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

chicken and rice wcTo 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 exercise 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 decent amount of protein and 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 40g of protein and 40–60g 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 again 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 100-150g 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 alternatively, if you can’t eat your 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

This is really more of a food than a supplement, 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, citrulline malate enhances training performance, and also helps to reduce muscle soreness after training. Take 6–10g, 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 4–6g 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).

There are also a number of commercial pre- and post-workout formulas available that you can use if you wish. But the vast majority of these don’t contain any effective ingredients in sufficient dosages to be of any real use. So you’d be better off saving your money to spend on something else.

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.

Photo credit: Takoradee (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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