Pre and Post Exercise Nutrition
What should I eat before a workout to maximize my energy levels, and what should I eat afterwards to maximize the benefits of exercise? In addition, how should we balance adequate post-workout nutrition to promote recovery while not consuming so much as to sabotage weight loss efforts? These are questions many people have, and ones we hope to answer in the following post. Many people in the health community may shy away from the term “sports nutrition,” especially if they prioritize weight loss over performance goals. However, the food you eat surrounding your exercise is important for everyone hoping to maximize the benefits they receive from their workout session.
A sports nutrition review found that a combination of carbohydrates and protein before exercise both produced a greater amount of muscle protein synthesis during resistance exercise, and stimulated an increase in strength during exercise and more favorable increases in body composition (more muscle mass, less fat mass) than pre-workout carbohydrate ingestion alone2. Therefore, we recommend that a combination of carbohydrates and protein be consumed approximately 60 to 90 minutes before beginning your workout. Consuming your pre-workout meal approximately this long before exercise will allow the food to be broken down and therefore give you more energy, and will also allow some time to prevent the heaviness that sometimes accompanies trying to exercise immediately after eating. Furthermore, we recommend trying to limit the fat content of your pre-workout meal, due to the fact that fats take longer to digest and may contribute to a heavy feeling after eating.
Sample Pre-Workout Meal Ideas
*Pick one option from each category (one complex carbohydrate + one protein source) or combine your own favorite complex carb and protein sources!
- Sweet Potato
- Brown Rice
- Rolled Oats
- Sprouted whole grain toast
- Brown Rice Pasta
- Beans (lentils, black, pinto, garbanzo, etc.)
- Wild Caught Salmon
- Organic, Free-Range Chicken
Glycogen, a readily available energy source that is stored in muscle and is one of the first forms of energy utilized during exercise, often becomes depleted during intense or prolonged exercise bouts1. Carbohydrates are the most effective way to replenish glycogen stores, and therefore improve the ability of the body to generate energy in subsequent exercise bouts1. Despite the common advice regarding the avoidance of simple carbohydrates, this type of carbohydrate is the most effective in replenishing glycogen stores due to their fast digestion and their impact on insulin1.
In addition, including some protein, to a lesser amount than carbohydrates, post-workout could potentially enhance glycogen replenishment, muscle protein synthesis, and subsequent exercise performance. A sports nutrition review recommends post-exercise food be consumed during the so called window of opportunity (immediately to 30 minutes after discontinuing exercise), in a ratio of 3 to 4 grams of carbohydrate to every 1 gram of protein in order to maximize muscle glycogen replenishment2. In addition, this combination of carbohydrate and protein/essential amino acids have been shown to increase the synthesis of protein within the muscle, in order to maximize exercise benefits. Like we suggested with the pre-workout meal, try to limit fat content of the post-workout meal as well, due to the fact that fat digests at a slower rate and could interfere with the breakdown of carbohydrates, and subsequent glycogen resynthesis.
Sample Post-Workout Meal Ideas
*Choose one of the meal ideas below, or get creative and think of your own idea by utilizing the information above and examples below!
- 1 banana
- 1 scoop of protein powder
- ½ cup of non-dairy milk or water
Fruit and Yogurt
- Sliced banana, apples, or ¾ cup berries
- 6 oz organic plain yogurt
- Cinnamon (optional)
Rice Cakes and Hummus
- 2 rice cakes
- 2 tablespoons hummus
Rice and Chicken
- 1 cup cooked rice
- 3 oz organic, free-range chicken
Scrambled Egg Whites** and Fruit
- 3 scrambled organic, free-range egg whites
- 1 banana, apple, or ¾ cup berries
**Egg whites are suggested not because we believe the yolks are bad for you (in fact they’re actually nutritional powerhouses!) but because limiting the fat content of your post-workout meal optimizes the speed at which the food can be used to refuel and replenish your cells and begin the recovery process.
We hope this information and sample meal ideas give you the knowledge and inspiration you need to maximize your workout with nutrition!
Pre-workout nutrition is necessary for performance, and post-workout nutrition is necessary for progress.
Betts, J. A., & Williams, C. (2010). Short-term recovery from prolonged exercise. Sports Medicine, 40 (11), 941-959.
Kersick, C., Harvey, T., Stout, J., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C., Kreider, R., Kalman, D., Ziegenfuss, T., Lopez, H., Landis, J., Ivy, J. L., & Antonio, J. (2008). International society of sports nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 5 (17), 1-12.