Nowadays people are more stressed than ever with very little free time. Therefore, it is important to make the most out of daily exercise. Pre- and post-workout foods are key. The challenge: there is a general misconception about what foods and nutrients actually do for recovery and reaching your workout goals. A study among fitness enthusiasts shows, for instance, that half of the participants think that consuming carbohydrates after a workout can lead to less optimal results. Moreover, one-third of the participants don’t want to consume any calories at all directly after a workout.(1)
When Googling “pre- & post-workout foods,” you get more than 3.5 million results. But what’s actually hard to find is a clear and comprehensive overview about what happens to the body when working out, why the kind of workout you do matters, and how that relates to what needs to be on your shopping list.
Nutrition can push your workout to the next level
Your body needs energy to function & perform during your workout. By burning the three major macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat and protein), your body gains energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the most important energy source for your body.
If energy isn’t needed, it is stored as creatine phosphate, glycogen and fat. Depending on the intensity of your workout and how quickly you need an energy boost, you’ll get it from ATP.
Better workouts with the right nutrition
- When you start a cardio workout, your body burns the glycogen in your blood and your muscles first.
- These glycogen stores can provide well-trained athletes with energy for 1.5 to 2 hours.
- When marathon runners hit the wall or bonk during the race, it means they’ve used up their glycogen stores, and their energy level crashes.
- Electrolytes (natrium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium) keep your body going (fluid balance, muscle contraction, and nerve impulses).
- Your muscles need enough training to be able to adapt and improve.
- Intense strength training can cause micro-tears in your muscle fibers and tendons (micro-trauma). Protein helps repair these tears, and then the muscles grow. This process is called hypertrophy.
- More protein is not always better. Excessive protein can damage your kidneys and bones and increase the acidity of your urine.
Try our calculator to figure out how much protein you need:
Did you know?
Muscle growth doesn’t happen while you are working out; this takes place during the recovery phase. After a tough workout, it takes your muscles at least 48 hours to recover.
Best Pre-Workout Food
Food is fuel. A pre-workout snack is needed to power you through your run so you can complete it feeling strong. Get it wrong and you will feel it. Eat too much and your stomach will let you know when you up the intensity. Too little and you’ll “bonk” or hit the wall and finish feeling weak. Keep it simple and balanced with adequate hydration.
- Eat a proper meal two to three hours before a cardio workout.
- The meal should include enough carbs as well as some protein.
- You can have a small high-carb snack up to 10 minutes before the workout. If you want a blast of energy quickly, have something with a high GI (>70).(2)
- Don’t forget to hydrate before, during, and after your workout. You don’t want to get seriously dehydrated (loss of >2% of your body weight from sweating), which affects your electrolyte balance. This can really hurt your performance.(3)
- Eat a proper meal two to three hours before your cardio workout.
- Combine carbohydrates and proteins in a ratio of 3:1.
- You can have a small high-protein snack or shake up to 10 minutes before your workout.
Steer clear of greasy, spicy, or high fiber food before your workout. These can upset your digestion and cause heartburn or feel heavy in your stomach, which hurts your performance. Don’t experiment with food before a race – stick with what you know makes you feel good.
These recipes are perfect before your workout:
Best Post-Workout Food
What you eat after you work out is just as important as what you eat before. Skip a post-workout snack or meal and you’ll slow down your ability to recover. This can range from feeling sore the next day and having to cancel your workout, to feeling exhausted over the coming days and not performing at your best.
Protein is important after training. You need it for muscle repair and recovery after an intense workout. More isn’t always better: your body can’t store excessive amounts of protein – the extra amounts will get stored as fat.
- The optimal post-workout recovery window is about 30 minutes. Your snack should be a good mix of carbs and protein (2:1 ratio).(4)
- Carbohydrates are especially important after a long workout to replenish your glycogen stores.
- Your body loses electrolytes when you sweat, so feel free to add some salt to your meal. If your workout was long, a drink with electrolytes and carbohydrates is a good way to support recovery.(5)
- Weigh yourself before and after your workout. The difference will tell you how much fluid you need to drink.
- Your body refills its energy reserves during the regeneration phase. When you consume macronutrients, this improves your recovery.
- The optimal post-workout recovery window is about 30 minutes. Focus on protein combined with a smaller portion of carbohydrates (more if you want to build muscles or gain weight). You should eat 20 to 25 g of protein right after your strength training to support muscle protein synthesis.(6)
- Don’t feel like you have to take supplements after your workout. Your protein needs can be covered in a balanced diet. If you don’t have time for a meal, a protein shake or bar is a good alternative.
These recipes are perfect after your workout:
Your pre-workout meals and what you eat after a workout significantly influence your performance and your recovery. Follow our tips if you want to take your diet (and your workouts) to the next level.