Not sure what to eat before and after workouts? Whether you love running, lifting, or anything in between – the goal behind your nutrition is pretty simple: to be well-fueled, maximize feeling amazing during workouts so you can go hard and get after it, and eat in a way that supports recovery.
Why It Matters
Remember that carbohydrates are typically the body’s preferred source of energy during exercise. When we eat carbohydrates, the body breaks them down and converts them into glucose. If we are working out right away, this glucose can prime our metabolism and provide an immediate energy source for our activity.
If we aren’t working out right away, our body will instead store the converted glucose in our muscles and liver. That stored glycogen in our muscles will be ready to go when it’s eventually time for our workout. When we work out and use up these glycogen stores, we need to replenish them somehow – this is where our pre-workout and post-workout nutrition comes in.
What does this all mean? While our pre-workout meal helps give us an energy boost for our upcoming workout, your performance in the gym is often primarily influenced by the stored glycogen in your muscles, which came from the food you ate the day prior. Once we use that stored glycogen, we replenish our tank with our post-workout meal and the process repeats itself. Mind-blowing stuff, right?
This is why carb cycling and rest-day macro prescriptions may sometimes inhibit performance goals in the gym. These diet protocols often prescribe more calories on training days and less on non-training days. Typically, we’re trying to recover on a rest day (hence, “rest” day), so if we don’t exercise but still drop calories and macros, we’re really not maximizing our recovery. It’s not surprising that when we get back to the gym the next day we feel like absolute garbage.
When To Eat:
As far as timing goes, it really depends on your workout duration and intensity levels (longer, more intense workouts require more precise nutrition timing for performance goals). In general, most people seem to feel their best when they eat between 60-120 minutes before their workout. As a basic guideline: the larger your pre-workout meal, the longer you’ll probably want to wait before diving into the programming for the day. However, it’s best to just play around with the timing to see what works best for you!
When it comes to post-workout nutrition timing, eating within 1-2 hours after your workout is going to be optimal for recovery, but not necessarily required if you’re still hitting all of your protein and carb numbers throughout the day. Your post-workout meal should be heavy on carbs but should be well-balanced overall in terms of protein, carb, fat, and fiber ratios. If you have trouble eating immediately following a big workout, crushing a protein shake with a piece of fruit is always a good go-to option.
Side note: if you are training right away in the morning, it’s totally okay to be fasted; but in that case, make sure to prioritize getting in a large protein and carb-rich dinner the night before.
What To Eat: Before Workouts
First, consider avoiding meals or snacks with tons of fat or fiber immediately before your workout. These types of foods can be slower to digest, often leaving you feeling overly full, sloshing around with a gurgling stomach, or dealing with bowel movements while trying to lift or workout.
Before working out, we want to aim for a meal high in carbohydrates and moderate in protein. Remember, what you eat before you workout will prime your body for that training session.
Meal Examples Include:
Chicken & White Rice – the classic bodybuilder combo
Ground Turkey & Potatoes – you can never go wrong with a quick lil hash
Egg Whites or Whey protein with Oatmeal & Berries – perfect for a morning workout
Lean Ground Beef & Pasta – try a chickpea or lentil-based pasta for some extra protein
Deli Meat on Bread or a Bagel – easy when you’re on-the-go
Chicken Nuggets – a great protein-to-carb ratio just sayinggg
What To Eat: During Workouts
If you need a mid-workout boost, we suggest choosing quick and easy-to-digest carbs or a liquid protein shake. With proper pre-workout fuel, most athletes will find that water or a low-calorie electrolyte drink can supplement their workout effectively. However, if you are working out fasted in the morning, intra-workout fuel may be necessary.
Fresh Fruit – pick something in-season, soo refreshing
Breakfast Cereal – why not enjoy some childhood faves
Granola – try an option with dried fruit
Rice Cakes – bonus points if you can eat these without making a mess all over the gym (:
Bagel – for your longer, endurance-based workouts
Baby Food Squeeze Packs – quick, easy, & delicious
Sports Drink – find a high-quality electrolyte or dextrin powder
Gummy Bears – any sugary candy would work here but we’re biased
What To Eat: After Workouts
Finally, after the workout, it’s time to replenish those glycogen stores! Consume a large, well-rounded high-quality meal with lots of protein & carbohydrates. The longer and more intense the workout, the more carbs your body will need to replenish that fuel tank and ensure you are recovered for the following day.
Steak Bowl: lean steak, potatoes, olive oil, asparagus, & berries
Shrimp Stir Fry: shrimp, jasmine rice, avocado, green beans, & pineapple
Brekky-Style: whole eggs, sweet potato hash with bell peppers, & an apple with nut butter
Smoothie Bowl: whey protein, frozen fruit, granola & nut butter
Want To Learn More?
Check out LCK’s e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Nutrition, Muscle Gain, & Fat Loss if you want to get more details about supporting your nutrition and fitness goals (:
We’re also always posting workout and nutrition tips on our Paragon Training Methods Instagram page. Follow along for some free workouts and tips for enhancing your routine!