Pre, During & Post Workout – What should I be eating?

“My favourite exercise is a cross between a lunge and a crunch...I call it “lunch.””

What is your post workout meal look like? Do you go Paleo and go for the Chicken & Sweet Potato or do you go for the supplement option with a Whey Protein Shake? Or do you do nothing and just wait until your next meal?

Depending on your training goals and the style, intensity and length of your training sessions will determine whether you have need of strict pre, during and post nutrition guidelines.  If you are a games athlete training 3-5 times per day, an endurance athlete, or are regularly competing in full day or 2 day competitions you will most likely require a structured meal plan to ensure you are performing at your best and recovering from each session and the increased workload. If you don’t fall into one of these categories, like the majority of us, what you eat immediately before, during and immediately post workout will not be as important and just making sure you stick to eating balanced and healthy meals will be all the recovery you need.

When training in events/workouts lasting less than 1.5 hours, which for most of us is usually capped at about a 1 hour session per day, our pre, during and post nutrition isn’t as critical as for those training in workouts/events lasting more than 2 hours. (Max Wunderle, CrossFit Journal, 2017, Our body will have sufficient glycogen stores (the body’s long-term energy stores) available to fuel your training performance up to 1.5 hours or roughly 2000 calories. Generally sticking to our Paleo and/or our Zone requirements will be sufficient nutrition to aid training performance and recovery post training. The biggest focus, depending on what your goals are (e.g. Building size or dropping body fat) will be around replenishing the calories burnt rather than specific fuelling for training.

Eating before exercise (workouts less than 1.5 hours):

Eating before exercise, your pre workout meal, will be largely centred around two things; one your body’s efficiency of digesting food, and two; the time you workout. I know for myself personally, I find it hard to train on a full stomach and will require a minimum of 1.5-2 hours to digest my food before I start warming up. Each individual may be different. So if you have the time to consume a meal before your training session, this meal should reflect one of your zone block meals, generally a main meal but a snack is fine as well. The meal should contain carbs, fats and proteins at balanced levels with the goal of satisfying your hunger, potentially restocking carbohydrate stores depleted by the overnight fast, optimizing your performance and preparing the body to recover quickly post exercise.

If you train early and have limited time to prepare, eat and digest a full meal before you train, it is fine to train in sessions lasting no longer than 1-1.5 hours on an empty stomach, otherwise select foods that have low levels of fibre, such as a banana and 3 hard boiled eggs and consume 30-60 minutes before you workout. Another really important factor to consider before you workout is your hydration level. Make sure you hydrate well before exercise and take in water within an hour of your workout.

Eating during exercise:

This is an area where there is a lot of confusion. Assuming you have followed adequate nutrition in the days/hours leading up to your workout than no extra nutrition is required during any training sessions lasting anywhere between 0-90 minutes in length. The only recommendations I will make is to stay hydrated throughout your workout by drinking roughly 125ml of water for every 10 minute block of time. So for a 60 minute workout, aim to consume approximately 750ml of water during your workout to stay well hydrated.

For sessions lasting longer than 90 minutes it will then become important to replenish both carbohydrates and sodium through taking in a sports drink or gels with water.

Eating immediately following your workout (within 30 mins):

 Following a workout, usually within 30-60 minutes, is what has been referred to as the post workout nutrition window where your body goes into a state of increased protein and glycogen synthesis which can be maximized by consuming quickly absorbed carbohydrates and protein.

According to Max Wunderle, “a blend of carbohydrate and protein to the tune of 3:1 or 4:1 is ideal. This ratio ensures a quick channelling of carbohydrate to the muscles to replenish glycogen and includes much-needed protein for muscle repair.”

Good food choices here from a Paleo perspective may include sweet potatoes and bananas as your carbohydrate source and egg whites or lean chicken as your protein option. Another recommendation would be to consume a protein shake, as liquid meals are normally digested and absorbed at a slightly quicker pace than a comparable solid-food meal. (Chris Mason, Optimized Post-Workout Nutrition for the CrossFit athlete, 2010). The common thought is that the faster you can make amino acids (protein) and glucose (carbs) available to the muscle cells, the greater the potential post workout recovery response.

This post workout carb/protein meal isn’t always a necessity. As mentioned earlier if you have adequate nutrition the day/meal before you train and have been maintaining a balanced, clean and healthy diet, returning home after your tough CrossFit class, preparing and then eating your breakfast or dinner of carbs, fats and proteins will be sufficient nutrition to support recovery post workout.

Your pre, during and post workout nutrition does not have to be a calculated headache. For most of us, maintaining a balanced, healthy zone portioned meal plan with regular meals throughout the day will be ideal for achieving our body composition and fitness performance goals. One area, however, I would recommend being observant of is your hydration during the time of your workout sessions. Ensuring you are staying hydrated will be an important factor in staying alert and ready during your training, as well as, assisting in your recovery post workout.

Every time you eat is an opportunity to nourish your body, recover from past workouts and prepare for future tough, challenging and fun training sessions! Every meal is your opportunity to get stronger, leaner and fitter...don’t miss your next one!


Coach Jared.

Here is some references and useful articles and books if you want to learn more:

L. Cordain & J. Friel, The Paleo Diet for Athletes: The Ancient Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance, 2012.