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What to eat before, during, and after exercise (Part-I)

Workout nutrition explained by:



By Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, CSCS


We all know that what you eat is important. But what about when you eat? Especially if you’re active? In this article, we’ll review the evidence on workout nutrition and give you practical recommendations for what to eat before, during, and after exercise.


Quick summary


By eating a healthy, well-considered meal 1-2 hours before exercise, and another healthy, well-considered meal within 1-2 hours after exercise, most people can meet their workout nutrition needs without anything else.


In other words:


If you’re a healthy person who exercises regularly, you probably don’t need special workout nutrition strategies.


Athletes have special needs


Of course, if you’re…


An endurance athlete, you train for high-level competition. You log a lot of high-intensity miles each week. For you, carbohydrate and calorie needs are likely higher. You could add a protein + carbohydrate (P+C) drink during your training.


Training as a bodybuilder, you lift weights with serious muscle growth in mind. You want to gain weight. Your protein and calorie needs are likely higher. You could also add a protein + carbohydrate (P+C) drink during your training.


Getting ready for a fitness competition, you accumulate a lot of exercise hours. You’re trying to drop to a single-digit body fat percentage. For you, carb intake should be lower. You’d benefit from the performance-enhancing, muscle-preserving essential amino acids (EAA) during your training.


Here’s a handy table that outlines our recommendations by goal and by body type (though we’d emphasize goal over body type).


Workout nutrition guidelines by goal and body type:



Most everyone else: Focus on food quality and quantity




  • if you’re exercising for general health and fitness
  • if your goals are more modest
  • you don’t have unique physiological needs


…then you probably don’t need any particular workout nutrition strategies.


Focus on:


  • eating more minimally processed proteins, veggies, quality carbs and healthy fats
  • ensuring your portions are the right size, and in the right amounts, for you
  • eating slowly, until satisfied


Not everyone needs nutrient timing


These days, even women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan recommend exercise drinks to help with hydration and recovery. Nutrient timing, they say, is important for every exerciser.


Well, we hesitate to disagree with the eminent sports nutrition pros staffing lifestyle magazines, but most people don’t need to worry about nutrient timing.


Indeed, for a lot of people, stressing out about:


  • when to eat their carbs
  • when to eat their fats
  • what to supplements to take in and around their workouts


…can be distracting, even self-sabotaging.


(For other people, nutrient timing actually gives them a framework for making good food decisions and controlling total intake. Of course, if that’s you, rock on with the nutrient timing!)


Context matters


Remember, we’re not saying nutrient timing is good or bad here.


It certainly can, and often does, work.


But nutrient timing is just one tool. Like every tool, it has to be used skillfully, in the right way and in the right situation.


What’s true for the pre-diabetic office worker who’s never exercised is certainly not true for the serious endurance runner or the long-time bodybuilder. In fact, as noted earlier, the people who stand to benefit most from specific nutritional strategies around their workouts are athletes.


So, in the end, if you’re reading this as an athlete, or a serious exerciser – or a trainer/coach who works with these populations – know that these strategies could help make a difference.


Nutrient timing isn’t magic


Nutrient timing won’t suddenly transform your physique or performance. This is especially true if you aren’t yet doing the fundamental nutrition habits consistently.


If you’re a recreational exerciser who just wants to look and feel better, nutrient timing might help, but might also be a lot of work for minimal return.


Reference – Precision Nutrition’s Published Lesson Plan Articles