Question: If protein and other nutrients take time to be broken down and utilized, does it really matter whether or not you have a PWO meal, if you’ve had a large meal relatively soon before your training? In other words, can a Pre-workout meal be just as beneficial as a post-workout meal (if not better)? Isn’t it important to have AA in your blood stream when training? And if there is a designated time for digestion, wouldn’t the other nutrients effectively help recovery, even though they were consumed before hand?
Answer: As usual this is going to be one of those longish ‘it depends’ kinds of answers and I’m probably going to go way off track in trying to answer it. As I discussed in The Protein Book, some recent research certainly suggested that pre-workout nutrients (carbs and protein, and I’ll assume the combination from here on out) were superior to post-workout nutrients in terms of promoting protein synthesis.
Other research wasn’t so positive but it did look like having nutrients in the system during/immediately after workout might be better than waiting until afterwards. Some of it depended on the form of nutrients (especially protein consumed); in one study immediate pre-workout essential amino acids (EAA’s) were better than post-workout EAA’s. In another, a whole protein taken right before training wasn’t superior to post-workout; this may have been an issue of digestion time.
I would note that protein synthesis isn’t the only goal here; maintaining high levels of training intensity during a workout is also key and pre- and/or during-workout nutrition can benefit folks there as well. A complication of that research was that most of it was done fasted, that is first thing in the morning, after folks hadn’t eaten for many hours. While that is relevant to some people (e.g. those who train first thing in the morning), many if not most trainees will have eaten something prior to the immediate pre-workout period. This complicates issues.
And the general picture that seems to be developing is that if someone is in the ‘fed’ state, that is they have eaten within a few hours of their workout, pre-workout nutrients don’t seem to provide any major benefit. This mainly has to do with the slow digestion time of whole foods. A relatively ‘normal’ whole-food meal is still releasing nutrients (carbs and protein) into the bloodstream as much as 4-5 hours after you eat it.