As a gym owner I get a lot of questions, but there are 5 questions that stand out because they are the most common question every member has at one point or another. Since each of these questions are very good questions, everyone would benefit from knowing the answer.
So here it goes! Here’s my Top 5 best questions from fitness newbies!
1. What do I eat before a workout?
Steve addresses this in great detail in yesterday’s blog, What to Eat Before a Workout: Common Sense Tips. What you eat depends on what you are doing, which Steve explains well. Generally speaking though, a good balance of carbs, fat and protein will power most people through a moderate to vigorous strength workout. However, our body requires little to no food before cardio (I explain more in the next question). Also, it’s helpful to have an idea of how many calories you burn (energy required) during your strength workout. Since I burn 250-300 calories during weight training alone (not including cardio), I limit my calories to 250-300 calories prior to weight training so I give my body no more than it needs to make it through the workout. Here are some foods I like to eat before workouts:
- Chobani Greek yogurt with berries and 1 TBS of granola (what I eat 90% of the time).
- Egg sandwich (I like the 300-calorie Einstein Bagel Thin Eggwhite Sandwiches)
- Scrambled egg beaters with a little fat (olive oil or cheese) and veggies.
- Oatmeal with nuts and butter.
- 1/2 a whole grain bagel with peanut butter and honey
- Jimmy Dean D’Lights Turkey Sausage Bowl (for those rushed mornings)
- Total Lean Breakfast Bar (for eating on the run – whole foods are always best pre-workout)
Late Afternoon (before you hit the gym after work):
- The rest of my lunch (split up your lunch and eat half at lunch and half an hour before you leave work).
- Chobani Greek Yogurt Cup
- Designer Whey Protein Bar (or half a full protein bar, which are normally too high in calories)
- 300-calorie Einstein bagel thin sandwiches
- Banana and peanut butter (if I’m in a bind, I grab this from our smoothie bar for a quick calorie fix)
- Hand full of almonds and a green apple (or your favorite fruit)
2. What do I do first? Cardio or Weights?
To do any powerful workout, like weight training, plyometrics, sprinting, or other explosive movements that require instant strength, you need to eat prior to your workout to fuel you through it. However, your body doesn’t need food for cardio, like running, jogging, walking, elliptical, etc., and can use stored fat for energy (which is why we love to do it – BURN THAT FAT!). With that said, you should do weights before cardio if you are doing them at the same time. Eat a small meal, or healthy snack, 45 minutes or so before going to the gym. Hit weights first. By the time you finish your weight routine, you will likely be through all the calories so that, come cardio time, you will tap into fat stores for a good fat burning workout. If you do cardio first, your cardio will just burn off your food (instead of fat), and you won’t have the energy you need to lift at the ideal intensity. Get more suggestions and tips on ways to pump up your workout from my blog, 20 Gym Boo Boos.
3. Which is best, high reps or low reps?
Aside from power lifters, bodybuilders and athletes who are training specifically for a sport, most people can follow a pretty generic format and get great results. The fact is, high reps vs low reps are a bit relative. I’d recommend doing 12-15 reps for most beginners. These are high reps in comparison to bodybuilders, who may do only 8-12 reps, and powerlifters often do only 1-8 reps. I personally do 3 – 4 sets of 12-15 reps for upper body and 18-20 reps for lower body. However, doing the right number of repetitions is meaningless if you are not working out at the correct intensity. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) lays out how to determine the right intensity for you. For example, if all you can do is one rep using all your might to move that weight one time, you are working at 100%. So, in order to do more reps, you would need to reduce your weight until you can get the number of reps needed. Based on research, the following rep continuum has been established to help us know where our intensity should be.
60% relates to 16-20 reps
65% = 14-15 reps
70% = 12-13 reps
75% = 10-11 reps
80% = 8-9 reps
85% = 6-7 reps
90% = 4-5 reps
95% = 2-3 reps
100% = 1 rep
If you follow this intensity scale, 12-15 reps can feel a LOT different than just playing the guessing game. Unfortunately, many people are just going through the motions. And, while that can keep you healthy and active, it’s not going to give you the results you want.
Test yourself. If you are approaching 15 reps and you can do a few more, you likely need to increase your weight or decrease your rest time. The idea is to tear down the muscle so we can build it back up stronger. So, if you wait for your muscle to fully recover, you aren’t wearing it down like you should be. And, just because a weight is difficult, it doesn’t mean you can’t do more reps. In other words, your muscles can burn and you can be tired, but you still might be able to lift a few more reps.
If you are worried about bulking up, then it’s even more important to keep your rest time low and your reps on the higher side. Sadly, women use that as an excuse to lift too light. According to the rep continuum, you would have to reduce your weight a little to get more reps, but many women are reducing it a LOT – and working out at a much lower intensity than they are capable of. I go deeper into this topic in my blog, High Reps vs Low Reps.
4. How many days a week should I train?
This depends mostly on your schedule. You tell me – how many days CAN you train? Then you break it down from there. You want at least one day of rest after weight training. So, the fewer days you train, the more body parts I’d train each day. The more days you can train, the more I’d break up body parts so I am able to train every day without training the same body part 2 days in a row. For instance, if I only can train 3 times a week, I’d do 3 full body workouts every other day. Or, I’d do upper body one day, lower body the next and then a full-body that final day. But if I were to train 5 days a week, I’d break it up even more, where I did individual body parts every day. Ultimately, your training schedule depends on how much time you have to train, as well as what your goal is. Read How to Set an Effective Training Schedule for more tips.
5. What should I eat after a workout?
I think once you read Steve’s What to Eat Before a Workout blog, you’ll understand this even more. The short answer is protein, protein, protein! Basically, the focus needs to be on giving your body what it needs to start repairing the muscle that you just broke down in your workout. You can either have a protein shake immediately after your workout, or you can have a high-protein meal. If you are eating your meal at night, I recommend a low-carb, high-protein, moderate-fat meal like a white meat, green veggie and a healthy fat (like olive oil or avocado). Read Does Your Diet Need More Muscle? to learn more about how much protein you need and what to put in your shakes for best absorption.
Now you have the basics, it’s time to put it to the test! If you learned something new today, be sure to share this with your friends – because the more people who know, the faster they’ll get results! Knowledge really is quite powerful!