Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition Debunked and Made Simple

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Are you confused by all the information about what to eat pre and post-workout? There seems to be conflicting advice from athletes and exercise fanatics, about exactly what to eat and when to eat it to experience enhanced performance and optimal muscle building nutrition. The thing is, all our bodies really need for athletic performance and physical activity are optimal nutrients and plenty of hydration.

Contrary to popular belief there is no link between the timing of protein intake before or after a workout that helps with muscle mass gain or performance. The best way to fuel your workouts is to eat high-quality, nutrient dense foods whenever is best for you.

In her eye-opening article, Anita Parker from highlights everything you need to know about pre and post-workout nutrition. Not only does she explain what foods work and why, but also offers great snack suggestions the next time you’re looking for optimum nutrition to fuel your workout.

Anita Parker

There is an overenthusiastic effort by athletes and exercise enthusiasts toward coordinating the timing and ingredients of pre- and post-workout nutrition with intentions of enhanced performance and/or muscle adaptations. However, any connection between specific food intake and timing with improved physical fitness outcomes is not supported by any current and credible research. Reports of this being true are likely only hearsay or product marketing, which for many will be unwelcome information.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine position stand on the matter, it is as simple as this… Our bodies require optimum nutrition and hydration for physical activity, athletic performance, and recovery from exercise. A recent meta-analysis undertaken by the International Society of Sports Nutrition has reported no link between timing of protein intake before or after a workout with muscle strength gains or hypertrophy. In other words, your best approach to fuel your workouts is to eat high quality, real food at times that work best for you.

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Here is all you need to know about your pre- and post-workout nutrition.

  1. You need to eat food for energy. Time your pre-workout meal or snack so that you have sufficient energy but do not have food in your stomach. This could be a larger meal 2-4 hours prior, or an easily digested snack an hour prior.
  2. Food is your fuel, and the quality of this is directly linked to your workout effectiveness. Eat real food from plants and animals. Avoid long ingredient lists and chemicals. Everything your body needs can be purchased at a supermarket or farmer’s market .
  3. Consume meals or snacks that contain mostly carbohydrates, moderate protein, and low fat and fiber. Avoid simple carbohydrates, such as candies. Save your small high-fat indulgences and generous fiber intake for your non-exercise times.
  4. Research does support your post-workout meal or snack to be within 30 minutes of your workout for optimal muscle glycogen replacement, again, consisting mostly carbohydrates with a moderate amount of protein. This timing is also logical, because if you wait too long after your workout, low blood sugar causes you to tear apart your refrigerator and make poor eating choices.

There is no evidence to support the intake of any kind of vitamin or mineral supplement, protein powder, or energy bars leading to enhanced outcomes. However, if you choose to have a plant-based protein powder or good quality energy bar before or after your workout, it is for reasons of convenience or ease of digestion. All vitamin and mineral requirements can be obtained from a balanced diet, unless otherwise indicated by your healthcare provider.

Here are a few snack ideas suitable for before and after a workout and meet the high carbohydrate/moderate protein criteria. Enjoy!

  • Banana slices or apple slices with natural peanut butter
  • Oatmeal with almond milk, cinnamon and raisins
  • Greek yogurt topped with whole grain cereal and fresh berries
  • Whole grain toast topped with sliced hard-boiled eggs
  • Green smoothie (frozen fruit, fresh spinach, non-dairy beverage) with hemp seeds
  • Homemade granola or energy bar that is low in sugar
  • Handful each of almonds and dried cherries (about 1/3 c. each)
  • Carrot sticks and hummus