What to eat before and after strength training

What should I eat before a workout? What should I eat after? If you’re not asking yourself these questions, it might be time to rethink how you approach fitness.

Pre-workout nutrition.

Before your workout, the goal is making sure you have enough energy. If you’re exercising in a way that is reasonable for your fitness level and finding it hard to complete, you may not be fueling correctly. Keep in mind that if you’re trying to complete exercises while tired, you may increase your injury risk by doing moves incorrectly.

The macronutrient goal before a workout is high carbohydrate, moderate protein, and low fat.

Carbohydrates provide your body with its preferred source of energy - glucose! If your body does not have a preferred energy source available, it can turn to muscle as a source of energy. This process is quite inefficient, not to mention detrimental to your progress if you’re trying to build muscle.

This ratio becomes more carbohydrate and less protein and fat the closer you get to a workout. If you’re exercising within one hour of eating, your pre-workout snack should be almost all simple carbohydrates. This is because simple carbohydrates provide your muscles with quick energy whereas fat takes the longest to digest and can leave you feeling sluggish.

Pre-workout foods might include:

These provide you with REAL energy from simple carbohydrates - not a fake energy rush that you get from a caffeinated pre-workout!

Post-workout nutrition.

After your workout, the goal is recovery so that you’re ready for the next time you hit the (home) gym. This is especially important for strenuous exercise that depletes your energy stores.

After a strength training workout, your macronutrient goals are high protein, moderate carbohydrate, and low fat. The protein promotes muscle protein synthesis, the carbohydrate replenishes glycogen stores, and the low amount of fat helps these macronutrients get to work faster because, again, fat is slowest to digest.

However, there’s a caveat to this. If this is also a good time for a balanced meal, go for the meal! There is no benefit to doubling up on a protein shake and dinner. If a calorie deficit is your goal, this can actually hinder your progress. Remember that protein in and of itself does not build muscle - strength training builds muscle!

As for the amount of protein, you should aim for 15-25g of high quality (complete) protein. You can calculate your personal protein needs based on your body weight. For every kilogram of body weight, you want 0.3-0.4 grams of protein. Here’s an example: if you are 150lb, this would be about 20-27g of protein. A high quality protein contains all of the essential amino acids

Post-workout foods might include:

What about nutrient timing?

Some athletes with high training needs benefit from nutrient timing, but for most people, your overall intake is what matters most. Aim for a well-balanced diet with a variety of whole foods to support your exercise and overall health!

And remember that everyone is different - we have varying genetics, goals, metabolisms, and so on! Our personal needs can even differ day to day depending on what else we’ve eaten or what workout we’re completing. Use this article as a guide to find what works best for you, and make sure to take note of how you feel during a workout and how well you recover.


Emily Smith

PR and Marketing Specialist of Vegetable and Butcher and a self-proclaimed nutrition nerd and sustainability junkie. Emily called DC home for three years before making her way to California. Emily has her master's in Nutrition Education and is a Certified Nutrition Specialist® (CNS®) candidate. She's passionate about helping people learn to use food to fuel their outdoor activities, and in her free time you can find her rock climbing. . You can connect with her on her website and on Instagram.

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