Some of the most common questions my clients ask have to do with pre and post-workout meals. Some of which include, “should I be eating before I work out?” “What should I eat?” “What if I workout at 5am and I’m not hungry?”
The simple answer: absolutely, everyone should eat prior to working out. It’s like the old “running on an empty tank” analogy. Even if you don’t feel hungry, your body needs the proper fuel for the energy you expend during your workout. My rule of thumb is to eat within an hour before and an hour after. I’m often caught eating out of Tupperware in the gym parking lot! Now, there are many conflicting opinions on meal timing. I won’t get any more into meal timing in this post, but I will give examples of WHAT to eat as a pre or post-workout meal.
For those that say they’re just not hungry, I can assure you, once you begin to fuel properly, and as long as you’re giving your all in every gym session, your metabolism will rev up as you change your eating habits. I know because I was once someone who “didn’t feel hungry.” Crazy to think of that time now since I’m always ravenous these days! On days that I forget to eat or just don’t feel the same hunger, I almost always slacked in the gym that morning or the day prior.
So, what should we eat and how much? Again, this is widely controversial. The following is the way I break my macros down and the foods I eat. This is the way I was originally taught when I started counting macros and it hasn’t failed me yet. I suggest similar meals to my clients, but no matter what advice I, or anyone else gives you, always remember that macros and how an individual breaks them up throughout the day are highly dependent on an individual’s body, their metabolism, and the way their body reacts to certain foods. In addition, I am not a nutritionalist or a registered dietitian, so don’t take my word (or anyone else’s) as the end all be all. The best way to see what works for your body is to try something, stick to it for several weeks, and see how it works for your body.
First, the macros:
Carbohydrates: I suggest eating 25% more carbohydrates pre and post-workout then any other meal. For example, if my carbs for every other meal of the day were 32g, I’d eat 40g of carbs in both of my pre and post meals. I have read articles from others where the individual suggests eating up to 50% of the daily carb total in the pre and post timeframe. The main takeaway is you want to get the bulk of your carbohydrates in around your workout.
Protein: For protein, I simply split the total amount between all my meals for the day. For example, if my goal is to eat 150g of protein per day and I plan on eating 6 meals, each meal will be comprised of 25g of protein. Nothing more or less around my workout.
Fats: This is the one macronutrient that most people ignore in their pre and post workout meals. They will concentrate on protein and carb intake, and whatever the fat ends up being is what they consume without much thought. I strive to eat as little fat as possible near my workout time. Now, I’ve heard the argument that you need fat with your pre-workout to slow digestion and keep the body fueled throughout the workout. I couldn’t disagree more. Rather, by having a lack of fat, the body is able to quickly digest the meal and store the carbs as glycogen in the muscle.
The same goes for fiber. Fiber slows down digestion which is great for any other meal outside of the 1-2 hours surrounding the workout. Therefore, I consume carbs low in fiber only pre and post. Think of simple, fast-digesting carbs.
What exactly do I suggest?
The following are simple meals I commonly eat pre and post. The amount of each food is going to vary widely from person to person. Therefore, I won’t be giving amounts.
- Oatmeal and eggwhites
- English muffin and low-fat sausage or ham
- Lean ground turkey and jasmine rice
- Sweet potato and lean ground meat
- My all-time favorite–Bagel and whey isolate shake
- Protein pancakes or waffles
- Low fat greek yogurt, granola, and berries
What do you eat pre and post-workout? Do you follow any specific “rules?” I’d love to hear what works for you! Leave a comment below.