Friday, October 16, 2009

Pre and Post Workout Fuel for Maximizing Metabolism and Results!

Whether you are starting a new exercise program, or already an old pro, it is important to pay more attention to your nutritional intake. When you are eating proper foods, you will see exponential results from your program as nutrition can actually account for up to 90% of the progress you see.

Two of the most critical times for taking in proper nutrition are right before your workout session and immediately afterwards.

Why Do I Need these Pre and Post-Workout Meals?

The pre-exercise meal/snack will help provide your muscles with the fuel they need to perform vigorous exercise as well as help offset any muscle loss that may occur during the workout since weight lifting is a catabolic (breakdown process) in itself. Plus it will keep you from feeling weak and lightheaded.

The meal after the workout serves to supply your body with new energy that it will use to either refill its muscle glycogen stores or to repair the damaged muscle tissues. In addition, a small meal before and after a workout greatly revs up your metabolism. If you skip this important meal you will drastically jeopardize the results you could see from your workout.

The Pre-Workout Meal

The main purpose of the pre-workout meal is to fuel the muscles for the upcoming activity. What you choose to consume during this meal is largely dependant upon the time of the day that you work out.

For the morning workout a liquid meal is often the best option as you won’t have a lot of time to digest the food before you hit the gym. Some people may simply have a hard time tolerating solid food first thing in the morning, thus they do better with a meal replacement shake. Another great idea if you don’t like shakes is a piece of fruit or some bread and jam or peanut butter.
If you exercise in the afternoon or evening, you can follow pretty much the same guidelines. However, since you have more time to play with a true meal 60-90 min before the workout is sufficient.

Try to take in this snack 15-20 minutes before your workout.
Example Snacks:
Protein Shake
Banana with scoop of peanut butter
Yogurt (not the diet or light kind) – this is actually one of my favorites.
Banana and granola bar
Piece of toast or bread with peanut butter or jam
Dry cereal with fruit

Post-Workout Meal

As I said above, the post-workout meal serves to replenish muscular glycogen stores as well as to help provide the amino acids your muscles need to repair and rebuild themselves after being broken down through strength training activities. Contrary to popular belief, this meal will actually help your body burn more calories as it keeps your metabolism at peak performance. Your body burns more knowing it is not going into starvation mode.

It is always best for you to try and consume this meal as soon as possible after your workout as there is a critical window of opportunity when the muscles are more receptive to taking in the nutrients.

Many people choose to also consume a shake for this meal as it is easily transported to the gym so you can have it on your way out.

In this meal a higher carbohydrate amount is recommended .This not only replaces the energy you just expended but also provides your body with the energy required to synthesize new muscle tissue. Shorting yourself at this point will be very detrimental to your results so it is of utmost importance that you don't skimp on carbohydrates during this meal. If you are one of the individuals who tends to fear carbohydrates, thinking they will be stored as body fat, you can rest assured that eating them immediately after a workout is the one time of the day when they will not be stored as body fat. Furthermore, if you often find yourself craving sweets or simple grains such as candy, cereal or bagels, now is the time to eat them because you actually want the carbohydrates to be released into the blood stream rapidly.

To sum up, you should consume a lean protein source, from meat or from protein powder depending on your needs and preferences and then a simple carbohydrate source.

Try incorporating pre and post workout meals into your next workout. It may take some time to get used to it, but I am confident you will reap impressive results in no time. These meals are just about as important as the actual work you do in the gym in terms of the progress you are going to see – the nutritional portion is not something to take lightly.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!


  1. Amanda,
    Thanks for posting about nutrition! It is such an important part of the training regimen, and we often do not pay enough attention to it. As a dietitian, I know the text book recommendations for pre and post meals, but it is great to get it straight from the athlete! I do have a mention these meals in relation to workouts, do you change it much for endurance runs or endurance sport activities - 1.5 to 2 hours?
    Thanks so much,
    Stacey Lehman

  2. Hi Stacey,

    You bring up such an important point! The article posted above is a general guideline for the average 60 minute workout. However, when you start getting past that 60 min window into more endurance-type activities you need to tweak your nutrition - this is where I suggest taking in calories (fuel) during the workout in order to keep your energy up and avoid 'bonking' (bonking is a term athletes use when they don't have enough energy and their performance drops drastically, they find it extremely difficult, if not impossible to continue.
    While sports drinks provide electrolytes, I recommend a sports gel, gummies or a bar - something will a little substance. Cytomax actually offers some greats gels and products. Basically you just need to experiment with what works best for you. During my long runs I used to take packets of honey in my shorts and drink those every 30-45min.
    It's also critical to up your total calorie intake throughout the day when you start upping the duration of your workouts. To give you an idea most athletes can consume between 4500 and 7000 calories a day without gaining weight. If you don't consume enough calories your energy levels will plunge along with muscle deterioration and breakdown.
    If you'd like more information on this, let me know and I can write a full article on fueling for endurance sport.
    Hope this helps!!

  3. Why would you want to eat fats before the gym? Fats are very hard to digest by the body and require some time to digest, eating fats before the workout rushes blood to the stomache to aid in digestion and prevents adequate blood flow to the muscles being worked.