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Learn how to Maximize your time at the gym and get muscles like a body builder!
Are you doing enough and following the right steps before your workout or competition to improve your results? What do you do to prepare for your exercise sessions? Preparing mentally and physically for the workout session is just as imperative as an athlete preparing for their respective event or race. Follow these five foolproof principles to skyrocket the efficacy of your workouts.
1. Eat to fuel your workouts.
Whether you are looking to lose body fat, gain muscle or improve your physique in any way the entire premise of your eating philosophy should be to fuel your workouts. This is what food is for. In order to sustain and have hard, frequent workouts optimizing muscle glycogen levels is critical. (Click here for ten additional tips that will help you gain muscle or lose fat on any diet or program. 10 Tips to Gain Muscle on Any Program; 10 Tips to Lose Body Fat on Any Diet) While many extreme competitors push themselves to the limit and try to workout on empty or pretty close to it, it is more harmful to your physiological neuro-chemical and hormonal balance than it is helpful. The body uses primarily and always prefers carbohydrates as its main source of fuel. Thus even if losing body fat is your primary objective, consuming sufficient carbohydrates to fuel intense repeated bouts of physical activity is important. A “no carbohydrate” approach will not be sustainable long-term and is often detrimental to your workout intensity. If you workout first thing in the morning in the fasting state having some slow digesting carbohydrates before bed the previous night will often ensure adequate glycogen stores. That being said, for me, too many carbohydrates too close to a training session can tend to cause a lack of focus and brain fog, but just the right dose at the right time is energizing.
2. Understand and optimize pre-workout nutrition.
There is lots of controversy revolving around peri-workout nutrition in the fitness and health industry. What we should eat, how much of it and how long before the exercise session are questions everyone asks themselves. (See The 4 Most Important Eating Principles Ever to review the foundation of all nutrition). Every person has unique nutritional needs and every physical activity has different requirements. ( A rule I have lived by for years that has served me well and complies with the principles of physiology is to avoid the window of 2hrs to 5 minutes before your workout for eating. It takes at least 2 hours for most food to be digested. You don’t want to shunt critical blood flow from the skeletal muscles to the smooth muscles of your gut to assist in digestion at the time you workout. Foods with too much fat and fiber tend to be slower digesting and are to be avoided as well. This is not a hard and fast rule in every situation but the principle is sound. That being said, there is nothing wrong with consuming a simple sugar or carbohydrate within 5 minutes or immediately before your activity because it will go directly to supply glucose to skeletal muscle to fuel your activity. Fruit juice, quick oats and even candy are all good choices. Many elite athletes follow this principle to provide added circulating energy at start of activity. You are not going to “get fat” or be sluggish having a donut or piece of candy right before your workout.
3. You Aren’t Drinking Enough Water.
Have you ever felt “flat” at the gym or like you didn’t achieve the muscle “pump” you customarily get or were “dragging” by the middle or end of the workout? Most of the time the reason is your muscle cells aren’t sufficiently hydrated. Dehydration lowers hormone levels necessary for strong muscles. A U.S. National Health Nutrition Examination Survey reveals that water only accounts for 30 percent of the fluids Americans drink every day. That number should really be higher. Not only does research show people who drink more water consume fewer calories, but H2O is also an essential pre-workout beverage. A study in Sports Medicine finds dehydration can zap your strength (by 2 percent), power (by 3 percent) and high-intensity endurance (by 10 percent) during a workout. (Jeukendrup A, Gleeson M. (2010). Sport Nutrition: An Introduction to Energy Production and Performance (2nd Edition). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.) Skeletal muscle tissue is almost 80% water and if that homeostasis is disrupted, performance can and will suffer. It is always a good rule of thumb to drink several glasses of water before you exercise, particularly if you exercise first thing in the morning before you eat. Water will often have as much of an energizing effect as pre-workout drinks if done properly. I have found if the water is consumed in small quotients it is more energizing than when swallowed all at once and you will likely not have to interrupt your workout for a trip to the restroom.
4. Find a time of day to Maximize Focus.
While many are often limited as to when they can workout, ensuring your session is during the hours when you are at your peak is crucial to ensure you get the most out of them. For males, testosterone peak hours are roughly 6-9 am which often correlates directly with degree of energy and focus. However other research suggests the optimal time to exercise is when our body temperature is at its highest, which, for most people is 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Strength output and endurance capacity have been shown to be slightly higher in the afternoon as well. You are not intent on just “putting your workout in” you want to mentally and physically be at your best to get the most from your efforts. In order to do this you want to make sure your muscle glycogen storage is optimal. Training at a regular time appears to be the most important factor of all. So if you regularly train at 7 a.m., eventually your body will tune into this and you should receive greater training adaptations then you would with randomly scheduled workouts. I have been doing this for over 20 years and depending on the type of training I am doing I will vary my time of day. I love working out in the morning because of the energy I feel to start the day but I find my strength is slightly better in the early afternoon. Figure out what time you feel freshest and what works with your schedule and be consistent.
5. Establish a Pre-workout Ritual.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to maximize the intensity of your workout sessions is to have a pre-workout ritual to get you “in the zone.” Rather than casually strolling into the gym haphazardly, entering with a specific plan and express intention will set a tone to the workout. Just like an athlete preparing for a contest, this could be considered your “war zone” or your “battlefield.” Listening to a playlist of songs that have deep meaning to you can greatly affect performance. Whatever it takes to help you clear your mind from distractions and achieve laser-like focus is crucial. The outcome of your workout or competition will always be a result of the internal stimulus you create not the external stimulus. Meditation and visualization are also powerful tools to prime your body and mind for optimal performance. Visualizing completing a heavy or difficult lift or achieving a massive pump or finishing a race in record time all will fire up your nervous system. In addition to deep, focused breathing and having a certain playlist to rouse me, I love to repeat specific affirmations out loud and with feeling that relate to my goals concerning my body and life. Reviewing a short list of my goals and declaring out loud with vigor my affirmations really puts me in “beast mode.” This can be done in the car on the way to the gym or at home. (One of the many reasons I love working out at home is I can shamelessly do this as loud as I want with only my wife and kids to scoff and laugh at me). Take a few minutes before each of your own exercise sessions to do whatever it takes to get you in a “do or die” mindset of complete focus and watch your results exponentially rise. What is your pre-workout ritual? What do you do that helps you get ready for your exercise sessions? What tips can you offer from your experience that help you get the most out of your pre-workout period? Thank you always for your comments and interest. See the next post in the series 5 Intra-Workout Tips to Maximize Efficacy
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