The Deal With Pre & Post Workout Meals
“Don’t eat before a workout.”
“You should have protein before training.”
“No, Save the protein for post exercise.”
“Never ever skip breakfast.”
What's The Right Answer?
There are so many schools of thought out there on when and what we should be eating before and after a workout. In my years of working as both a personal trainer and nutritionist in Dubai, I've gotten asked about this topic countless times. So, I’m going to try and tackle all those questions for you but the most important thing to remember is: Everybody is different. What works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you and vice versa. What you can do is try out different methods and meal times until you find a system that works for you!
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Why Eat Pre Workout?
Your pre workout meal determines the effort you’ll be able to put in your workout. If you eat something before your training session, it will give you the power you need to push through a workout more than you thought you could!
There are those people that can workout on an empty stomach or what we call a fasted state, but that doesn’t have to mean it would be the same for you (I know I’m not, I’ll tell you about that in a second).
Having a proper meal 1 to 3 hours before a workout could significantly improve your performance because your body will have the energy it needs to burn during a session. Now if you’re someone who is not eating properly before your workout session, you could risk using the muscles you’ve been building to be broken down and used for energy! That’s usually a nightmare for anyone that’s been working hard at increasing their muscle mass. So if you haven’t been seeing progress with your results and your muscle mass, it’s a good idea to check in and see if you should be adding a pre-workout meal to give your body the energy it needs from the right source instead of (God forbid) breaking down your muscles for energy!
For a while, I tried intermittent fasting, and since I train in the morning, it meant that I was training in a fasted state. At first, I thought it would be impossible because I’m so used to having breakfast every morning before working out. But lo and behold, I was able to do it for a good 3-4 months actually! However, at some point I was lifting heavier weights and I started to get frustrated that I was getting tired in the session and there were even 2 sessions where I actually started seeing stars because of low sugar! That’s when I knew fasted training wasn’t for me and I needed to be fuelled and full before my workouts. So, that’s how I learned my lesson and had to listen to my body and feed it before the gym.
Pre Training Meals
So you’ve decided to go for the pre workout meal, good for you! Here’s what needs to be on your plate: carbs and protein. The carbs are there for the energy and the protein is there to take care of your muscles and give them the amino acids they need. Some examples of pre workout meals include:
- Overnight oats
- Whole grain bread with 2 hard boiled eggs
- Protein shake with banana
- Greek yogurt and fruit
- Pasta with minced meat
- Grilled chicken with sweet potato
What makes it a meal or a snack?
Whether it’s a meal or a snack depends on the portion you’re having. Having ½ cup of greek yogurt with ½ cup of blueberries is a snack in my book. Whereas having 2 hard boiled eggs with 2 toasts would definitely be considered a meal. It doesn't matter what you choose in this scenario as long as you feel like it’s enough fuel for your workout.
How would you know if it’s enough fuel? By trial and error, just like my story earlier about seeing stars in the workout meant that I needed to have carbs before my training session.
There were a few instances when I bought energy balls at the gym and had them before my training session because of how hungry I was. Some days don’t always go as planned and that’s normal. You could get a surprise meeting or forget your meal and snack at home, so it’s just important to always have a plan B! Mine is almost always energy balls.
Why Eat Post Workout?
You can think of post-training meals with the equal importance of your workout intensity. The effort you put in the gym will only show if you’re eating properly after your workout. Post training meals are important to help you replenish all the nutrients you lost during training such as protein and glycogen. You’d also be relieving sore muscles quicker and increase your body’s ability to build, strengthen, and repair muscle.
Have you experienced a time where you felt weak for days or felt like you can’t go to the gym anymore because of a hard week’s training? That can be due to not eating post workout.
Will You Gain Weight With Post Training Meals?
Absolutely not, if you’re eating the right quantity and type of food! You’re not supposed to be starving yourself to weight loss! You’ll be surprised to know that the reason a lot of people don’t see results from their workouts is because they don’t have a proper post-workout meal.
The problem is if you’re working out on an empty stomach, you’re only going to get hungrier, especially with a tough strength workout. People tend to rush to the nearest dining spot and order everything on the menu, which could cause weight gain if the meal isn’t made up of the right food groups. The solution? PLAN, plan, and plan some more.
Try preparing and taking a meal with you to the gym so you don’t go off track. It’s also worth considering packing dates or a small snack before the gym so you’re not distracted by hunger pangs during your crunches.
Post Workout Meal Options
Some studies show that to get the ultimate benefits from post workout nutrition you should aim to have your meal immediately or up to 2 hours afterwards. This is why you’ll find lots of athletes drinking their protein smoothies right then and there at the gym. The benefits of having a shake in particular is because liquid digests faster than solids so your protein intake will be absorbed quicker.
Here are some delicious meal options you can prep before you go off to training that will be right there waiting for you:
- Grilled chicken with wheat pasta on long grain rice and roasted veggies.
- Omelette with avocado spread on whole grain bread.
- Quinoa with protein (turkey, chicken, meat, salmon, tuna).
- Protein shake with water (from the gym), get a carb on the side like a banana, berries, dates, apple, etc.
- Protein shake mixed with oats.
- Greek yogurt with fruit and any nut butter.
- Don’t be afraid of dairy! Whole milk can help with muscle strengthening. Make a protein shake with milk and fruits to take to the gym with you.
- Crackers with hummus or tuna.
- Some people pack their boiled eggs or also find them at the gym cafeteria.
- I love sweet potatoes, so I ask the gym cafeteria to prepare them for me for a post workout snack with a protein shake.
Be mindful of the fats added to these shakes from seeds, nut butters, and nuts. Yes, they’re all healthy but you don’t necessarily need them post-workout.
Should I Eat After A Late Night Workout?
If muscle gain is the name of the game, then of course you should. You would need to have protein and carbs. Why? Because like I mentioned, this is how muscle gets built and fuelled effectively. So what you need to do is factor in that last meal. If you’re going to the gym late at night, don’t have your dinner before or at least save a snack portion as your post-workout option. Just remember: strength training plus post-workout meal for dinner plus plenty of sleep equals hello results!
Here are some quick and fast meals and snacks that you can have after a night workout to get your nutrients:
- Salmon salad
- Roasted chickpeas if you feel like going for a vegan option
- Omelette or egg sandwich
- Baked sweet potato with a side of chicken or tuna
- Low fat dairy like chocolate milk
- A healthy protein bar, shake, or ball
You pre and post workout meals are game changers to your results. Work your meals around them and you’re likely to see a huge transformation in your body. But of course, you have to keep in mind the rest of the meals you’re eating to make sure you’re giving your body what it needs and not more.
So here’s what I want you to think about after reading this: What are your action points?
- What’s your pre workout snack or meal going to be?
- What’s your post workout snack or meal going to be?
- Are you taking these meals with you to the gym or to work?
Don’t leave these things unplanned because as you know, if you fail to plan then you plan to fail. Since you’re reading these types of blog posts, I know you’re looking for success.
I hope this helped you guys out! I’m always curious to hear what works for you and what doesn’t, so send me a message with the discoveries you've made!