Fuel Your Body to Move: Pre & Post Workout Nutrition Tips

 Fuel Your Body to Move: Pre & Post Workout Nutrition Tips

A common question I get asked a lot as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Fitness Professional is “what should I eat before and after I work out?” People are often surprised by the answer.

You see, the vast majority of us are what I call “lifestyle athletes”- we might get sweaty a few times a week, train for a race now and then, take exercise classes, practice yoga, or move in other ways that we love throughout the day (think: walking, biking, dancing, playing with kids, gardening, etc.). These do not require too much stress or planning around pre & post workout nutrition. Most of us are not “professional athletes” who train for high level endurance events, body building or fitness competitions and treat exercise like their job. No matter what type of exerciser you are, overall nutrition throughout the day is what matters most but professional athletes can definitely benefit from a bit more care when it comes to pre & post workout nutrition.

There is a 1-2 hour window after exercise to replenish the body with nutrients to help it recover, repair, rehydrate and build muscle to improve future performance. For lifestyle athletes that means simply focusing on eating a variety of nutrients from balanced meals spaced throughout the day plus drinking plenty of non-caffeinated liquids for hydration.

For example, if you do moderate to intense exercise for more than 30 minutes that might look like:
• Around 1-2 hours before your workout
• drink 8-12 oz of water or non-caffeinated liquids
• eat a balanced meal with protein, carbohydrates and fats
• Drink plenty of water immediately before, during and after your workout
• Within 1-2 hours after your workout
• drink 8-12 oz of water or non-caffeinated liquids
• eat a balanced meal with protein, carbohydrates and fats
• Throughout the rest of the day, drink plenty of fluids and eat nourishing meals according to personal hunger and fullness levels.

Note that if you are working out first thing in the morning or in a fasted state (not eating for more than 3-4 hours before exercise), some people find it helpful to eat a light snack about 30 minutes before exercise. Others prefer just to drink liquids. Play around with eating vs. not eating and see how you feel during and after your workout. Only you know your body best so it’s important to try different approaches, pay attention and continue with what works best for YOU and your unique body. After exercising in a fasted state, timing of post workout nutrition becomes more important and it is helpful to eat as soon as possible, ideally between 30-60 minutes after exercise finishes.

Bottom line is that pre & post workout nutrition cannot be a bandaid for an overall unbalanced diet. It is a strategy that can be helpful for enhancing recovery and performance, but it can never replace the foundation of an overall healthy diet with adequate hydration and nutrients spaced throughout the day. If you are a professional athlete or are looking to take your exercise performance up a notch, it’s important to work with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with experience in sports nutrition who can give you individualized recommendations based on your unique sport, lifestyle and personal preferences.


Written By: Carolyn Banner


Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Jan 29;10(1):5.

Cribb PJ, Hayes A. Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Nov;38(11):1918-25.

Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA, Krieger JW. The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Dec 3;10(1):53.

Photo 1 credit:  Photo by Derick McKinney on Unsplash

Photo 2 credit: from my own photoshoot for which I have the rights but if you want to give credit to the photographer her name is Amelia McGoldrick

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Carolyn Banner

Carolyn Banner

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