The most overlooked and misunderstood aspect of max effort lifting is nutrition. What you eat and when you eat it can impact your ability to express your strength more than any other variable. Subtle changes in your diet will allow you to pull, press, and push more than ever, and I’m gonna explain them.

Many lifters and athletes are shocked when I tell them that they missed their squat at the dinner table. “The dinner table, what do you mean the dinner table?” is normally the response I get after suggesting this. When people miss lifts, they want some sophisticated answer (widen your stance out 1/16″ of an inch and put more pressure on your second toe). The truth is, squatting is simple, you just have to prepare in order to leverage the strength you already have. Obviously, if your form is terrible, and your programming is half-baked, yea you’re going to hit a plateau and stay there. But the great lifters, the ones that are continually progressing, are doing so because they’re continually improving their recovery and nutrition.

Hitting PR’s in the gym ultimately comes down to 3 variables that are heavily influenced by what you eat: 1) Is your Central Nervous System (CNS) prepared to coordinate forceful muscle contractions, 2) How much creatine do you have, and 3) Have your recent carbohydrate servings positioned your glycogen stores and hormones correctly?


People are always surprised when I start talking about nutrition’s impact on Central Nervous System (CNS) regeneration. Your CNS has a number of functions in your body, and there are a number of variables that create CNS fatigue. If you are constantly stressed, getting inadequate sleep, or training at near maximum percentages 2+/week, your CNS is going to be shot regardless of what you eat. You must manage the ‘bad’ stress in your life and get in the bed at night if you ever want to be strong. Decreasing your CNS fatigue, and eating in a way that restores it will prove pivotal to your performance under the bar.


When you take a relatively heavy bar out of the rack and squat, that requires a high degree of intra-muscular coordination and contraction. The CNS passes messages, called nerve impulses, throughout your body from brain to muscle to control and coordinate movement. Nerve impulses create action potentials outside the muscle cell, causing it to contract. Your CNS is the determining factor on how forceful and coordinated your muscle contractions are able to be (yes there are genetic influences here, but you can’t change those).

At Juggernaut, we use Charlie Francis’ glass of water metaphor all the time to explain training effect, your CNS is no exception. Your body (glass) has a finite amount of resources (water) and when those resources get used up, you must replace them. Every time you interact with some type of external resistance (weights, gravity, grocery bags, etc.) water gets removed from your glass. Now consider the demand and impact that squatting with near maximal weight places on your CNS to facilitate and coordinate explosive movements. There are a few crucial nutritional variables that will impair or improve your CNS’s ability to perform like you want it to on ‘heavy day’.


Almost everything has been attributed to aiding in CNS recovery except one: caffeine abuse. People are always quoting some research they’ve read about caffeine being great for you, but they aren’t looking at the whole picture. Caffeine, in the short term, is great, I’ve even written articles suggesting it’s use, when appropriate. Unfortunately, the body is designed to continually need more of something to experience the same effect (as seen with drug abuse, pleasure, pain, etc.)

What’s your favorite caffeine source, and how much are you geting each day? - See more at:

What’s your favorite caffeine source, and how much are you geting each day? – See more at:

When you consume caffeine it increases adrenal secretions and nerve activity, this is good, but not necessary when you’re going out to get the morning paper. The result of continual, daily use of caffeine is adrenal fatigue and diminished ability to react in fight/flight situations. To put it shortly, when you use caffeine too often, your body won’t have the necessary resources to maximize muscle coordination and contraction when you need it most.

In short, caffeine immediately prior to max effort lifting, is good, in fact it’s like a steroid. When caffeine isn’t necessary but you need a pick-up, try drinking tea or eating an apple.


Keeping your CNS healthy should be integrated into your training program, again, if you’re continually in high stress environments or trying to PR every time you go to the gym nothing you eat will matter.

The CNS is extremely difficult to investigate because of it’s location in the body and the manner in which it communicates with the body.   However, three chemicals in particular have been cited and studied heavily in connection with CNS function and regeneration: Serotonin (5-HT), Tyrosine (amino acid), and Choline (precursor of Acetylcholine,).

Increasing Serotonin begins the night before you want to lift heavy with a large carbohydrate serving. Ingesting carbohydrates causes your body to release Serotonin, which acts as a salve for your CNS. Serotonin will allow you to sleep more soundly and release more IGF (insulin-like growth factor) throughout the night.

Tyrosine has also been implicated in a number studies as a major player in CNS function/regeneration. Tyrosine is thought to increase neurotransmitter number and is a precursor of noradrenaline and dopamine. Foods heavy in tyrosine are eggs (1904mg/egg), salmon (1774mg/serving), buffalo (1645mg/serving), and shrimp (1626mg/serving).

Choline is required to create Acetylcholine (ACh), the most essential neurotransmitter when creating muscular force. Eggs contain 1388mg or choline/egg, so eating eggs should now be on everyone’s to-do list.

Egging Us On


A high calorie, high carb, high protein diet will improve your ability to maintain CNS health, this should come as no surprise. As humans, we naturally and intuitively crave foods that contain these components (pasta, desserts, pancakes, pizza, sandwiches, etc.) that allow us to think, fight, focus, …, and run better. The issue becomes when do we stop, and how do we better incorporate these foods into the diet to maximize performance? Because inundating the blood stream with insulin and sugar will eventually lead to major physique, performance, and health breakdowns. This is where guidance is needed and everything comes together to create BEAST MODE NUTRITION — maximizing CNS recovery and functionality, and leveraging carbohydrates to give you the most productive training ever.


If you want a fat loss plan, this isn’t it, I’ve written other articles and programs on that topic. Being strong isn’t about being nasty either, there are plenty of very strong people out there that have both sides of the coin nailed down (Daniel Green especially). Chad Smith, my personal friend, has become very dedicated to timing his carbohydrates better over the last six months and I admire him greatly for it. Because understanding when to have your carb timing is a conversation that ends in maximizing strength outputs rather than physique.

Truth is, unless you’re stepping on stage as a body builder, when you have your carbs (CHO) is much more important than how much you consume. Lifting heavy weights consistently implies that you body is in an anabolic state, your muscle cells are more likely to absorb nutrients compared to fat cells (GLUT4 transporter among an entire host of other responses), and your basal demand for CHO’s specifically is higher.

If you need to be really strong on Wednesday, eat a lot of carbs on Tuesday night for dinner. The CNS pros should be clear by now, but if there is preexisting glycogen (the metabolic byproduct of consuming carbs) in the muscle cell, the muscle will contract quicker and harder, and utilize the glycolytic (explosive movement metabolism) pathway more readily throughout your training session.

A number of people will try to argue that you should stay low carb before you sleep and ‘catch-up’ once you wake-up with carbs. This approach is fine, but you don’t get near the serotonin release the night before, and if you take this route it needs to be because you are willing to sacrifice maximal strength in lieu of fat loss. You must decide what’s most important.

DONT’s and DO’s

Even small carb servings can not be eaten within 90min of training. CHO’s induce insulin release, which puts the body in a rest and digest mode, activating the parasympathetic nervous system (sending blood to digestive tract rather than extremities) and ruining your chances of a great training session.

If you have not eaten carbs in the last few hours before training, as you warm-up and intensity increases, so will sympathetic nerve activity (fight/flight). Your brain will work faster, your reactions will be quicker, and your CNS will be firing on all cylinders. I can not emphasize enough the importance of consuming carbs while training — lots of them.


Once your body is in a sympathetic nervous state (15 minutes into workout/warmed-up) and there are preexisting carbohydrates, your body does not release effective amounts of insulin in response to CHO consumption, but utilizes them more readily to fuel explosive movements. Consuming CHO’s while training is proven to increase training endurance and aggression while preventing fatigue.


There is no rule, or correct serving of carbs for everyone. I have experimented with this, and there hasn’t been an amount or type of carb I can’t eat while training. I have had Chad Wesley Smith, American Record Holder in the squat, eat a half gallon of chocolate milk and two packets of oatmeal while training. The choice is yours. Let’s see how this approach would work in a real world example.

Case Study: 6:00pm training

If training in the evening, the most effective method, if maximal strength is the goal, is to eat a large carb serving the night before, have a low carb, high calorie breakfast (eggs) and mid morning snack (protein shake), with a large carb serving for lunch around 1:00. Mid afternoon snacks should keep caloric intake high, but carb intake low. Pretraining meal may be a caffeine source if desired. After warm-up is complete, bring on the the carbs, and keep them coming till your workout is finished. Training nutrition may also include protein source and creatine if desired. Then depending on body composition choose how many carbs you would like to eat after training (no carbs if you want to loose weight, high carbs if you like where your physique is at). Simple, right? If you are training at other times, simply use the logic discussed above and apply your carb servings accordingly. Creatine was mentioned in passing, but is a crucial aspect to hitting PR’s and will be briefly discussed below.


My football coach pulled me aside in high school when he found out I was ‘on’ creatine and had a real serious talk with me about the dangers of the ‘stuff” I was taking.  No other supplement has come under more scrutiny and misunderstanding than creatine. Creatine works, end of story. 1000’s of studies have shown that creatine does not present any real danger to athletes or humans — but it has been shown to make them more awesome.

When your muscles contract, ATP is required. During ballistic (explosive) activities creatine provides your muscles with 3x the ATP. Also, creatine provides the body with the quickest ATP resource and when you’re squatting heavy, quick is good. The more your muscles contract, the less creatine you have, therefore, consuming creatine during your workout is a must.

Managing creatine stores has also been misunderstood. Research has shown that creatine naturally exists at different levels from person to person, and supplementation of creatine benefits those that have lower levels of creatine (phosphocreatine) more than those that have naturally high levels. Personally, I can’t consume more than 5g of creatine in a day without cramping up, so experiment with YOUR BODY rather than gorging yourself with 20g/day during the prescribed loading phase that the crooks (company experts) recommend.

Creatine has been ‘pimped’ out more than any other supplement as well. While training, mix creatine monohydrate into a drink with sugar in it, your body will take care of the rest (GLUT4 transporter activity and muscle cell sensitivity are increased). There’s no need to go spend $80 on ‘Super Pump Juice 3,000’, just keep it simple. Remember, the goal here is positioning the body to express the strength you’ve already acquired, consuming/replenishing creatine while training is part of achieving that goal.


Incorporating these items into your routine should be simple, give your CNS every chance to regenerate and perform well, be smart about when you eat your carbs, and add some creatine to your drink while training.

Nate Winkler

Nate Winkler, co-founder of Juggernaut Training Systems, was a Division 1 basketball scholarship recipient and also won two conference championships in the 100 and 200 meters in Track & Field. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with a pre-medical emphasis in 2008, and a Masters Degree in Business Administration in 2010. Nate specializes in nutritional strategy, and is currently authoring ’40 Hour Fat Loss’ — a program that allows male/female professionals to conquer their work week while looking, feeling, and performing better than ever.

READ MORE BY Nate Winkler
  • Alex Paynter

    Thanks for writing nate, the visuals are fantastic as well.

    I was wondering if you had a study in mind for daily caffeine contributing to adrenal fatigue. I’m always finding an “excuse” to drink coffee (school, work, lack of sleep, training, repeat…) so this was of particular interest to me.

    • Juggernaut

      @ Alex-
      There are countless studies out there supporting every pro/con of caffeine use. Understanding the effects of caffeine and when it’s appropriate to consume it is a much better question. There is no disputing that caffeine causes the sympathetic nervous system to become activated (alertness, fight/flight,etc) and increased adrenal hormone secretion is a part of that. With that being said, continually demanding your adrenal glands and body to release epinephrine/noradrenaline and other stimulatory hormones/chemicals when they aren’t necessary will have adverse effects if you’re lifting at maximal percentages.

      Sometimes the addictive nature of caffeine will also require that you drink more of it to even feel normal, when this happens, you’ve developed a dependency, and must act to combat it. Try green/herbal teas unless you absolutely need them for function/performance. I’ve been reading some studies on productivity today and lack of sleep creates a catalytically poor lifestyle where you need more stimulants to function, which in turn makes you worse at concentrating, which in turn makes you even less productive…

      In short, get sleep, then use caffeine when it’s time to be awesome.

  • MIKE

    So, to be clear, you’re saying carbs at night or many hours before training, no carbs right before training (this is the biggest difference to conventional wisdom I see) and then eat carbs peri-workout and after? I usually eat oatmeal pre workout, either as powder or a normal bowl.
    Waixy maize or other quick carbs peri-workout?

    • Juggernaut

      The last thing any of my claims are is ‘unconventional’, not that you are in the wrong, but I find it absurd that so few are pushing the idea that inducing an insulin release close to training is antithetical to the reason why you’re training in the first place. Putting the body in a parasympathetic state right before you train (by eating carbs) is so simple to deduce by understanding the basic functions of the body.

      Don’t eat carbs right before you train, that’s a rule. Don’t get wrapped up in thinking you can’t eat carbs ‘many’ hours before you train, because that can get you in trouble as well. Start trying to eat your last carb serving 3-4 hours before you train, if you need more time, depending on your insulin sensitivity, eat your last carb serving 5-6 hours prior to training.

      I’ve had great results with waxy maize during workout, it mixes well and digests fast.

      • http://nibert1234 Trebin

        What about just plain dextrose used as a carb while training?

  • Petteri Amee

    Hey Nate, what do you think about carb bacloading for max strength and simultaneous fat burning? Seems to be working for some people.

    • Juggernaut

      I think Carb Backloading was developed by a very intelligent person and someone who I like to call a mentor — Kiefer John. Just like caffeine, Carb Backloading has it’s place, and when used appropriately with the correct person should work great. Nutrition is not a ‘one size fits all approach’, and I’m sure Kiefer would tell you the same thing. There are certain matters that your body can’t help responding to because you are a human being, then there are certain genetic, epigenetic, and conditioned responses that vary from individual to individual. Does that make sense? Try Carb Backloading, if it works for you, great.

      My body type, ectomorphic, requires and allows me to eat more carbohydrates to perform my best than someone who has a wide/big-boned frame. Carb Backloading did not work for me and turned me into a zombie at night when I prefer to go low carb/high nutrient and enjoy my evening…

  • Andy Hepler

    Hey Nate – great article.

    Being a former higher level track athlete like you were, do you believe some of these same nutrition principles would have carryover to track and field performance, specifically the creatine supplementation relative to explosive efforts exerted during sprint events?

    I have track athletes I coach at the high school level who might run the 100, 200 and 400 in the same meet all within maybe a 2-hour timeframe. Would creatine supplementation assist with this and if so how do you suggest implementation without running into cramping issues. Thanks in advance


    • Juggernaut

      @ Andy
      My experience with game day nutrition is to not introduce anything new to the body or routine during the competition. I ruined half of my track meets the last year I was competing by trying to find the right creatine/caffeine serving. The biggest caution I have with creatine/caffeine is to administer them in such a way that performance is emphasized rather than a great warmup. I would have a great 30 minutes of focus and explode during warmups, then cramp during race and crash after the first heat.

      Be very careful doing entirely new things to get something ‘extra’ on gameday. If the athlete has consumed caffeine before, then I would recommend them having a small, potent, caffeine serving 10 minutes before their first heat and not after (the CNS will be very active after the first heat anyway).

      I would have them drink 1gram of creatine per 100lbs of body weight after each heat (or break in sporting activity) with a small amount of sugar containing liquid, with the maximum creatine consumption during a 3 hour period being 4 grams (to start with, but it should vary based on the athlete’s ability to function while consuming creatine servings). You don’t want to over-hydrate on game day either, have them drink very concentrated, high sodium/calcium solutions without having to empty their bladder every 30 minutes.

      This should give you a start.

  • james grant

    Hi Nate, what about people who train first thing in the morning? How would you adjust this in order to fit their schedules?

    Fantastic article BTW!


    • Juggernaut

      Easy one here. Eat a HUGE carb serving the night before, wake up, have protein only and a large serving of water to increase your blood pressure. Then go train. If you don’t want to eat anything, great, it’s up to you there.

      After you warm up, start consuming lots of carbs.

  • Dorian

    Thank you for a great article! I learned things that I can implement immediately. JTS has been a powerful resource for me, so thank you for contributing as well!

    I understand this article is centered around maximal strength training, and my question may be a different beast altogether, so forgive me if this is too far off topic… My sport is mixed martial arts and often times training sessions may go upwards to 3-4hours. At other times it is split between two 2-3 hours sessions per day. I would like to still keep my energy level high throughout practice sessions. Should I still be avoiding carbs ~2hrs prior to practice? Is a peri-workout drink of creatine/carbs/(and potentially a protein source- I use whey and peptopro) still a good idea or will the carbs eventually induce insulin release?

    Normally during training I go through about 2 gallons of water and an electrolyte source (bananas usually), then worry about my carbs/protein afterwards. I feel fine but perhaps this isn’t optimal.

    Thank you again for providing a great read

    • Juggernaut

      MMA/BJJ are different beasts altogether, and in my limited experience, have a MUCH larger aerobic component than any other sport I’ve ever done. Good news though, CARBS also fuel aerobic metabolism… so the same rules apply.

      Don’t eat carbs before, consume lots of the carbs you prefer during training, and make sure that high protein/high nutrient containing foods (veggies) are consumed after.

  • Andy Hepler

    Awesome answer!!! Thanks Nate

  • Ed


    As usual, great article! I have applied principles from your other articles and felt great, both on the mat and in the weight room.

    Just for clarification with morning training and corresponding pre workout nutrition, is there a recommended time window after the AM protein or protein/caffeine consumption that one should wait prior to training? Thanks!

    • Juggernaut

      @ Ed
      Great to hear you’re seeing results.

      There isn’t a time window that you must wait after any protein/caffeine serving to begin activity. I have eaten 6 eggs before at 7:30am and been warming up on the track at 8:00am with no problem. Test yourself and see how you feel, as hard as ‘mat work’ can be sometimes, you may want to give yourself an hour so you avoid throwing up when aerobic demand get high as it tends to in your sport. As always- take good research and experiment to get your best performance, faster. Good luck!

  • Kenny

    That’s it I’m sold. I will be creating ‘Super Pump Juice 4000’ and it will be made from pixie stix and melted gummi bears & sold for $79.99 and in turn I will use to purchase chocalate milk or whatever doesn’t taste like sugared donkey piss.

    • Kenny

      Also I am assuming low fat high glycemic peri & post workout, but what about a carb load the night before high glycemic/low glycemic & high fat/low fat? Is iit anything goes as long as you don’t embrace your inner fat kid.
      I originally thought it was like carb backloading get the insulin spike out of the way that way sleep releases HGH.

  • Rob

    What do you suggest for off day nutrition as far as carbs?

  • Drea ( Smash-CAKES)

    **What an EYE OPENER!!!{{

    ((If you have not eaten carbs in the last few hours before training, as you warm-up and intensity increases, so will sympathetic nerve activity (fight/flight). Your brain will work faster, your reactions will be quicker, and your CNS will be firing on all cylinders. I can not emphasize enough the importance of consuming carbs while training — lots of them!!!!))

    **My basic deal with carbs was for Bodybuilding…..Go NO CARB to lean out for the stage…..After a few shows it was hard to break from that mindset that Carbs were a No-No…so now getting in Powerlifting I was advise that if I want to lift heavier ….I MUST have a HIGH CARB breakfast… so I UP the oatmeal and a P & J least 3 hours befor I train!… I train around should I wake…NO carb just ptein…and you mean SMASH MY CARBS…MY BREAKFAST DURING MY TRAINING SESSION???? ** I was under the impression tocarb up in the AM….to have ENERGY for the heavy weights….. I’m just asking here!!!! Its just new to hear this!!! I would LOVE to SMASH during my Training…Im sure the Gym Bro’s would RUSH to say…UH You shouldnt do that!!!!
    ***in a nutshell …this is tickeling my ears…and I will CARB UP the nite before *(different)..and SMASH during training….WOW..I’ll let u know my body reaction for sure!!!!


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  • Chris

    Have you read Alan aragons review of nutrient timing In jissn? Doesn’t seem to match up at all. I also don’t agree that nutrient (carb) timing is more important than total amount in taken. It’s not like they are digested instantly.

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  • Ryan

    Awesome article. Am I to understand that I should be low carb at dinner then another hi-carb meal before bed? Or only on training days. Could you clarify.