When it comes to eating a pre and post-workout meal there is a lot of debate on what to eat, how long before and after exercise should you eat, and how much you should eat. This article will cover some of the basics of pre post-workout nutrition.


As with any aspect of nutrition, everyone has different needs, so these are just guidelines to follow.

Resistance Workout

A pre-workout meal should be ingested 2-3 hours prior to any activity. This will ensure enough time to digest the food and that the muscle energy stores are full. If you consume a pre-workout meal too close to the workout it can compromise digestion, causing upset stomach and cramping. The body will also have to redirect blood flow from the working muscles to the stomach in order to complete digestion. This will have a negative impact on the working muscle’s capacity to perform at its peak level. The pre-workout meal should contain complex carbohydrates and complete proteins. The total calories will be dictated be intensity, duration and the individual’s specific needs.

After a resistance workout, the body is in a state of catabolism. This is a state of the metabolism where internal components inside muscle fibers are being broken down for energy. This is because the body is attempting to repair the damaged tissue, remove waste from the muscles and to replace muscle glycogen. The need for a high protein and high carbohydrate meal is at the utmost importance at this time. The amount of protein and carbohydrates will be dictated by the intensity of the workout. If inadequate nutrition is ingested, following an intense workout, the body will remain in a state of catabolism. This will not allow the body to fully recover from a workout and will have a negative impact on the overall progress.

Aerobic Workout

Before an aerobic workout, a pre-workout meal should also be ingested. Since the liver has a storage capacity of 300-400 calories, and the bloodstream has no more than 100 calories, it is important to ensure that these stores are full prior to the workout. This equates to a 400-500 calorie pre-workout meal. The meal should be made up mostly by complex carbohydrates. Additional calories can be ingested; however a longer digestion time should be allowed to maximize performance.

When it comes to the post-aerobic workout meal, complex carbohydrates are the focus. The difficulty comes when trying to put an amount on the carbohydrates. It is generally recommended that 400-500 calories of complex carbohydrates with some complete proteins be in the post workout meal. If the workout was very intense, 100 calories of simple sugar can be ingested to immediately restore blood sugar levels.

Force Feeding after a Workout?

Mike Mentzer was the first person to introduce the practice of eating carbohydrates post workout. After his initial theories were upheld over time it has become the common practice to use carbohydrates post workout for recovery. Force feeding is a process of ingesting a simple sugar immediately following a resistance workout while at the same time performing a low intensity aerobic activity, such as walking on a treadmill. The reason this works to your benefit is that it will accelerate recovery while minimizing the storage of unwanted fat. It will take the body from a state of catabolism to anabolism more quickly and prevent the unnecessary breakdown of tissue. It should be taken into consideration however that if a client is diabetic that you make the appropriate considerations.

What Kind of Proteins and Carbohydrates?

While there are many different protein and carbohydrate drinks on the market, we will be discussing natural sources in this section. Protein and carbohydrates drinks are effective but they should not replace a meal if it can be avoided.

For protein you should focus on lean meats, such as chicken, fish and lean red meat. Other less common meat sources are buffalo, turkey, elk, and other game animals. Milk and eggs are also good sources. Vegans can still get a solid source of protein from soy products, and tofu. The key is to make sure that you ingest a clean source of complete protein to avoid excess fat. A complete protein contains all the necessary amino acids in one source. Incomplete proteins can be consumed at the same time to make up a complete protein, but, it is easier to get them from one source.

Complex carbohydrates can come from many sources such as breads, legumes, pasta, rice, and others. These sources also contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals which are also important. In the case of replacing simple sugar, or force feeding, fruits and their juices can be used. The amount of simple sugars is again determined by the duration and intensity of the workout. The more intense the workout, the more calories can be consumed.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to your pre and post-workout meals, remember to take into consideration your total caloric intake so that you do not overdo it. Getting proper nutrition around your workouts is crucial to any success there’s to be had during the workout. Without proper nutrition and a pre-workout meal the body cannot perform to its fullest capacity. If a post-workout meal is lacking in the needed nutrients, the body will not recover properly, leading to overtraining and poor overall results.


1. National Federation of Professional Trainers, Fitness Nutrition Specialist Manual, 3rd Edition 2008, 30-37

2. http://www.newhealthguide.org/Complete-Protein-Foods.html

3. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/imagepages/19529.htm

About the Author

Blake Wade is currently serving NFPT as its Vocational Director. With his 10 years experience in the fitness industry , his NFPT CPT certification, and his subject matter expertise in SMT testing, Blake is equipped and prepared to answer questions NFPT trainers may have about exercise science and physiology.


These resources are for the purpose of personal trainer growth and development through Continuing Education which advances the knowledge of fitness professionals. This article is written for NFPT Certified Personal Trainers to receive Continuing Education Credit (CEC). Please contact NFPT at 800.729.6378 or info@nfpt.com with questions or for more information.