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Workout Nutrition: What To Eat Before And After A Workout

Why timing your nutrition intake is important

Heading to the gym on a regular basis is key to improving your fitness. And with the right food at the right time, you can achieve your fitness goals and become stronger faster.

Consuming the right nutrition before and after a workout can give you both energy to perform to your max in a gym session and the building blocks to grow muscle.

To do all of this you need to know what to eat before and after a workout, exactly when to eat and why. Once you’ve got all this cracked, you can watch the gains come rolling in.

What’s in this article:

Is it better to eat before or after a workout?

Ideally, you should eat both before and after a workout, although what you eat and how much depends on the intensity of your session and overall fitness goals. If you’re heading to a session to add miles to your long-distance run, your nutritional needs will be quite different to someone going to the weights room.

If you need stamina, you’re going to need plenty of slow release carbs to keep your body working hard in the long run. That means foods like brown rice and pasta before you head to the gym. The complex composition of these carbs means they break down slowly in your system, burning energy gradually to fuel a longer workout.

Weightlifters will also need slow-burning carbs to provide energy throughout the workout. Fast release carbs can give you a quick burst of energy, but you might find yourself slumping midway through your workout if you don’t stock up on slow release carbs beforehand. To grow muscle, add protein to your pre-workout meal. This can help boost muscle growth and provide a faster recovery period. Fast-absorbing options like Whey Protein encourage protein synthesis as you work out.

After you’ve been working hard in the gym, you need to refuel your body to support recovery and boost muscle growth. Right after your workout, you’ll need carbs to restock your glycogen stores, as well as protein to allow your muscles to repair and grow.

digestive enzymes

What to eat before a workout

Imagine your body is like a car – to get anywhere you’re going to need fuel and plenty of it. By eating before you start your workout, you’ll have the energy to perform and work out for longer.

Your main source of energy comes from carbohydrates, which can quickly be converted into energy for your muscles. And to help build muscle and increase protein synthesis, you’ll also need to consume fast-acting protein.

Depending on what you prefer and what suits your lifestyle, you can fulfill your pre-workout nutrition needs with easy-to-consume shakes and powders. Bring them to the gym or to work for a convenient meal alternative.

You should also alter your carbohydrate levels depending on the length and intensity of your workout. The longer you plan to workout, the more you should eat.

Consume these pre-workout meals about an hour before you begin so your body has time to process the food before you leap into action.

Pre-workout meal

If you want to know what to eat before a morning workout, you’ll need plenty of carbs and protein, so opt for 50g of Instant Oats mixed with one scoop of Impact Whey Protein If you’re heading to the gym in the evening go for 100g of cooked chicken with 100g of cooked brown rice

Vegan pre-workout meal

For a high protein, high carb vegan option, choose a banana and eat with a Soy Protein Isolate shake

What to eat after a workout

After your workout, the right nutrition can help your body to recover. Restock your carbs and protein supplies to help maintain or grow muscle, preferably within an hour of finishing your workout.

Impact Whey Protein works quickly to help repair muscle so you can be ready to head to the gym the next day. Pair it with carbs and your body will use this energy to help the recovery work.

If you’re looking to burn fat, it’s important you get healthy levels of carbs and protein in after a workout to protect your muscle, while cutting your body fat. You won’t gain any muscle during a calorie deficit, but you can reduce the risk of losing it.

Post-workout meal:

For a quick and easy boost to your carbs and protein levels after a workout, pack a Protein Brownie in your gym bag

Head home after your evening workout and eat 120g of cooked chicken with 100g of cooked brown rice for a protein and carb rich meal

Vegan post-workout meal:

For a quick vegan protein and carb fix, opt for a Pea Protein Isolate shake with oatmeal and almond milk

Top Ten Foods High in Protein

How much should you be eating?

Everyone’s body is different and the nutrition you need varies depending on your physical makeup, and whether you’re a man or woman. To reflect this, you should have an idea of how many calories you’re using.

The calories you burn depend on a range of things including your gender, size and muscle to fat ratio. To lose weight you have to eat less than you burn, creating a calorie deficit. To gain muscle, you need to eat more than your body uses.

A good way to set a baseline for how many calories you burn is to figure out your basal metabolic rate, or BMR. This tells you the minimum calories your body needs to function. This excludes any exercise, so if you’re running for an hour every day factor those extra calories burned in.

How to calculate your BMR

Females: BMR = 655 + (9.6x weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x ages in years)

Males: BMR = 66 + (13.75 x weight in kg) = (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age in years)

Once you know how many calories you should be consuming, you can calculate your macro intake. Macros are carbohydrate, fat and protein. When taken in the right ratio, they will support your fitness goals.

What is the anabolic window?

Your body stores energy in the form of glycogen in your muscle tissues. When you don’t have food to fuel exercise your body draws on this glycogen, breaking down muscle tissue to access it.

This is called a ‘catabolic state’ and can cause your body to break down any muscle gains. If you want to build muscle and strength, you don’t want to be here.

To combat this you need to keep your body in an ‘anabolic state’. This is where your body uses the energy and nutrients from the food you eat to stay energized and fuel muscle growth. The best way to do that is to make sure you’re regularly topping up with the right, nutritious foods.

A crucial time to keep your body full of the right foods is during the ‘anabolic window’. This is measured as the hour after you’ve finished working out. It’s when your body’s energy levels are depleted so turns to glycogen to begin the recovery process. Getting the right nutrition at this point is essential to promoting muscle repair and growth.

creatine before after workout

What else should you think about for your workout nutrition?

There are plenty of ways to boost your workout performance with the right foods. Add these to your nutrition plan to give you an extra edge in the gym.

Creatine Monohydrate: Saturate your muscles with Creatine Monohydrate to improve strength, boost power and increase muscle size. Start with an initial loading phase and take one scoop, five times a day for a week. Then take one scoop a day from then on. BCAAs: Deliver protein to your muscles more efficiently and keep fatigue at bay for longer with BCAAs. Drink them in a fruity shake two to four times a day, including before, during and after a workout.

Micellar Casein: Your body does most of its recovery work when you rest at night. To aid that recovery and grow your muscles, take a portion of slow release protein, Micellar Casein before you go to bed.

Bolster your gains and max out in every gym session with the right nutrition to support your workouts. Whatever your fitness goals, with the right fuel, you’ll soon be on the road to success.

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

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Arabella Ogilvie

Arabella Ogilvie

Writer and expert

Arabella has a Bachelor of Science degree in Physiology from the University of Glasgow where she covered health topics ranging from the physiological effects of exercise and nutrition, to psychology and neuroscience. She has a lifelong interest in sport and fitness, including running, swimming, hockey, and especially rowing. At university, Arabella was a keen rower and competed in the first boat at events such as the prestigious Henley Women’s Regatta, The Scottish Boat Race, and British University Championships, and won Novice Rower of the year in her first year. In her spare time, Arabella loves to train in the gym and practice yoga and meditation. She is passionate about the natural world and will take any opportunity to be outdoors, be it hiking in the Scottish Highlands or conducting scientific research in the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest. Find out more about Arabella’s experience here.

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