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Pre and Post Workout Nutrition

The importance of nutrition is well known. The ability to impact mood, weight, energy levels, immunity, and disease fighting mechanisms can all be done with what is put into our bodies. We really are what we eat.

The benefits of working out are substantial. Moving is a necessity to our lives. It only makes sense that nutrition and exercise go hand in hand. An important aspect is pre and post workout nutrition. Certain foods can increase energy and allow for a greater workout. In the same way, post workout foods give the body what it needed to recover and rebuild allowing for better future workouts.

Pre Workout Nutrition

Sometimes, it’s helpful to look at food as fuel. What you feed yourself before training will fuel your workout. Carbohydrates are made up of glucose, which is what the body goes to first for energy. This makes them an ideal pre workout nutrient. Glucose is a simple sugar molecule. It gets stored as glycogen in bonds in the muscles and liver, and when the body needs energy, it breaks it down to glucose. Feeding our bodies carbohydrates gives us energy for a powerful, effective workout. However, fiber, a type of carbohydrate, is different. Fiber is a complex carbohydrate made up of many glucose molecules forming a complex polysaccharide. This makes fiber a slow digesting nutrient and one you would actually want to keep limited prior to movement. Simply put, try to keep the carbohydrate sources healthy, but lower in fiber for fast digestion and quick energy.

Protein is another important pre workout nutrient. Amino acids form polypeptides, or proteins. These proteins are the building blocks of muscle. When we break down muscle during a workout, having an adequate amount of amino acids in our system can increase performance and speed up recovery. We need a constant supply of proteins to stay healthy. If we need more amino acids than we are ingesting, our body will catabolize, or break down, lean muscle tissue. This is also why you may see BCAAs, or branch chain amino acids, in many pre workout supplements. 

Lastly, it is best to avoid having fats before a workout. Fats are the slowest digesting nutrient and can make you feel full and sluggish. The body will be focused on digesting food and using energy for that rather than for exercise. 

Post Workout Nutrition

Ideally, your post workout meal should consist of also carbohydrates and proteins. Typically you would have more protein post workout than before working out. This is because you want to feed your muscles after they have been broken down to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. The body will adapt to whatever stress is put upon it. During strength training sessions, muscle is being broken down with the goal of it growing back bigger and stronger. Consuming protein following exercise increases muscle protein synthesis in that it will be greater than the muscle protein breakdown. 

In addition, it is a good idea to include some amount of carbohydrates in your post workout meals. As stated earlier, carbohydrates are made up of glucose molecules which are bonded together and stored as glycogen. Our muscles have a store of glycogen that gets depleted during our workout for energy. After working out, carbohydrates can provide proper glycogen resynthesis. 

Fats are nothing to focus on including or avoiding post workout. There has not been enough significant evidence to show if fats slow the absorption of other nutrients that stimulate muscle protein synthesis and glycogen replenishment. Fats will not hinder recovery. The main focus should be to ensure enough protein and carbohydrates are being consumed. 

Meal Timing

There has been a stigma that protein must be consumed no more than 5 minutes after finishing a strength session. This is simply not true. There is no need to rush and grab a protein shake. Protein intake is important, but there is no tiny window that if missed will result in zero muscle gain. Ideally, you want to get around 25-30 grams of protein a couple hours past your workout to stimulate maximal muscle protein synthesis. Enough protein intake throughout the entire day is important. 

Pre workout meal timing depends on the size of the meal to avoid feeling full and so the body has had enough time to digest and focus on using energy from that meal for working out. A small snack is best 60-90 minutes before exercise whereas a larger meal is best consumed 2-3 hours before. 

In the end, optimal nutrition should be an important aspect of our lives, but it also should not be made complicated. Sticking to healthy, minimally processed foods with the right macronutrients in mind is worthwhile to reaching your fitness goals.


Written by Danielle Barker