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Pre and Post Workout Nutrition

Starting points

  • ‘Let food be thy medicine’ : Base your meal choices on whole, unprocessed foods
  • ‘What goes in must come out’:  Focus on calorie balance – This works both ways: Avoid the temptation to dramatically lower calories and over-exercise in an attempt to lose weight.
  • ‘You can’t out-exercise a bad diet’: Choose nutrient dense foods that provide protein, healthy fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals. We eat to not only provide our body with energy, but also to nourish and support our bodily processes.


A pre-workout meal is a whole foods meal that falls preferably within 2-3 hours of your workout. When you eat the right foods in the right amounts these nutrients can offer a number of benefits, including:

1) More Energy – Filling up your bodies’ energy (glycogen) stores before exercising can help improve your energy levels, strength, endurance and overall performance during a workout.

2) Protect Your Hard Earned Muscle – When you exercise at a high intensity (such as in GRIT), especially with heavy weights, an un-fuelled body may break down muscle tissue to use it as energy. A pre-workout meal can help prevent muscle breakdown and improve muscle recovery and repair.

3) Increased Muscle Growth – Eating protein before exercise can help slowly release amino acids (the building blocks of muscle) into your blood stream, promoting protein synthesis.

To obtain these benefits your pre- workout meal needs two things: Protein and Carbohydrates.

Protein Why: Provides your body with Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), which can help increase the rate of protein synthesis and decrease protein breakdown during your workout. Sources: Lean meat, seafood, eggs, dairy, legumes, protein powder. How much: Aim for a palm size portion

Carbohydrate  Why: Provides a steady stream of energy to fuel your workout and will top-up muscle glycogen stores to help prevent muscle break-down. Sources: Low GI carbohydrates (slower release into blood stream) such as sweet potato, brown rice, oats, natural or Greek yoghurt, sprouted grain bread. How much: Aim for a fist sized portion

Fat: Fat takes longer to digest (6-8 hours) so your pre-workout meal should be relatively low in fat to ensure your meal has digested prior to you exercising. Limit fatty foods and include your healthy fat sources earlier in the day.

The challenge is knowing how much food your body can handle pre-workout: Some people can eat a full meal as little as an hour before a workout, while others may need to wait 3-4 hours. This is based on trial-and-error and your own personal experience.

Post- Workout  Exercise, whilst beneficial, is a significant physiological stressor, and may include symptoms such as muscle soreness, the need for extra sleep, and an increased appetite. These symptoms let us know that the exercise has depleted the muscle’s energy resources, caused some minor damage, and that the muscle is in need of replenishment and repair. If you do not replace these resources, the repair and repletion process will come to a standstill. Therefore, while you may be training harder or lifting more, you may not be seeing the results. Put simply: If you don’t put adequate nutrients in the tank, you cannot expect to get anything out of it.

Generally, post-workout nutrition has three specific purposes:

1)  Replenish glycogen (energy) and protein stores – Both become depleted with high intensity exercise.

2)  Decrease protein breakdown – Protein is broken down post-workout to help rebuild damaged muscle tissue. Ingesting protein provides the body with protein ‘building blocks’ to help prevent this.

3)  Increase protein synthesis– Carbohydrates and protein are used as a fuel to help muscle repair and rebuild.

Similarly to our pre workout meal, your post workout meal requires two things to achieve this: Protein and Carbohydrate. So our post workout meal will look very similar to our pre workout meal: Moderate protein (palm size), moderate carbohydrate (fist size) and low fat. As the body is replacing instead of topping-up glycogen stores this is where you can also include some higher GI carbohydrate sources if you want, such as fruit, white rice and potato. Otherwise stick to your lower GI sources as previously mentioned.
There are some exceptions to carbohydrate intake, based on exercise intensity and your goals. For example: someone doing a moderately intense yoga session will not need nearly as many carbohydrates post workout as someone training for a marathon. As a general rule: The higher your workout intensity, the more carbohydrates your body needs post workout. Listen to your body: If you feel drained or lethargic coming in to an exercise session experiment with an increase in carbohydrates pre/post workout.
 “The window of opportunity”

This is the period of time after exercise when your muscles are primed to accept nutrients to stimulate muscle repair and growth. This window opens immediately after your workout and starts to close pretty quickly. Research suggests that while protein synthesis persists for at least 48 hours after exercise, it is recommended to eat within 2 hours.

Fluid Exercise increases our daily fluid needs and we lose large amounts of water during exercise, mostly in the form of sweat.  Maintaining your hydration level is not only important for performance and safety, but also for optimal recovery. Weigh yourself pre and post exercise and aim to replace your fluid loss as soon as possible PLUS 50%

For example, if you lost 1 kg (1000 mL), you will need to drink 1500  mL to fully re-hydrate. Drink fluids immediately post workout, with your recovery meal and over the following 2-4 hours to achieve this goal.

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