Best Pre- and Post-Workout Meals: What to Eat Before and After Training

Updated on June 6, 2019
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David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.

A good post-workout meal
A good post-workout meal | Source

To build muscle optimally, you need to get both your training and your diet right. And although the most important aspect of your diet is your total daily calorie, protein, carbohydrate and fat intake, there are other factors to consider too. Chief amongst these is your pre- and post-workout meals.

Pre- and post-workout nutrition has been over-complicated by many and also made out to be far more important than it actually is. But although it’s not as crucial as some may make out, it is still a factor, and getting it right will definitely improve the results you are getting from your training.

So in this article, I’ll outline the best foods to eat before training and after training, and I’ll also suggest a few supplements that could be useful too.

The Best Pre-Workout Meal

The purpose of your pre-workout meal is to help provide energy for your workout, reduce muscle protein breakdown during your workout and improve your performance. Better performance in your training will give you a stronger muscle building stimulus, which will lead to much improved results.

In order to achieve this, you need to eat a good amount of protein and some carbohydrate about 1.5–2 hours before training.

The exact amounts required will vary from person to person of course, but as a rough guide about 50g of protein and 30–50g of carbohydrate will be plenty for most people. Protein can come from meat, fish or eggs, and your carbohydrates should ideally be from a lower glycemic source, such as brown rice, oatmeal, sweet potato or whole grain pasta. A little fat is OK too, but not too much.

Then, about an hour before training, I like to have one or two cups of coffee, as this gives an extra energy boost and helps improve performance even further.

The only exception to the above is if you train early in the morning, in which case it’s best to simply have a whey protein shake and some fruit about 30 minutes before your workout.

The Best Post-Workout Meal

The purpose of your post-workout meal is to stop the muscle tissue breakdown caused by your workout and to start the rebuilding and recovery process, as well as to begin replenishing your glycogen stores.

To achieve this, you need a good amount of both protein and carbohydrate, ideally soon after your workout has finished. The reason it should be consumed soon after finishing your training is that at this time, your body is primed and ready to accept and utilize nutrients more than at any other time.

So aim to eat your main meal, consisting of at least 50g of protein and 50–100g of carbohydrates, within an hour (but 30 minutes would be even better) of finishing your workout. Again, your protein can come from meat, fish or eggs, and your carbohydrates can be from a higher glycemic source (such as white rice or white potatoes) if you wish. And once again, the fat content should not be too high.

Or if you can’t eat a main meal that soon after you finish training, just have a whey protein shake and a piece of fruit (a large ripe banana would be ideal) instead, and then have your main meal anywhere from one to three hours later.

What About Supplements?

Although what you eat is far more important than any supplements you might take, there are, however, a few supplements that can be very useful. The main ones, in relation to pre- and post-workout nutrition, are as follows:

Whey Protein

I’ve already mentioned this one, and although it’s not essential, it is a very useful and convenient way of adding some extra protein to your diet with the minimum of fuss.

Whey protein is a top-quality protein source with an excellent amino acid profile. It is also high in the branch-chain amino acids, is very easy to digest and has a number of important health benefits as well.

The post-workout whey protein shake is fairly ubiquitous amongst trainees, but it can also be used at any other time of day as required.

Beta Alanine

This is best taken pre-workout on your training days. And once again, it's not essential, but it does help delay fatigue during higher rep sets, so can be very useful if your main focus is on increasing muscle size. However, if most of your training tends to be in the lower rep ranges because you are mostly interested in increasing strength, you can give this one a miss.

Citrulline Malate

Used as a pre-workout supplement, this enhances training performance, and also helps to reduce muscle soreness after training. Take 4–10g 30–60 minutes before your workout.

Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine also helps to delay muscle fatigue, but unlike beta-alanine, it is useful for all types of training and at all rep ranges. Take 4–5g per day after training, or at any time of day on your off days.

L- Carnitine L-Tartrate (LCLT)

This enhances the effects of testosterone on muscle growth, reduces exercise-induced muscle damage and soreness and helps with recovery. Take 1–2g per day (post-workout on training days).

Intra Workout Nutrition

If your workouts are fairly short, you don't need to worry about taking in nutrients while you are training. But if you do long, intense workouts, it is a good idea to use an intra-workout supplement in order to reduce muscle tissue breakdown. This should be something that's very easy to digest and absorb, as you don't want to disrupt blood flow to the muscles. So don't use whey protein for this purpose. But some essential amino acids, or Peptopro, and glucose mixed in water would be ideal.

And that’s really all you need to know about the best foods to eat in your pre- and post-workout meals, as well as what supplements might be of benefit to you. There’s really no need to make it any more complicated than this. Just follow the guidelines given here, and you will be giving your body everything it needs to maximize performance, recovery and growth.

References

Antonio, J., & Ciccone, V. (2013). The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1).

Biolo, G., Tipton, K., Klein, S., & Wolfe, R. (1997). An abundant supply of amino acids enhances the metabolic effect of exercise on muscle protein. Am J Physiol.

Cribb, P., & Hayes, A. (2006). Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc.

Examine.com. (2019, April 29). Beta-Alanine: Proven Health Benefits, Dosage, and more.

Kanter, M. (2017). High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance. Nutr Today.

Kraemer, W. J., Spiering, B. A., Volek, J. S., Ratamess, N. A., Sharman, M. J., Rubin, M. R., . . . Maresh, C. M. (2006). Androgenic Responses to Resistance Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38(7), 1288-1296.

Miranda, G. M. (2018, October 24). How Does Beta-Alanine Help Build Muscle?

Pérez-Guisado, J., & Jakeman, P. M. (2010). Citrulline Malate Enhances Athletic Anaerobic Performance and Relieves Muscle Soreness. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(5), 1215-1222.

Semeco, A. (2016, September 20). Post-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat After a Workout.

Semeco, A. (2018, May 31). Pre-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat Before a Workout.

Volek, J. S., Kraemer, W. J., Rubin, M. R., Gómez, A. L., Ratamess, N. A., & Gaynor, P. (2002). L-Carnitine l-tartrate supplementation favorably affects markers of recovery from exercise stress. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 282(2).

Willoughby, D. S., Stout, J. R., & Wilborn, C. D. (2006, September 20). Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass, and strength.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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