Workout nutrition is the food you eat either pre (before) or post (after) workout.
For the vast majority of gym goers, it’s taken in the form of protein shakes often with the addition of carbohydrates for the post workout shake.
The purpose of these meals is to; refuel your body’s energy stores, encourage muscle repair and growth and prevent the breakdown of muscle mass.
General guidelines are to eat 1 – 2 hours before working out and then within 2 hours of finishing your workout with general wisdom being that the sooner the better.
However, for the average gym goer there is some debate over the need to adhere to such rigid principles and whether or not you can get all the same benefits without needing to be so bound by timing and reliant on protein shakes.
In this post, we will explore why you use pre and post workout nutrition and how it may or may not apply to you.
What is Pre-Workout Nutrition?
Pre-workout nutrition is the meal you eat or drink before working out and is usually consumed between 1 - 3 hours before your workout.
The pre-workout meal is important for providing you with the fuel you need to perform your workout and aids in;
- Preventing muscle glycogen depletion during your workout
- Reduces muscle protein breakdown when working out
To get these benefits you want your pre-workout meal to be a mix of carbohydrate and protein.
Whether you eat or drink this mix is up to you and will depend on how close to your workout you have you eat and what your preference is.
If you’re eating within an hour of your workout it’s advisable to drink your pre-workout meal (sip it don’t knock it back) so you don’t feel too full or uncomfortable when you hit the gym.
What is Post-Workout Nutrition?
Post workout nutrition is the meal eaten after working out. Conventional wisdom suggests eating a mixed meal of protein and carbohydrates within 2 hours but preferably in within 30 - 45mins of finishing your workout.
This post workout meal is important for helping your body recover and repair after the workout. Eating a post workout meal will help aid in the following;
- The reduction of muscle fatigue and soreness
- Replenish muscle glycogen (stored energy) that was used in your workout
- Increase muscle protein synthesis and reduce muscle protein breakdown (1) caused by exercise
How you take this meal is up to you, some people opt to drink their post workout meal for convenience but you could just as easily eat solid food.
What’s best for the average gym goer looking to build muscle or lose fat?
If you’re just looking to build good aesthetics, keep fit or improve sporting performance on a casual level then total daily calorie intake and macronutrient ratios is of more importance to you that the exact timing and composition of your meals.
In fact, research published by Alan Aragon and Brad Schoenfeld (2) supports this and found that the post-workout meal is only truly important if a pre-workout meal had NOT been eaten.
If a pre-workout meal HAD been eaten then the importance of the post-workout meal was largely diminished.
The researchers go on to explain that unless you are planning on training a second time later in the day (and therefore needed to restore glycogen stores more immediately) or had not eaten a pre-workout meal, then as long as daily caloric needs were met across the 24-hour day period there is no particular benefit gained from having a post-workout meal.
Additionally, research (3) shows that there is little to difference between net muscle protein synthesis when protein is ingested pre workout vs. post workout.
Now it is important to keep in mind that whilst the aforementioned study certainly shows that post-workout nutrition may not be as important as we once thought (depending on the circumstances), more research needs to be done.
The bottom line is that a post-workout meal isn’t bad for you and there is certainly no harm in having one if you want to.
Ultimately, pre and post workout nutrition can be a useful tool when training but it is not the defining factor for the typical gym goer who is interested in build muscle or losing fat for aesthetic and health purposes.
The fact is there are factors of bigger importance (total calorie intake and macronutrient ratios) which are much easier to stick to and have a greater overall effect on body composition in the long-term.
Whether you eat 30 mins after your workout or 2 hours before are not going to make or break your workout success.
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