Pre-Workout vs. Post-Workout Meals

Sunday, August 1 2021 2:28 PM

Pre- and post-workout meals play a key role in the effectiveness of your training sessions. They help you perform nutritious pre-workout mealyour best and shape your results. Let’s take a deeper look into the purpose of pre-workout vs. post-workout meals, meal timing, and what to eat.

Pre-Workout Meals

The purpose of a pre-workout meal is simple: to fuel your activity and give your body what it needs to perform at its peak.

To do that, your body needs two things:

1. Carbs for energy

2. Protein to supply your muscles with the right amino acids

As a general guideline, a pre-workout meal should contain:

  • Carbs = 0.25g per pound of your target body weight.

  • Protein = 0.25g per pound of your target body weight.

Some examples of pre-workout meals that include a balance of carbs and protein include:

  • Oatmeal (or other whole-grain cereal) with milk and fruit

  • Apple with nut butter (peanut, almond, etc.)

  • Trail mix that includes both nuts and fruit

  • Greek yogurt (or another high-protein yogurt) with fruit

  • Peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and banana sandwich

  • Smoothie with fruit and protein powder

How soon before the workout should the meal be eaten?

Avoid eating immediately before a workout. Not only can it cause digestive discomfort, but it creates competing demands on the body if your stomach is trying to digest food at the same time you’re pushing your muscles to perform.

Instead, eat 1-3 hours before your workout, depending on how quickly your body digests food. Liquid meals (like smoothies, supplement shakes, etc.) digest more easily and can be consumed closer to the workout time.

Post-Workout Meals

Post-workout nutrition is more complex. Its purpose is to supply your body with everything it needs to repair, replenish, recover and adapt to the training stimulus that the workout provided. Learn more post-workout dos and don'ts here.

More specifically, post-workout nutrition helps to:

  • Minimize muscle damage/muscle protein breakdown

  • Assist in building muscle/increase muscle protein synthesis

  • Replenish muscle glycogen (the stored form of carbohydrate)

  • Reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels

  • Reduce muscle soreness

To do that, your body once again needs these two things:

1. Carbs

2. Protein

As a general guideline, a post-workout meal should contain:

  • Carbs = 0.25-0.5g per pound of your target body weight.

  • Protein = 0.25g per pound of your target body weight.

Many people prefer to take this nutrition as a recovery drink or shake for quickness, convenience, and optimal carb/protein balance. Often appetite is suppressed following a tough workout, making liquid nutrition the more appealing option.

Others prefer having a “real meal,” pairing a protein with a carbohydrate, such as rice. Others split the difference by having a protein shake immediately post-workout, then rounding things out later with some additional carbs.

How soon after the workout should the meal be eaten?

As soon as possible—within the first 60 minutes after your workout, or even better, within the first 30 minutes. Post-workout, the body is primed to receive vital nutrients and put them to work.

Why is the time of the essence? If your body has exhausted all reserves during the workout, it will resort to breaking down muscle to fuel itself. Also, as muscle is “expensive” for the body to build, it will only do so when plenty of energy is available.

What If Your Goal Is Weight Loss?

The above guidelines are mainly focused on individuals concerned with building muscle. But what if your goal is to lose weight or generally get more fit? Are pre and post-workout meals still needed?

That depends on the intensity level of your workout and if it will require energy over and above what’s already provided by your daily meals.

For example, if you’re doing a 30-minute group class that gets your heart pumping but doesn’t completely exhaust you, you likely won’t need anything extra. If you’re doing an intense workout for an hour that will take every last drop of energy you have, you might need a pre-workout snack, like a banana, yogurt, or small shake, to help you power through. This is also true if it’s been several hours since you’ve eaten, and you’re feeling hungry and too weak to push yourself.

You need enough energy to work hard enough to raise your heart rate and body temperature in both cases. This speeds your metabolism, so you burn more calories, not just during the workout session but throughout the day. However, eating too much before a workout means that you won’t burn off all the calories.

Like a small protein snack or recovery shake, a post-workout mini-meal can help you recover faster and replenish lost fluids.

It’s important to remember that any pre or post-workout snacks should be included as part of your recommended daily caloric intake. Many people mistakenly add on more calories since they will be burned off in the workout, but this logic leaves you in neutral. You need to create a deficit in calories in order to lose weight. If you find that you’re constantly hungry after starting a workout routine, it may mean that your daily recommended calories need to be adjusted by the professional overseeing your weight loss plan.

Now, it’s your turn! What are your favorite pre and post-workout meals? Share your recommendations in the comments.


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