Pre & Post Workout Nutrition: What Is It & Do You Need?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that if you didn’t slam down a protein shake as soon as you’ve finished your workout you’ll lose all your gains, wither and die.
This is the power of the supplement industry.
The truth is that whilst workout nutrition has its place in your diet, it is not the be all and end all most think it to be. In fact, there are much more important factors (calories & macros) when it comes to changing your body.
However, having said this there are still times when workout nutrition can be useful, this article will explore what workout nutrition is, when you need it and how to take it.
What Is Workout Nutrition?
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
- 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
- Reducing 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.
If you have more time then you can opt for a solid meal.
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 within 30 -45 minutes of finishing your workout.
This post-workout meal is important for helping your body recover and repair. Eating a post-workout meal will help with the following;
- The reduction of muscle fatigue and soreness
- Replenish muscle glycogen (stored energy) that was used in your workout
- Increase muscle protein synthesis (1) and reduce the muscle protein breakdown 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. Both options are valid and one is not necessarily better than the other.
What’s Best For The Average Gym Goer?
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 are 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 over the 24-hour day period there is no particular benefit gained from having a post-workout meal.
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.
However, if you decide not to eat a post-workout meal or simply can’t for whatever reason then remember to meet your daily calories needs in full and you’ll be good to go.
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 building muscle or losing fat for aesthetic and health purposes.
The fact is there are factors of bigger importance;
- Total calorie intake
- Macronutrient ratios
Which are much easier to stick to and have a greater overall effect on body composition in the long-term.
The simple truth is that whether you eat 30 mins after your workout or 2 hours before are not going to make or break your workout success.
I for one have stopped adhering so tightly to the structure of pre and post workout nutrition but am still keen to see how this area of research develops in the future and will either update this article or write a new one as this topic develops.