Whitney English, MS, RDN, CPT · October 30, 2017

The work you do before and after your workout is just as important to your fitness goals as the effort you put into your exercise. This work, however, is done in the kitchen!

Proper pre/post workout nutrition is essential to provide the body with key nutrients required for optimal performance during exercise and to provide the body with building blocks to repair and strengthen muscles after a workout.

Pre-Workout

Before exercise, you want to make sure that your glycogen stores are full. Glycogen is the body’s storage protein for glucose, aka sugar – the body’s preferred source of fuel. While the body also uses fat and a little protein to provide energy during movement, glucose is the quickest source of energy and the most easily utilized. The reason for this is that glucose doesn’t require oxygen to be converted into usable energy. That means that during anaerobic exercise (without oxygen) like short sprints, power lifts, and any movement that lasts less than 90 seconds, you’ll be able to generate energy fast.

Studies show that athletes with low carbohydrate availability experience a decrease in exercise intensity and quality (1).

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For those used to following a reduced carbohydrate diet and interested in decreasing body fat mass, this information may be surprising. However, the vast majority of clinical studies have shown that there is no difference in fat mass loss between low-carb diets and other diets with the same protein and total calorie intake (2).

To achieve optimal glycogen storage, the average person performing one hour of moderate exercise a day needs 5-7 grams of carbohydrate/kilogram of body weight/day. For a 130 lb person, this equates to 295-413 grams of carbohydrate/day. This amount should be distributed throughout the day and should come from high quality sources of carbohydrates like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes (1).

You should also aim to consume 1-4 grams of carbohydrate/kilogram body weight within 1-4 hours prior to exercise for maximum benefit (1).

Post-Workout

Most people are familiar with the importance of protein post-workout, but what you may be surprised to learn is that once again, carbs play a vital role in this phase of exercise fueling as well.

After a workout, your body needs both protein and carbohydrates to properly replace the nutrients that were expended during exercise and to provide new building blocks for growth.

Protein, aka the building blocks of the body, is broken down into amino acids during digestion and absorption which are used to repair and replace those that are damaged during strength training or used up for energy production. Carbohydrates on the other hand replace the glycogen stores discussed earlier and ensure that you’ll have enough energy to fuel movement throughout the day and into your next workout. Additionally, carbohydrates raise insulin levels after a workout. Insulin is an anabolic hormone and it helps with muscle growth by facilitating the transport of amino acids into muscle cells.

The post-workout recommendation for protein intake is approximately 15-25 grams of protein within 2 hours of exercise. This is the maximum amount required to stimulate muscle protein synthesis at one meal, and intakes >40 grams have not been shown to produce further benefit. Anything beyond this amount will be used for fuel or stored as fat. Overall, athletes needs for protein range from about 1.2-2.0 grams protein/kilogram of body weight/day (1).

Carbohydrate needs post-workout range from 1-1.2 grams/kilogram of body weight/hour of exercise. This should be met within the first 4-6 hours after exercise for maximum glycogen synthesis (1).

Pre/Post Workout Snack Ideas

If you plan to eat a balanced meal within 1-2 hours before or after a workout, you’ll easily meet your needs for fueling/refueling. However, if you’re not going to be having a meal within this range, you’ll want to have snack to support your workout/recovery.

Pre-Workout Snacks:

  • 1 piece of fruit
  • 1-2 slices of toast
  • ½ cup oatmeal
  • 1 cup plain popcorn
  • ½ baked sweet potato

Post-Workout Snacks:
  • 1 protein shake: 1 banana, 1 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon peanut butter, 1 cup almond or soy milk.
  • 1 banana + ¼ cup nuts
  • ½ cup oatmeal, 2 tablespoons flax seeds, 2 tablespoons nuts
  • 1 hardboiled egg + 2 slices of toast
  • 1 cup greek yogurt + 1 apple

For more healthy recipe ideas, visit my website Whitney E. RD!

References:
  1. Thomas, T. et al. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J. Acad. Nutr. Diet. (2016). 116:3.
  2. Aragon, A. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Diets and Body Composition. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. (2017). 14:16.

About The Author



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Whitney English, MS, RDN, CPT

Whitney English Tabaie, MS, RDN, CPT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer. Whitney earned her masters degree from the University of Southern California in Nutrition, Healthspan, and Longevity and completed a dietetic internship at Norris Cancer Cancer, Keck Medical Center, LACUSC, and Breathe Healing Life Center.

Through her private practice and nutrition website, Whitney E. RD, she aims to help clients treat and prevent chronic disease with sustainable, balanced dietary advice.

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