Fuel Your Fitness: Pre & Post Workout Nutrition
Are you always hungry after a workout? Or do you feel low on energy if you don’t eat before training? If so, you may not be fuelling yourself correctly during the day or pre and post workout. You may need some nutritional support, or a healthy snack to help satisfy your hunger, fuel your workout, or aid in muscle recovery.
Choosing the right food and nutrients before exercising can make all the difference to your energy levels during a workout. Carbohydrates are our bodies preferred use of energy (we like carbs for a reason)! We store small amounts of carbohydrates in our liver and muscles in a form called glycogen. Our liver breaks this down into glucose during exercise and releases it into the bloodstream for energy. Our brain and muscle use this glucose, as well as their own residual glycogen stores, to fuel their work. We feel fatigued when our glycogen stores get depleted, resulting in harder to sustain higher levels of intensities during training. Appropriate carbohydrate intake is vital and will determine how much glycogen is stored in the body for use during training.
It’s important to remember that food can only work as fuel once it’s been absorbed, so make sure you have enough time for digestion to ensure optimal performance (a full meal 3-4 hours before, or, a light snack 1-2 hours before training), then get that body moving!
I also want to note that this information needs to be applied in general terms, as we all have completely different genetic makeups, and how much fuel your body needs depends on numerous factors, such as your genetics, lifestyle, activity levels of your training session, fitness goals, disease state, nervous system, hormonal system, metabolism.
Depending on your workout routine, a pre-workout may or may not be needed. For example, if you are doing a light exercise session for under 30 minutes such as walking, cardio machines (elliptical or biking) you most likely will not need any form of pre-workout. If you are engaging in a longer more intensive exercise sessions such as HIIT, circuit training, heavy weight lifting or a combination of the above, a pre-work may benefit you to provide you an extra energy boost to power through your workout.
If you’ve eaten a big meal 2-4 hours before your workout (filled with protein, healthy fats and whole grain carbohydrates), chances are you can get away without a pre-workout snack.
So, to maximize the result of your training session try eating one of the balanced meals below 2-4 hours prior to training. Good options include:
- Oatmeal topped with banana, greek or coconut yoghurt and a handful of nuts (you could also add 1 scoop of protein for an extra boost)
- Lean protein with brown rice, half a plate full of non-starchy vegetables and avocado
- A salad containing sweet potato, eggs/lean protein, nuts and lots of non-starchy vegetables
- Omelette or scrambled/poached eggs on sourdough or gluten-free toast topped with avocado and a side salad or steamed greens veggies
- Quinoa + beans (chickpeas/black beans etc) + lots of non-starchy veggies + a handful of seeds/nuts drizzled in olive oil
If this is not possible, consume a pre-workout snack 30 – 60 minutes prior to training containing carbohydrates and some protein which is simple and easy to digest. Good options include:
- 1 fruit (such as a banana, berries) with some yoghurt or a handful of nuts
- Protein smoothie – 1 serving protein + 1 banana
- 1 piece of sourdough, gluten free or paleo brad with banana, nut butter, or avocado
- 2 medjool dates with 1 tbsp nut butter
You should aim to refuel your body within 30-60 minutes post-training (partially important if you’ve had an intensive HIIT workout for an hour or longer). Your body needs carbs to replenish glycogen stores and protein to replenish and rebuild the muscles you have just work. It’s important to consume carbs and protein together as insulin secretion, which promotes glycogen synthesis is better stimulated when they are consumed in the same meal.
If you workout early in the morning, before lunch or dinner then a whole food meal would be the perfect and ideal way to refuel your body, for example:
- Oatmeal with a scoop of protein, 1 fruit, greek or coconut yoghurt and/or a handful of nuts
- Eggs with leafy greens, avocado, tomato and 1-2 pieces sourdough, gluten free or paleo bread
- Protein smoothie – try my ‘go-to’ protein breakfast smoothie
- Sweet potato salad with avocado, lean meat or eggs drizzled in olive oil and lemon juice
- Salmon, brown rice, steam green veggies
If you’re on-the-go and not having a meal for a few hours here are a few post-workout snack ideas:
- Protein smoothie – 1 serve protein + banana/berries, coconut water/almond milk
- 2 boiled eggs
- Greek or coconut yoghurt with a handful of nuts, handful of berries/banana (can add 1 scoop protein)
- 1 fruit + handful of nuts
Hi I’m Natalie, a Registered Clinical Nutritionist, health influencer, blog writer & recipe creator. My own health complications prompted me to make positive diet & lifestyle changes, revitalize my health leading to a career change from the corporate world to nutritional medicine. I believe in a wholefoods approach to good health, focusing on simple strategies for modern, busy people.