Pre and Post Workout Meals

Do you ever get nauseous during a workout? Do you ever get light-headed in the middle of performing an exercise? Ever feel the need to take a heavy-duty nap right after you workout?

The problem might be simple—you aren’t giving your body enough fuel to last the duration of your workout session.

Luckily, the solution is simple—eat something! Eat something before you work out, and eat something afterwards. Get your body properly fueled up prior to exercise, and refuel it again after! It’s simpler than you may think, and almost always beneficial.

There are many different solutions to cater to people of differing appetites, constitutions, and time constraints.

Pre-workout meals

Kevin always tells his rookies to eat something before they come in and work out.

They usually ask, “What should I eat, and how long before my workout should I eat something?” Kevin generally replies; “Eat a sandwich as you’re walking through the gym door! I don’t really care what you eat, just be eating as you come in.”

For me, on the other hand, eating immediately prior to a workout tends to make me feel sluggish and heavy. This affects a lot of people, actually; eating too much food prior to a workout can induce feelings of fatigue or even nausea.

What’s the solution? Oftentimes, you just need to eat something lighter. You don’t need to eat a full meal immediately before you work out. You just need enough sustenance to last through the hour or two you are going to be exercising.

Some suggestions which fit the bill for a pre-workout snack include:

  • A meal replacement shake (like Muscle Milk), or a protein shake – You get a moderate amount of energy-providing calories from a shake like this, and it digests quickly, allowing your body to use the energy almost immediately. Many meal-replacement shakes are fortified with additional vitamins and nutrients.
  • A meal replacement bar or protein bar – Similar to the shakes above, but usually with even more nutrient supplementation. I find that a bar is often better at satisfying hunger than a liquid, and tends to settle easier during a workout.
  • Kevin’s favorite: the peanut-butter and jelly sandwich – You get protein, carbs, and some sugar—all good stuff to put into your system prior to a workout. It’s also easy to make with inexpensive ingredients, and can be prepared ahead of time and taken with you.

If you want to know what we recommend, check out our article comparing protein bars VS protein shakes.

On the other hand, here are some things to typically avoid:

  • Fruit – You’re not getting enough energy out of fruit to make it a good choice for workout fuel. You’ll burn through it in the first few minutes (and, if you’re like me, run the risk of your body trying to pass it out of your digestive system at an inconvenient time).
  • Yogurt – Like fruit, you don’t get many calories out of yogurt—making it effective as a snack to ward off appetite, but it won’t last you long as exercise fuel. The simple sugars also don’t provide too much energy.
  • Fast Food – Unsurprisingly, fast food is not a good option for a pre-workout meal. The high-calorie count and large amounts of carbs and protein might seem like a viable energy source, but the high fat content makes this food very heavy; it can take a while to digest, and cause some amount of gastrointestinal discomfort in the process.

How soon you should eat before a workout depends somewhat on what you are eating. If you have eaten a full meal, the general consensus is that you should probably wait at least an hour or two before you work out, so that your meal has had some time to digest—that way, your body will have access to the energy it’s provided, and you won’t have too much in your stomach weighing you down.

On the other hand, if you’re specifically having a pre-workout snack, eat it as soon as possible before you workout—a snack won’t take as long to digest as a full meal, and you’ll have access to the energy it provides sooner.

Post-workout meals

Hopefully, the reasoning behind a post-workout meal is obvious. You’ve just exerted a lot of energy—possibly more energy than your pre-workout meals provided—and your muscles are depleted.

You need to refuel and help speed up the repairing of your muscles.

The options on what to eat at this point are somewhat broader than the suggestions for a pre-workout meal—you can eat something heavy if you like, since you don’t have to worry about it weighing you down.

But, whatever you pick, try to find a good balance between protein and carbs to provide an optimal recovery.

Protein, as many people know, is a fundamental building block for muscle tissue; it’s very common in nutritional supplements for that reason. The more aggressively you are doing resistance/strength training, the more protein you will need. Read our guide to know how much protein is right for you.

Carbs are useful because they quickly metabolize into glucose (basically, sugar); glucose is used by your body as a general-purpose energy source, but can also be used to accelerate the absorption rate of protein.

As sugar enters your bloodstream, insulin is produced to move the sugar to your tissues for storage; the insulin will also pick up the protein as well, shuffling it off for usage more quickly than it would be used otherwise.

As such, you want to try to mix your carbs with protein in order to boost the speed of protein absorption. You don’t want to go overboard on carbs, of course, since excess carbs will basically just become sugar that your body will have to deal with.

But finding a good balance of carbs and protein will speed up your recovery and help you be ready for your next workout.

Some suggestions for post-workout meals include:

  • A whey protein shake (whey protein isolate) with Splenda: Splenda will help trigger an insulin response that will increase the absorption rate of protein, without the need for additional “real” sugar. This will get protein to your muscles very quickly!
  • Frozen Yogurt: The simple sugars aren’t effective at providing workout fuel, but do provide a good mechanism for helping speed the absorption rate of protein. Pair this with another high-protein snack for good results!

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