What To Eat Before & After Your Workout To Maximize Benefits

Fueling your body before and after a workout is a key component in maximizing the effects of said workout. After all, who wants to work hard and see subpar results? Nobody. That’s like, the whole opposite of the entire point. You already bought your cute workout clothes and dragged your ass to the gym, and (hopefully) actually like, tried to put in ~werk~ and didn’t just half-ass it. But what you do at the gym isn’t the only thing that factors into your weight loss or other fitness goals—what you eat before and after your workout can kind of make or break your efforts as well. What should you eat before your workout? Should you eat at all? And after your workout, what should you eat so your muscles can recover, but you don’t undo all the progress you just made? These are the types of questions I get from my clients a lot. I’m going to help you break down what to eat before and after your workout so you can get the most benefits and not completely sabotage your efforts.

View this post on Instagram

i’m gonna go with a healthy dose of both | @bandanatraining

A post shared by diet starts tomorrow (@dietstartstomorrow) on

Pre-Workout Nutrition

Okay, so I generally fall into two camps here for pre-workout nutrition. If it is early in the morning, like a 5am-6am workout, I understand not eating pre-workout. What’s more, if the workout consists of a morning jog or mainly endurance cardio (the treadmill, elliptical, Stair Master, etc.) it is totally fine to not eat before.

HOWEVER. If you’re about to go lift weights or do HIIT training, a completely empty stomach could potentially make you dizzy and interfere with your ability to do as much as you want to in the gym (and also be dangerous). The reason for this is when you’re running on completely empty, the body has already depleted its glycogen store (which is used for quick energy—it’s a reason athletes carb-load prior to a game). This is where I am an advocate of waking up earlier (yeah, I know, I know) so you can actually try to eat something before.

Now, if you’re an afternoon/evening gym rat, then I’m sincerely hoping you’re not working out still fasted from the night before. A mix of protein and carbohydrates will give you the proper nutrition you need to work out. Stay away from anything with a lot of fat content, because fat takes longer to digest than carbohydrates and protein, so it’ll kinda just sit there for a while and cause cramps while you work out. A good example of a pre-workout snack is a bowl of berries, a piece of toast, and two eggs. That’s a pretty optimal meal anyway, but it’s not too big to mess with you during the workout if you have to go right to the gym after eating.

What I find works best for me is having a proper meal about two hours before I workout. I’m a PM-er, so I workout later in the day after lunch. My lunch could be anything from lentil pasta arrabbiata and chicken breast to ground turkey salad. I give myself time to digest after, then I find I’m able to really go hard in the gym.

Also, it’s pretty common sense, but fuel more for a more strenuous workout. So you’re definitely going to want to eat more before a leg workout (larger muscle groups = more sweaty, more tiring—I have an article coming on this later) than for an arms/abs workout (smaller muscle groups).

View this post on Instagram

you’re lying if this doesn’t make you want chips and salsa rn | @morgan_ann3

A post shared by diet starts tomorrow (@dietstartstomorrow) on

Post-Workout Nutrition

The reason post-workout nutrition, to me, is more important than pre-workout nutrition is because the body requires replenishment after being depleted of energy. Now, amino acids (or protein) play a super key role here because you want the proteins to help your muscle fibers heal and kickstart your recovery process.

You don’t really NEED to rush to get in your protein and carbs within 30 minutes after your workout, like many fitness gurus will tell you (this is what they call the “anabolic window”). You’re definitely going to want to eat after, but honestly…I live in LA, that drive home from the gym could already take up the whole 30 minutes, honey. Trust me when I say those 30 minutes are not the end-all and be-all. You just want to make sure you’re getting enough protein throughout the day; rushing to get it in right after a work out won’t make much of a difference.

The best kind of post-workout nutrition should really be a full meal if you have the time for it. Anything with a complete protein source (chicken breast, fish, etc.) and complex carbohydrates (brown rice, pasta, beans are all good options) will help your body recover from the workout. If you’re kind of in a time crunch, then a protein shake will do. Depending on how filling your shake is, you might need proper fuel as well.

Images: @dietstartstomorrow (2)/Instagram

Are Pre-Workout Supplements Worth It, Or Just Placebo? A Trainer Weighs In

Nicole Nam has a Bachelors of Science in Public Health Nutrition Specialization and a Masters of Science in Kinesiology. She has a personal training certification from the American Council of Exercise, and has trained a variety of clients, including a contestant in this year’s Miss Nevada competition. Follow her on Instagram here.

Sometimes you just need something to get you going. No one is going to be ready and hype for the gym every day—trust me, there are days that I dread the gym—and you’re just f*cking TIRED, PERIODT. If you find yourself CONSTANTLY lagging (or in general just lazy for the gym), pre-workout might be a useful supplement to take before you leave the house for the gym. I get it, the sheer variety of pre-workouts available alone makes the choice seem confusing and some people wonder if the pre-workout even works at all or if it’s just a placebo effect.

Pre-workouts usually contain caffeine, essential amino acids (amino acids which the body cannot produce and must be consumed via diet), and arginine (this is actually nitric oxide, a naturally occurring gas that helps dilate blood vessels to increase circulation). If the pre-workout contains the essential amino acid beta-alanine, it is completely normal for your body to feel tingly after taking the pre-workout. Some people actually come to crave that feeling. The beta-alanine isn’t there just for sh*ts and giggles, though. It is an amino acid that can increase the levels of carnosine (another amino acid that is created from beta-alanine and histidine) in your body, which directly effects the performance of your workout by reducing the rate of fatigue while lifting/running/etc.


View this post on Instagram


It’s cocaine, Austin

A post shared by ?????? (@hoegivesnofucks) on

Ok, a lot of scientific sh*t, so why don’t I summarize that up. BASICALLY, the ONLY ingredient commonly found in pre-workouts (I said “commonly” because if you buy some outlandish sh*t on the black market/internet I don’t know what’s in that, girl) that is a tried and true stimulant is caffeine. Everything else are ingredients that help the mechanisms within your body to help you workout heavier, harder, longer and aid recovery.

A scientific study in 2010 showed that pre-workouts showed that there were differences in performance and muscle gains in the group that took the pre-workout versus the placebo group. Another study in 2014 claimed that while performance and gains did not differ between the supplement and the placebo groups, the supplement group were able to perform better at the next workout. This is due to the amino acids present in the supplement that help muscle repair.


View this post on Instagram


it’s a strict regimen but someone has to do it | @betches

A post shared by diet starts tomorrow (@dietstartstomorrow) on

Sounds great, right? But what if I told you that a coffee works just as well as a pre-workout if all you needed was a kick in the ass to get moving?

I’ve tried pre-workouts before, both the tingly and non-tingly kinds. I will say it worked, but I took myself off of them after about 1 month of regular use. I honestly didn’t feel the need for the pre-workout beyond the caffeine (tbh, that’s me every day). Did I lift better when I took the pre-workout? Maybe, but I can lift that well without it, too. Did I feel a tolerance to the pre-workout rapidly develop after regular use? Definitely. I didn’t want to get to the point where I NEEDED a supplement to workout, so I stopped taking it.

me when i drink pre-workout https://t.co/OkDMD2487F

— shitbizkit (@NotRalphLauren_) March 7, 2019

But what about how it helps muscle recovery? I am a fan of sore muscles. I need that. Because my workouts are designed to make you LOOK BETTER, not turn you into a power lifter, we don’t need to rush back into the gym like you’re pushing for personal records in lifts, you know? I’m not training you for the Olympics, I’m just trying to get you abs. Physical changes in the body happen during the muscle repair process, so I’m not going to take supplements that expedite or dull that process (should I write a whole article about the mechanisms of recovery? Let me know!).

The Bottom Line: While I personally do not take them, I absolutely have nothing against pre-workouts and if my clients ask me about them, I won’t say no. Cellucor makes really good ones called C4 and Kaged Muscle makes Pre-Kaged. Both of these I’ve tried personally and stand behind, just be mindful of the tolerance that could develop. Please keep in mind that none of the supplements on the market are monitored by the FDA.