Pre and Post Exercise Nutrition

Focus on food quality & quantity


If you’re exercising for general health and fitness;
if your goals are more modest; and/or
you don’t have unique physiological needs……then you probably don’t need any particular workout nutrition strategies. 

Focus on:

Eliminating nutrient deficiencies;
ensuring your portions are the right size; and
starting to eating right for your body type (endo, meso, and ecto).

Pre-exercise Nutrition

What and when you eat before exercise can make a big difference to your performance and recovery. 

In the three hours before your workout, you’ll want to eat something that helps you:

  • sustain energy
  • boost performance
  • hydrate
  • preserve muscle mass 
  • speed recovery

Here are a few ways to ensure you’re meeting your requirements. 

Protein before exercise

Eating some protein in the few hours before exercise:

Can help you maintain or even increase your muscle size. That’s important for anyone who wants to improve health, body composition, or performance.

Can reduce markers of muscle damage (myoglobin, creatine kinase, and myofibrillar protein degradation). Or at least prevent them from getting worse. (Carbohydrates or a placebo eaten before exercise don’t seem to do the same thing.) The less damage to your muscles, the faster you recover, and the better you adapt to your exercise over the long term.

Floods your bloodstream with amino acids just when your body needs them most. This boosts your muscle-building capabilities. So not only are you preventing damage, you’re increasing muscle size.

Carbs before exercise

Fuels your training and helps with recovery. It’s a popular misconception that you only need carbs if you’re engaging in a long (more than two hour) bout of endurance exercise. In reality, carbs can also enhance shorter-term (one hour) high-intensity training. So unless you’re just going for a quiet stroll, ensuring that you have some carbs in your system will improve high-intensity performance.

Preserves muscle and liver glycogen. This tells your brain that you are well-fed, and helps increase muscle retention and growth.

Stimulates the release of insulin. When combined with protein, this improves protein synthesis and prevents protein breakdown. Another reason why a mixed meal is a great idea. No sugary carb drinks are required.

Fats before exercise

Don’t appear to improve nor diminish sport performance. And they don’t seem to fuel performance — that’s what carbs are for.

To help to slow digestion, which maintains blood glucose and insulin levels and keeps you on an even keel.

Provide some vitamins and minerals, and they’re important in everyone’s diet 

The closer you get to your workout, the less time there is to digest. That’s why I generally recommend something liquid at this time, like a shake or a smoothie. 

Example 1

  • 1 scoop protein powder
  • 1 fist of veggies (spinach works great in smoothies)
  • 1-2 cupped handfuls of carbs (berries or a banana work great)
  • 1 thumb of fats (like mixed nuts or flax seeds)
  • low-calorie beverage like water or unsweetened almond milk

Example 2

  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
  • 1 fist spinach
  • 1 banana
  • 1 thumb peanut butter
  • 8 oz. chocolate, unsweetened almond milk

Post-exercise Nutrition Needs

Post-workout nutrition can help you:

  • recover
  • Rehydrate
  • refuel
  • build muscle
  • improve future performance

Protein after exercise

Eating protein after exercise prevents protein breakdown and stimulates synthesis, leading to increased or maintained muscle tissue. So it’s a great strategy for better recovery, adaptation, and performance.

Any high-quality complete protein should do the job, as long as you eat enough. That means about 40-60 grams for men (or 2 palms) and 20-30 grams for women (1 palm). 

Carbs after exercise 

Contrary to popular belief, it’s unnecessary to stuff yourself with refined carbohydrates and sugars to “spike” insulin and theoretically restore muscle and liver glycogen as rapidly as possible after your workout. 

In fact, a blend of minimally processed whole food carbohydrates, along with some fruit(to better restore or maintain liver glycogen) is actually a better choice, because:

it’s better tolerated

it restores glycogen equally over a 24-hour time period

it might lead to better next-day performance. 

Fats after exercise

Dogma has it that we should avoid fats after exercise because they slow the digestion and absorption of nutrients. 

While this is true, in most cases, it’s also irrelevant. We’ve already seen that speed of digestion of protein and carbs is not necessarily as important as we once thought. The same with fats. 

In fact, one study compared what happens when people drink skim milk rather than whole milk after training. Participants drank either 14 oz. of skim milk or 8 oz. of whole milk (that equalized the calories). 

The skim milk drinkers got the same number of calories — along with six extra grams of protein. So you’d think they’d have the advantage. 

Yet the whole milk drinkers actually ended up with a higher net protein balance! And the researchers had no explanation other than the fat content of the whole milk. 

Additional research shows that eating as much as 55 grams of fat post-training, and another 55 grams in the two subsequent meals did not get in the way of glycogen replenishment compared to lower fat meals with the same amount of carbohydrates. 

Clearly, fat doesn’t reduce the benefits of protein and carbohydrate consumption around training. In fact, it actually might provide some benefits of its own.

0-2 hours after exercise 

The approach to recover from training is the same as your preparation for a workout: have a mixed meal of real food

Here’s how men might build it:

  • 2 palms of protein
  • 2 fists of vegetables
  • 2 cupped handfuls of carbs
  • 2 thumbs of fats
  • low-calorie beverage like water

And here’s how women might build it:

  • 1 palm of protein
  • 1 fist of vegetables
  • 1 cupped handful of carbs
  • 1 thumb of fats
  • low-calorie beverage like water

Sometimes after training, you might not feel hungry. And that’s okay. If you don’t feel like eating, you can go with liquid nutrition.

FREE Nutrition and Calorie Balance 101 Guide

Fill out the form below to get your copy of this helpful guide!

Join The Challenge

Fill out the form below to participate in The Challenge
beginning on Sunday, May 15th.