There is an old adage that reads “The quality of a workout isn’t determined by the meal you eat before training – it’s determined by the meals you eat in the 48 hours before training.”
This is very true. If you live on Doritos and Big Macs for two straight days, then drink a whey protein shake and enter the gym, you’re going to have a very mediocre workout at best. However, if you are able to pack your muscles and liver with glycogen from eating good carbs, you’ll have plenty of energy in the gym. If you are able to fill your blood with amino acids to create a nitrogen-rich environment ripe for growth, your muscles will thank you. Intelligent bodybuilders know that placing a “cheat day” on a Sunday, then expecting to have a successful leg or back workout on Monday, isn’t a good idea at all. Our bodies accumulate useful stores of fats and carbohydrates for days before a workout. Eating junk, and then trying to fix it at the last minute, just doesn’t work.
On training day, your best bet is to have two full meals in your system before training. Your initial meal upon rising will usually be a quick, smaller one to help halt the metabolic crash that comes from each night’s eight hours of starvation. Very often, a whey shake a banana are the common choice at this time. The second meal will be the one rich in carbs and protein, which will then be followed by a 60 or 90 minute break before embarking upon the training session.
Eating for long-term success (48 hours and longer) isn’t terribly difficult. Just follow a few simple rules. Each meal should contain a protein source, a solid carb, and a fibrous carb. The fats usually take care of themselves, in the form of the meat or the carb accompaniment (sauce, for example). If you’re eating junk food on a cheat day, stick to this rule as well. A typical McDonald’s trip could include a grilled chicken sandwich (providing 30 grams of protein), a large French fry (covers the carb requirements, albeit disguised in a sea of trans-fats!), and a fruit parfait (to deliver fiber to help scoot this junk meal through your system faster). A meal like this is cheap, delicious, and provides your essential macronutrients (fats, carbs, and protein). It wouldn’t be advisable to eat like this for every meal, but if you’re going to cheat, it should be in a manner which will allow you to continue growing when you enter the gym the next day.