What to Eat Pre and Post Workout – the Complete Guide

In the area of fitness, one question concerns almost everyone. Regardless of where you are in your fitness journey, you are likely to worry about what you should eat pre and post-workout. Both professional athletes and fitness enthusiasts constantly think about what they need to eat at different times for their workouts.

I personally had the same question when I started working out. If you too are stuck on this question, read on to learn more.


Different Diets and Needs

Knowing what to eat as you work out is as important as the workout itself. The food you eat affects the outcomes of your workout. While your diet determines how well you achieve the goals you set for your workouts, the goals determine the food you need to consume. Different people work out for different reasons. Some aim to lose weight while others just want to keep fit. Others work out for bodybuilding purposes. Thus, one person’s diet will differ from the other.

Other factors that will influence the diet you choose include your body type, religious convictions, and social convictions. The following are some of the more common and popular diets today. Each has a different impact on your body based on its macros composition.

Keto Diet

The ketogenic diet is a low-carbs, high-fats diet. It aims at utilizing fat for energy rather than carbohydrates. Since you will be taking more fat than carbs, your body will burn fat as fuel instead of carbohydrates. Thus, it reduces fat deposits in the body. It is ideal for reducing body mass.

The diet focuses on foods that provide healthy fats such as seeds, olive oil, avocados, Brazil nuts, oily fish, and coconuts. Some of its benefits include the management of epilepsy and diabetes, weight loss, and metabolic health. It may however also cause risks to people with type 1 diabetes.

The macro range for people following the ketogenic diet are 60-75% calories from fat, 15-30% from proteins and 5-10% from carbs.

Paleo Diet

The paleo diet is based on ancient practices of hunting and gathering. It proposes that your food intake should be similar to what your ancestors used to eat. The premise of this diet is that most diseases today are due to the processed foods, grains, and dairy we consume. Thus, it emphasizes eating fruits, lean protein, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. You may also take some dairy products such as butter and cheese. It discourages processed foods, grains, dairy, and sugar.

The composition of this diet means that you can end up consuming fewer calories and fewer carbs each day. That can help result in significant weight loss. Some of its benefits anchor around reducing health risks such as heart disease and blood pressure. It helps maintain healthy levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood triglycerides.

Someone following the paleo diet would consume 30% of its calories from protein, 40% from fat and 30% from carbs.

Vegan Diet

The vegan diet involves eliminating all animal products due to environmental, ethical, or health reasons. Some vegans base their decision on their stand on animal exploitation and cruelty. A person under the vegan diet will avoid eating products that originate from animals in one way or another. Common examples are meat, eggs, dairy, honey, whey, gelatin, casein, and albumin.

The vegan diet is very effective in weight loss. You do not have to worry about the calories you consume, as the diet is low on fat but high on fiber. This will help you feel more satisfied for longer. In addition to that, those who follow the vegan diet have better weight loss results because of the reduced calorie intake.

The vegan diet also helps reduce the risk of certain diseases due to it being a plant-based diet. It can help against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.

However following the vegan diet can also lead to a lower level in certain nutrients, like vitamin B2 and D, iron, iodine, zinc, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids.

A day following the vegan diet would consist of 25-30% calories from protein, 30-35% from fat and 40-45% from carbs.

Vegetarian Diet

Compared to the vegan diet, vegetarianism is an overall less strict diet. There are many forms of vegetarianism and some include animal-sourced foods like honey, dairy, and eggs. Not all animal-based products are accepted though, with foods like meat. The most popular forms of vegetarianism are lacto vegetarian diet, ovo-vegetarian diet, and lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. The difference between all of them is the acceptance of dairy and eggs, with lacto and ovo respectively.

The vegetarian diet does have numerous health benefits like lower risk of cancer and type 2 diabetes, lower cholesterol levels, being helpful in weight loss, and a healthier heart.

Your diet while following vegetarianism would consist of 30-35% calories from fat, 25-30% from protein, and 40-45% from carbs.

Atkins Diet

Overall the Atkins diet consists of eating more fat and protein and fewer carbs. This is an effective diet for weight loss due to it being low carbs because it will help reduce your appetite. This will help you suppress your hunger and help you eat fewer calories.

Unlike other diets, the Atkins diet actually has four different phases. Each phase even has its own consumption requirements. The 1st phase lasts about 2 weeks and requires you to eat <20 grams of carbs every day. From there you reintroduce healthy carbs back into your diet through the other phases until you hit your goal. This diet is believed to be more effective in weight loss than other low-fat diets.

Similar to other popular diets, the Atkins diet offers a range of health benefits. It can help improve your triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, and blood sugar. All of these can be factors that lead to diseases, therefore helping prevent some health problems in the future.

The Atkins diet also has 2 different variations you can participate in, Atkins 20 and Atkins 40. They both have their own macro compositions too.

Atkins 20 consists of: 60-70% calories from fat, 20-30% from protein, 5-10% from carbs.

Atkins 40 consists of: 55-65% calories from fat, 20-30% from protein, 10-15% from carbs.


What to Eat Pre-Workout

What you consume before your workout is crucial to having an effective and rewarding workout. Before a workout, you should eat foods that will give you the energy you need for your workout while keeping you hydrated. You should focus on foods rich in fats and starch. These will help sustain your energy throughout your workout. Your body will burn the fats and carbs consumed to energize you to achieve your best.

Protein is also an essential macro before your workout because it will help reduce the muscle damage you experience in your workout. If you plan on having a heavy meal before your workout you should plan to have it 2-3 hours beforehand, but lighter meals can be consumed 1 hour beforehand. It is strongly recommended to not eat a heavy meal less than an hour from your workout because your body will not be able to digest it and it could become a problem.

The food you eat largely depends on your training goals. For instance, if your intention is to lose weight, then your meal prior to your workout should consist of fewer carbs and more fats. That allows your body to burn fat for energy, thus reducing the accumulation of body fat.

Proteins

As you probably know, exercise is straining on your muscles. Proteins help increase your muscle size and they also help supply your body with amino acids that you will need in your workout. Your body derives 9 essential amino acids from your diet. Out of the nine, leucine, isoleucine, and valine are important for your workouts. That is because they increase muscle growth, decrease muscle soreness, reduce exercise fatigue, and prevent muscle wasting.

Carbs

Carbs are a pre-workout essential. That is because they provide the energy to fuel your training. They also help in recovery for the body. Carbs also stimulate the release of insulin, which improves the synthesis of proteins. They also, preserve your muscles’ glycogen.

Fats

Fats are a great alternative to carbs as a source of energy. In low-carb diets, the body burns fats to provide the energy you need to sustain your workout. Fats also slow down digestion, which maintains the levels of blood glucose and insulin.


What to Eat Post-Workout

Post-workout meals are about replenishing and repairing. The food you eat should help replenish the nutrients you depleted while working out. It should also help your body repair torn muscle tissues. You should not take too long after your workout to eat your meal. Ideally, your meal should be within 1-2 hours after your training session.

When your body is in recovery mode post-workout, it is best to feed it with carbs and proteins. That will help it replenish the depleted nutrients while also repairing the torn and worn out tissues.

Proteins

Proteins are key in body tissue repair. Thus, they are a necessity after a workout. The protein in your diet will help repair the wear and tear your muscles undergo during your workout. A high-protein meal is thus advisable for any diet after your workout.

Carbohydrates

Carbs help restore glycogen levels in your liver and muscles. After your workout, it is necessary to replenish your fuel tank by consuming carbs. While you may want to take refined carbohydrates, whole foods containing minimally processed carbohydrates provide better performance results.

Fats

Taking fats after exercise may slow down digestion as well as the absorption of nutrients. However, it does not have an adverse impact on your body. While post-workout meals should focus on carbs and protein, fat does not have any negative impact on your recovery.

Timing your meals after workouts are extremely important. Your body has a short window for optimum recovery. You should plan to eat during this 1-2 hour window to maximize efficient digestion and absorption of nutrients by the body. Eating after two hours means that your recovery will be slower. You also need to consider the time you took your pre-workout meal. A long time before you started means you should take your next meal almost as soon as you finish your workout.

There is also one thing that many may take for granted. While we may focus on what foods to eat, we should not forget that water is very important during workouts. You have to hydrate well before and after your workout sessions. Hydration ensures the body continues to function optimally.


Timing Your Meals

Whether it is before or after your workout, you need to time your meals well in order to get optimum results. In all diets, you need to allow yourself some time before you start exercising after you eat. Ideally, you should have at least 30 minutes between your meal and the start of your workout. The heavier your meal, the longer time you need between the meal and the workout. For heavy meals, you may need to eat 2-3 hours before the workout. Although you can take snacks 30 minutes prior to your workout.

For your post-workout meals, you also need a little time before you can take a heavy meal after completing your exercises. You may however take snacks a few minutes after your workout. Your post-workout meal should be within the first two hours of completing your session.

You also need to ensure that throughout the day, you are eating small amounts of food at regular intervals. That helps manage your calorie intake.


Pre and Post Workout Meal Examples

Keto Meal Ideas

Your pre-workout meal under the keto diet depends on your goals and the exercises you intend to do. However, generally, you need to consume protein and fat. That will provide you the energy you need. Focus more on fats than carbs as your source of fuel. A sample meal could be an egg white omelet along with spinach and feta cheese.

Post-workout, your meals should have more proteins than carbs. Thus, your meal should have foods rich in protein. A possible meal you could try can be roast chicken with Caesar salad and buffalo cauliflower.

Paleo Meal Ideas

For the paleo diet, you will be taking several small meals throughout the day rather than three large meals. Your pre-workout meals should constitute of lean red meat, turkey, chicken, or pork for protein as well as fresh raw or steamed vegetables such as kales, spinach, and green beans. A possible meal for you could be a baked yam, hard-boiled egg, olive oil, raw almond butter, and banana.

For your after-workout meals, avoid fats and fruits. You can have a meal containing teriyaki beef and broccoli loaded potatoes.

Vegan Meal Ideas

For the vegan diet, your pre-workout meal should consist of quality carbohydrates and a moderate amount of protein. The meal should be 3-4 hours before the workout, but you can have a snack 1-2 hours before the workout. For your pre-workout meal, you can have cooked sweet potato or 1-2 slices of whole-grain toast along with peanut butter and banana slices.

The post-workout meal should also have carbs and protein. You can have a meal consisting of baked beans on toast with roasted tomato and mushroom or tofu and vegetable ginger-soy stir-fry with rice.

Vegetarian Meal Ideas

You need to eat something 20-30 minutes before your workout. For the vegetarian diet, simple carbohydrates such as fruits or dates will be fine. However, the nature of your workout will also determine the food to take. Strength training sessions require more proteins while cardio routines require more carbohydrates. Your meal can be a Pesto, Mozzarella, and Egg Breakfast Sandwich.

You need to eat 1-2 hours post-workout. Whole foods are recommendable for your post-workout meal. Your after workout meal can be Black Bean Quinoa Salad With Basil Lemon Dressing.

You could also try the spaghetti squash orechietti mushroom soup as a possible meal for this diet.

Atkins Meal Ideas

The pre-workout meal should include one or two hard-boiled eggs, an Atkins Advantage bar, and almonds or olives. You could also have an Atkins ham, shake, or turkey roll-up in place of the Advantage bar. Other alternatives you could include in your meal include cottage cheese and Greek yogurt. For your pre-workout meal, you can have eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and almonds.

After a workout, you can have an Atkins Advantage shake or a low-carb meal such as a salad, which has a good combination of carbohydrates and proteins. The post-workout meal should include chicken, bran, spinach, and banana.

High-Protein Meal Ideas

For this diet, you will have more proteins in each meal. Your pre-workout meal can consist of Three eggs and vegetables, fried in coconut oil.

The post-workout meal will consist of Grilled Chicken Wings With Greens and Salsa. You can also have a dinner consisting of steak and vegetables.


Take-Away

Your body is what you consume. Sometimes we may overlook the importance of the food we eat to our fitness goals. The diets we partake can influence the outcomes of our workouts. Each of the diets we may choose has its goals, which determine the types of food you can take. You need to know what to eat before and after a workout for you to achieve the best results.

Other than the diet, some other key factors to consider for your pre and post-workout meals include the timing of the meals, the components and macros in each diet, and your workout goals and type of exercises.

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