Pre and Post Workout Meals

Information written by Jake Wesney, BS Nutrition


Whether prepping for a game or lifting in the off-season, there are simple steps an athlete can take that can help optimize their training and help them perform better. Never train or play without eating a meal sometime prior to exercise. Without that source of energy, the body relies on its own fuel stores, which are limited, and will cause the body to fatigue much quicker. This can also cause hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, that can become a very serious condition.


Consume a predominately carbohydrate and protein diet throughout the day leading up to training. This will flood the body with energy to store and circulate. Daily activities need energy as well, not just training. If the good meal is withheld until right before training, the body will not perform optimally because of insufficient energy stores. The meal should consist mostly of carbohydrates, preferably whole wheat sources. High sugar sources found in energy drinks can cause a great increase in energy that is quickly followed by a “crash” that can inhibit a person’s ability. Fat content should be minimal or non-existent in order to increase absorption of more important nutrients.


To assure proper digestion and absorption of needed nutrients, an athlete can take precautions based on the consistency of the meal: Hours before exercise: Large, solid food - 3-4 hours (a four-course meal with meat, fruits, vegetables, starches) Small, solid food - 2-3 hours (includes mostly carbohydrate, rice, pasta, cereal, little to no fat) Liquid meal - 1-2 hours (this would include a meal-replacement shake, Slim-fast, Boost If competing in multiple events or practices during a single day, a small snack like a granola or cereal bar could be consumed in between while the body is resting to replenish some of the energy stores.


Don’t experiment with unfamiliar foods that may upset the stomach. Stick with foods that have been consumed before.


Caffeine use for pre-event should be discouraged because of the inevitable crash from the supplement. The body becomes tolerant of caffeine’s effect and will cause energy metabolism to slow after an initial increase.


Post-Workout Meal Consuming meal after training or competition is important because: After training, an athlete’s body has used most of the energy from carbohydrate found in the blood and in glycogen stores found in muscle cells. A meal after a workout will work to replenish the levels of carbohydrate in the blood and these stores. If this isn’t done, the next workout or competition could be affected. Without a meal after training, the fat cells AND muscle cells of the body will begin to break down in order to provide the body with the energy it needs to sustain itself. This could lead to unintentional weight loss, more specifically loss of muscle mass.


The meal should be consumed anywhere between 15 – 60 minutes after exercise. This window is considered the time where nutrients are absorbed the quickest and used most efficiently for recovery. After this time, the body begins to break down muscle tissue to create an energy source.


Post-workout meal contents:

Protein: Without a source of protein, the muscle cells that were broken down during exercise will not have the ability to rebuild themselves and that muscle mass will be lost. Milk, egg white, or small servings of meat would all be good protein sources in a post-workout situation.

Carbohydrate: Carbohydrates act as a protein sparing nutrient by being used for energy rather than letting the body break down muscle tissue. This will work to replenish blood and muscle glycogen that has been used during exercise. Carbohydrate also releases insulin, a hormone in the body that acts to carry nutrients from the digestive tract to cells that need a source of energy, like muscle cells. Without carbohydrate in a post-workout meal, the muscle cells will not get the protein as quickly. Chocolate milk Contains a carbohydrate source to initiate an insulin response and to replace used carbohydrate from exercise. Contains a sources of protein in a liquid form that can be digested quicker that a solid food. Contains vitamins, calcium, and iron, all nutrients that are needed for muscle movement and bone formation.



Dehydration has a negative effect on performance, recovery, and normal daily functions. The blood becomes thicker and harder for the heart to pump throughout the body, decreasing the body’s ability to extract needed nutrients. It is inefficient to only hydrate during and after exercise. Pre-existing dehydration (dehydration of an athlete before exercise) can have a detrimental effect on an athlete’s performance. Hydrating throughout the morning, afternoon, and night, will prevent this pre-existing state and hydrate the athlete before, during, and after training. Because sodium is the dominant mineral in sweat, it is important to replenish these sodium stores.

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