receive a no-obligations personal training trial and consultation without risking a dime. Over 1000 Charleston area residents have transformed their bodies following our unique burst training workouts and simplified nutrition programs. Experience the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Fitness Training.