Workout nutrition

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Workout nutrition explained: What to eat before, during and after a workout

There is a lot of advice relating to workout nutrition. We simplify what you should be eating before, during and after your gym session.

Workout nutrition

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Workout nutrition seems to be complicated. Or perhaps we just tend to overthink it and make it a lot more difficult than it should be? We look at what you should be eating before and after your gym session.

Should you eat before hitting the gym or should you workout in a fasted state? If you do eat, should you eat protein? What is a complex carb and should that be eaten after training or during? 

If you find yourself tired and needing energy during a training session or feeling more sore than usual, you may need to up your nutrition game.

What and when you eat can make a difference to recovery and energy levels provided you have all your basics covered. 

We are going to look at what to eat before, during and after a training session and give you some recommendations to help you improve and make the most of your time in the gym.

The basics of workout nutrition

For the majority of us, who are exercising for general health, we should first look at what our daily diet consists of.

We want to nail the basics before getting complicated. 

Firstly you should be focusing on eating minimally processed foods. That means whole foods like meat and vegetables.

Then think about quantities. Pay attention to your protein, vegetable, carbohydrate and fat intake, essentially you want to make sure you are eating a balanced diet.

You also want to make sure you are eating enough for your activity level and body composition goals. If you want to lose weight you need to be eating less and if you want to gain weight you need to be eating more. Simple.

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

Precision Nutrition
Women cutting fruit to make a healthy snack.
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Pre Workout

What you eat before your workout can help your performance and recovery.

You should aim to eat within the three hours before you hit the gym or start your training. You don’t want to have a heavy meal sitting in your stomach while sprinting uphill or doing your squats.

When deciding on what to eat, Precision Nutrition, recommends looking for food that will provide: 

  • Sustained energy
  • A performance boost
  • Hydration
  • Muscle mass preservation 
  • Speedy recovery

Protein will help you maintain or build muscle mass. 

Carbohydrates are the fuel for your training session and will help you recover. It also helps you maintain muscle.

Fat doesn’t really fuel or dimish performance but it does slow down digestion which maintains even blood sugar levels. 

The further away from your session, you are, the bigger the meal you can eat. If you are two to three hours away from working out, for instance, you could have some chicken and rice.

The closer you are to a session, the less time you have to digest so a smoothie would be a perfect go-to option. Think protein powder, fruit like bananas and some peanut butter.

During your workout

Eating during a workout is only beneficial in certain circumstances. It is unlikely you will need to fuel yourself during a one-hour spinning or pilates class. 

Usually, intra workout nutrition is only a consideration for those who are partaking in long endurance activities like a long run or for strength athletes doing two-hour weight lifting sessions. The general rule of thumb is that anything lasting longer than 2 hours may require some mid-activity refuelling. 

If you are very active and working towards specific aesthetic or performance goals, this will benefit you. 

For the rest of us making sure we are adequately hydrated with water or drinking Branch Chain Amino Acids is enough to get us through. 


The aim of a good post-workout meal is:

  • Kick start recovery
  • Rehydrate
  • Refuel
  • Build muscle
  • Improve performance

Again, you will want to eat a well-balanced meal. And we do mean meal – not necessary a protein shake. 

While it is good practice to eat as close to completing your training as possible, it is not necessary to have to chug a protein shake down immediately afterwards. 

Research has shown that you can, in fact, wait for a home-cooked meal and not lose any of your “gains.” In fact, the protein you ate before your session may still be peaking in your system. 

This and the added protein you consume after your session is going to help you repair and build muscle tissue. 

As much as you would like to devour a doughnut after a brutal leg workout, the refined sugar is not going to do you any favours. Fruit will be a far better option to restore those glycogen stores. 

Banana’s, dates, sweet potatoes are just some of the carbohydrate choices that will help you recover and improve your performance in the long run.

The takeaway

Like all things health-related, one size does not fit all and the above will be tweaked to each individual but this is a basic framework to start with.

You have about two hours before and after your workout to time in your meals to reap the benefits. 

For the majority of us, a balanced meal with protein, carbohydrates and fats will contain enough of the nutrients needed to supply energy, help recovery and fuel our activity. 

And you can either go for regular meals or if it’s more convenient to use shakes, that’s ok as well.

Happy training.