Food is important. Not only does it provide us enjoyment and nourishment, but it is responsible for fueling our strong, powerful bodies that we put through vigorous workouts.
When it comes to nourishing our bodies, it’s absolutely essential to have some sort of game plan, a view of the bigger picture. We fare much better if we have a personal nutritional management structure to go by instead of random consumption. Three critical areas to consider and prioritize are:
- What you eat (choosing high quality foods)
- How much you eat (don’t starve yourself and don’t stuff yourself)
- When you eat (nutrient timing)
Today I want to focus on the third item on that list, nutrient timing. Specifically peri-workout (pre and post workout) meals. Chances are, if you have structure and commitment for your training, with a specific and desired outcome in mind, it would also serve your efforts well to be prepared and thoughtful in your nutrition as it relates to those goals.
Nutrition is a big subject area with many different approaches and perspectives. For the sake of this post, I will write based on what’s been my own experience.
Over the past several years, I have gained most of my nutrition experience from my long-time coach, Carter Schoffer of Body Transformation Inc. and Precision Nutrition. In that time, I’ve learned that the foundation of all my meals should include both lean protein and vegetables. The peri-workout meals are where we tend to manipulate more variables including healthy fat sources, fruit, and the most commonly manipulated variable of course, carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can get a bad rep, yet when we better understand where to place them and how to manage them we can certainly have our carbs and eat them too.
Our post workout-feeding window is typically within three hours post training. If you’re going to eat starchy or sugary carbs, the best time is typically peri-workout. How we structure our peri workout nutrition is still specific to the context of your physiology, your workout, and your training goals.
Those who get along with post-workout carbs best are those who tend to be built lean naturally and are more carb tolerant. This is also true if your goals fall more along the lines of performance, health, lean mass, taste/pleasure-centric.
Those who tend to store more body fat are less-tolerant to carbs and desire goals that may not fare well with carbs, post-workout or otherwise (strict fat loss for a physique competition, for example). These individuals may not have as much dietary freedom when it comes to the inclusion of carbohydrates.
The type of workout, intensity, and hormonal response could also influence the inclusion and amount of carbs in meals. For example:
- Intense Sport = carbs
- Resistance Training = carbs
- Interval work = maybe carbs
- Low intensity = prob not carbs, unless training for a sport.
Your Training Goals
Most importantly, your training goals will ultimately influence the strategy of your peri-workout meals:
- Performance goals: Fuel needed both, before and after training
- Overall health: Contributing to our body’s recovery from the workout
- Fat loss: Strategies to alter our body composition via macronutrient manipulations and calorie intake relative to energy expenditure
- Muscle gains: macronutrient manipulations and calorie intake to alter our body composition (likely needing a surplus of calories via healthy food choices)
In addition to timing carbs, it can be advantageous to time meal size to get more food in the hours post-workout when your body needs it rather than other times of the day. That said, workout time changes physiology and regardless of the time you work out, make sure you do eat post-workout, even if you train later in the day or in the evening despite some of the approaches suggesting “don’t eat carbs (or food) at night.”
If you want to take it a bit further than your peri-workout meals, timing amino acids like BCAAs, glutamine, creatine, or beta alanine, during a workout is thought to aid with recovery.
A typical meal plan I would follow from Carter (on a Resistance Training day) might look similar to this:
- 2-3 Small Meals: all meals consist of Protein + vegetables + fat; spaced evenly
- Train: workout drink consisting of amino acids, timed around and during my training
- 1 big meal consisting of protein + vegetables + starchy and/or sugary carbs (within an hour post-training)
- 1 moderate meal consisting of protein + vegetables + starchy carbs (within 3-4 hours post-training)
- 1 small/moderate sized meal consisting of protein + vegetables + maybe a fat
Meal Size Reference: Small = 80% fullness, Moderate = 90% fullness, Large = 100% fullness
You could manipulate the above plan for different needs. For example, with performance, start by adding a carb to your pre-workout meal as well. If aggressive fat loss is the aim, first drop out the carb from the second post-workout meal. Follow by dropping out the carb source from the immediate post workout meal, and so on.
Ultimately what matters most is that you always feed your body in a way that serves your performance and your goals. A good nutrition plan supports a good training plan and vice versa, and your big picture goal is to look good, feel good, and feel healthy and strong.
We would love to hear your favorite pre- and post-workout meals! Tell us about them in the comments below.