—> Pre and Post Workout Nutrition <—
My husband finally convinced me to sign up for his cross fit gym. This is very much a new type of workout for me.. so understanding what I should eat pre and post workout has become extra important in order to maximize how effective I am in class.
I’ve enlisted the advice of some of my favorite fitness/ nutrition/ wellness experts in order to answer the following question:
What is the best thing to eat before and after a workout?
I’ve also included some of my favorite pre and post workout meals/ snacks. Check it out!
Pre and Post Workout Nutrition
Pre and post workout nutrition depends on a lot of things (there is no one size fits all answer):
- Your calorie needs: are you dieting? trying to loose weight? trying to build muscle? trying to burn fat? trying to burn fat AND build muscle?
- Special diet considerations: Are you on a special diet?? vegan? paleo? … etc … etc …etc …
- Training: What type of training are you doing? Are you training for a marathon? Are you getting into cross fit (hi! me!) Are you headed to Yoga?
- Timing: What time of the day do you workout? How much time do you have before your workout to eat something?
There are a lot of varying opinions out there on pre/post workout snacks… but the most important thing is to take care of yourself and not to make it TOO complicated! Of course you can always consult a trainer/ nutritionist or wellness coach if you have questions tailored to your specific dieting or exercise program.
Carbohydrates, Fats & Proteins
Before we get into the nitty griddy.. lets review some basic nutrition terminology:
Our bodies require three different types of macronutrients: proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
- Carbohydrates are sugars, fibers and starches.. all of which differ in their complexity and length. Carbohydrates are generally broken down into glucose, which the body easily converts to energy .
- Fats have gotten a bad reputation… but they’re an important energy source for the body, and the consumption of healthy fats plays an important role in weight loss  .
- Proteins are chains of building blocks called amino acids. These amino acids are used to grow and repair the body and to build cells and tissues . Protein is only relied upon as an energy source if carbohydrates and fats are unavailable .
Your pre workout meal is important because it provides you with the energy your body needs to perform your best during your workout.
There are 2 things your body needs to achieve this: carbs + protein .
This next question is real (the struggle behind the next question is real that is..)
How much carbs + protein do you need prior to your workout?
…Like I said above… it dependdzzz…. again the ratio of carbs and proteins you personally require will depend on the type of training you do and your health/fitness goals… It can all get very confusing, but I’ll do my best to give some quick, go-to pointers.
20-30 Minutes Pre Cardio Workout
Eat a carb loaded snack (filled with complex carbohydrates). The body needs energy to workout, and it can quickly gain access to energy with carbohydrates. If you plan to workout longer than 40 minutes have a liquid or easily digested snack containing complex carbohydrates + a serving of protein to sustain you .
- Banana (easy, quick grab+go carb – especially for early morning cardio when you aren’t so hungry).
- 1/2 cup Oatmeal
- Banana with almond butter (carb + protein to sustain a longer cardio workout)
- 1/2 cup Oatmeal with nuts, honey + cinnamon
60-90 Minutes Pre Cardio Workout
Eat a meal containing a balance of complex carbohydrates + protein. This meal is usually skipped if you train first thing in the morning. In that case – refer to the suggestion above (20-30 minutes pre cardio workout) .
- Oatmeal with almond butter, honey + cinnamon
- Eggs with sautéed sweet potato wedges
- Fish with brown rice
- Chicken or lean beef with quinoa
20-30 Minutes Pre Weight Training Workout
Consume a liquid or easily digested small meal/snack containing a balance of low glycemic carbohydrates + protein , potentially a little heavier on the carbohydrate side to provide you with energy to sustain your workout. Lower glycemic carbohydrates are beneficial, because they take longer to digest – providing you with longer lasting energy .
Jessie Williams, personal trainer from Next Level Fitness (who also happens to be my beautiful fitness model of a cousin) recommends the following:
It’s very important to eat something before you workout. As an early riser, I usually eat a banana or get another form of carbs like half a cup of oatmeal with some honey and cinnamon in it. I like to eat a carb first so that I can get a boost of energy for my workout.
- An energy bar containing a balance of carbohydrates + protein
- Half a banana and a tbs. of almond butter
- An apple with 1-2 tbs. almond butter
- 1 tbs. of a protein powder mixed with apple sauce
60-90 Minutes Pre Weight Training Workout
Eat a meal containing a balance of complex carbohydrates + protein. This meal is usually skipped if you train first thing in the morning. If you’re an early riser… refer to the suggestion above (20-30 minutes pre weight training workout) or consume a small carb for a boost of energy (an apple, a banana).
- A lean protein (chicken, fish, lean beaf, etc.) + sweet potatoes or quinoa
- Eggs with sautéed veggies
- Oatmeal with a tbs. of almond butter
- Greek yogurt with fruit and honey
Note: If you plan to workout longer than 2 hours, an additional pre-workout snack is recommended during training.
Note: In all scenarios discussed above, if you also consume fat as a part of your pre-workout snack/ meal… that is fine, so long as it aligns with your overall daily intake goals .
Note: Carbohydrate and protein intake discussed above is not consumed in addition to your overall daily intake goals of carbohydrates and protein, but as a part of your overall intake. In other words… if you are eating healthy and working out to loose weight… but you can’t seem to shed the lbs. OR you gain them… chances are A. you are gaining muscle mass or B. you are eating too much!
Pre Workout Snacks + Meals for Weight Loss
If you are trying to loose weight… you must burn more calories than you consume over an extended period of time. The calories involved in the meals you eat before + after your workout are included in your overall daily caloric intake (they are not consumed in addition to your daily recommended intake).
Darby Jackson is a health coach and wellness educator who helps clients heal their relationship with food and their bodies. She graduated from UC Berkeley and then went on to study health and wellness at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
Darby recommends to her clients who are trying to loose weight that they consume unprocessed, whole foods that are high in healthy fats. If her clients workout first thing in the morning, she recommends that they consume a serving of healthy fat (such as a tablespoon of almond butter) as their pre-workout fuel.
In the morning, the body is in a fasted state. It is producing ketones, which burn body fat. The effect of ketones produced in the morning can be amplified by consuming a source of healthy fat. This pre-workout snack will help with continued fat burn as well as keep the body full + energized for a workout. – Darby Jackson
Darby also recommends grass fed butter and coconut oil to her clients. She notes that the medium chain triglycerides found in coconut oil help with burning fat.
After you workout your body goes into recovery mode. Tissues that have been broken down during your workout begin to rebuild themselves, and what you eat/ when is important to help your body recover + adapt to the training that you just experienced. In order for this to happen, your body again requires: carbohydrates + protein .
Post Cardio Workout
The more intense your cardio workout, the more important it is to eat something post workout. Moderate cardio (such as brisk walking or a light jog) for 30-45 minutes, doesn’t necessarily require a post workout snack right away. With high intensity or long duration workouts… eating within 30-60 minutes post workout becomes more important .
Most do cardio to burn fat/ loose weight. If this is your goal the focus here is on protein over carbs. If you do include a carb… include a low glycemic carbohydrate.
In general however, enjoy a balanced combination of carbs (low glycemic)  +protein, and it is best to eat within 30-60 minutes of your workout. Right after a workout your body is primed to accept carbs + protein, + put them to good use repairing muscles and replenishing energy stores.
- Protein smoothie
- Protein smoothie with an easily absorbable carb (a banana or mango) 
- Salad with chicken or other lean protein (for a protein focused meal/snack)
- Hardboiled eggs (for a protein focused meal/snack)
- Plain Greek yogurt with a banana and honey
- A breakfast/ dinner/ lunch that focus using real whole foods with a focus on protein 
- FREE, healthy, whole food recipes delivered straight to your inbox! Sign up here!
Post Weight Training Workout
After weight training the consumption of low glycemic carbs and protein is important. Carbohydrates provide needed energy to your muscle fibers, and protein helps to rebuild and repair your muscles. When building muscle, it is important that your post-workout meal/snack contain a focus on protein. Extra protein provides amino acids that your muscles need to rebuild tissue.
Here is Jessie’s typical post workout regimen:
When I come home I try and put protein into my body right away to help my muscles with recovery. I’m usually hungry for more of a meal, so I’ll scramble up one egg along with some egg whites, spinach, and sometimes some turkey or ham. Eggs are my all time favorite, and I love being able to add veggies in it and not really taste it 😉 I will also fill up on much needed water, but instead of plain water, I’ll add my amino acids in it, which also help aid in muscle recovery and growth. – Jessie Williams
- Eggs with sautéed vegetables
- Protein smoothie with a banana
- Greek yogurt with banana and honey
- Lettuce wraps with sweet potato
- Nuts.com has put together an excellent resource page with go-to snacks that are high in protein. Check out these high protein snacks!
I a currently reading Thinner, Leaner, Stronger by Michael Matthews. For more in depth information on weight loss, nutrition, building lean muscle mass, and changing the way you think about and eat food – I highly recommend this book.
- A Calorie Counter
- Nuts.com Pre/Post Workout
- Live Strong: What to eat before cardio
- Thinner, Leaner Stronger
- Darby Jackson: health coach and wellness educator who helps clients heal their relationship with food and their bodies. UC Berkeley & The Institute for Integrative Nutrition graduate
- Live Strong: Foods to eat before weight training
- Shape: What do I need to eat after cardio?
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