What To Eat Before And After A Workout: The Ultimate Guide

What you eat before and after your workout – aka your pre and post workout meals – is a diet topic filled with confusion, arguments, and misinformation.

And then there are the questions. Good lord… the questions. Here’s an example of the type of stuff I get asked on a daily basis:

  • What should I eat before my workout?
  • What should I eat after my workout?
  • What’s the best pre/post workout shake or snack?
  • Exactly how many grams of protein, carbs and/or fat should these meals contain?
  • Should my protein or carb source be a fast digesting one?
  • Should I have a solid food meal or a liquid meal (like a shake) because it digests faster?
  • Is whey isolate best? Or is whey concentrate best? What about hydrolyzed whey?
  • How long before my workout should I have my pre workout meal?
  • How soon after should I have my post workout meal?
  • And on and on and on.

Clearly, this is a topic that people need help with. And today, I’m going to provide you with the biggest help of all.

The Definitive Answers To ALL Of These Questions

I’ve spent the last 12 months rigorously reviewing all of the existing research relating to pre and post workout nutrition.

I’ve read every relevant study, book and article on the subject. I’ve looked at nearly 100 recommendations from various experts in the field of diet and nutrition, and I’ve spoken directly with dozens of trainers, coaches, nutritionists and food scientists. I’ve even tested many of these different protocols myself and closely monitored my progress to see what would happen.

And now, after an entire year of researching, experimenting and immersing myself in my work, I have decided to finally put together the most thorough, comprehensive and definitive guide on this subject that you have EVER seen.

So, without further ado…

The Ultimate Guide Starts Now

Welcome to the ultimate guide to the pre and post workout meals. Let’s get started…

What To Eat Before Your Workout

Consume a meal containing a nice amount of protein and carbs from whatever sources you prefer within 1-2 hours before your workout.

What To Eat After Your Workout

Consume a meal containing a nice amount of protein and carbs from whatever sources you prefer within 1-2 hours after your workout.

The End

Thank you for reading this ultimate guide. I know it got pretty complex at times, but I hope I was able to fully answer all of your complicated questions.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

I realize that due to the complex nature of this subject and the immense size of this guide, you may still have some questions about these meals. No problem. Here are the answers to some of the most common questions people have had after reading this ultimate guide…

QUESTION #1: Why are you making this out to be so simple? Everyone knows that what we eat before and after our workouts is super complicated and warrants extreme obsession over every minor detail. WTF? 

Yeah, um… about that. For the majority of the population, this topic really isn’t that complicated at all. People love to make it out to be, but really… it’s not.

QUESTION #2: But what about the people who say these meals are the key to our success with losing fat or building muscle? They say these meals are so important that they can make or break the effectiveness of our workouts. And if we don’t get them exactly right, down to the exact gram and the exact minute, we’ll gain fat, lose muscle and the entire workout will have been a waste?!?

These people are idiots. Ignore them.

QUESTION #3: So then you’re saying that what we eat before and after our workout is of no importance whatsoever?? Because I’ve also seen people who claim that these meals are completely pointless, and that you can skip them altogether and it won’t make any difference at all.

Nope, these people are also idiots. Ignore them as well.

QUESTION #4: So then what the hell, bro? Are these meals THE MOST IMPORTANT THING in the world, or are they COMPLETELY POINTLESS? Which one is it? It has to be one of the two!!

lolz, it’s neither. As with most things in the diet and fitness world (and really, life in general), things aren’t black or white, good or bad, one extreme or the other extreme. Rather, there’s a gray area in the middle where most things realistically tend to be. The pre and post workout meals are a perfect example.

So no, they are definitely not the most important thing. Within the context of your diet, that distinction will always go to your total daily calorie intake and macro intake. That’s the only stuff that can truly make or break your success. However, this fact doesn’t mean that these meals aren’t of any importance at all. They are simply one of a handful of lesser but still meaningful factors of your diet that warrant some sane degree of focus from you after you’ve gotten the more important stuff right first.

QUESTION #5: But what about the post workout anabolic window of gainz?!? Everyone knows that if you don’t slam down a post workout shake immediately after your workout (ideally within 5 minutes after your last set, but certainly never more than 30 minutes after), you’ll instantly lose all of your gainz!

Eh, not quite. Under typical circumstances, that brief “post workout window” is actually larger than people think it is, and the need to rush like a crazy person to drink a shake in the locker room next to a bunch of sweaty naked people (been there, done that) is unnecessary.

QUESTION #6: But don’t we still need to consume a super fast digesting liquid meal after working out that is comprised of ultra fast protein (whey) and ultra fast carbs (dextrose, maltodextrin or waxy maize) so this meal digests as quickly as possible?  

Nope. Under typical circumstances where a decent pre workout meal was eaten within 1-2 hours before the workout and the workout was a typical length (60-90 minutes), the nutrients you consumed pre workout will actually still be getting released into your bloodstream at this point, meaning there is no legitimate urgency for consuming a “fast” post workout shake, or consuming it ASAP.

QUESTION #7: What about the science! I don’t believe anything I read anymore unless someone cites studies that support it (even though I never actually read the studies, I just like to see the word “studies” and then assume everything is legit). Do you have any published research from smart people in some reputable journal that supports the claims you’re making?

Yup. How about something published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN) that was co-authored by people at the very top of this field (Alan Aragon, Brad Schoenfeld, James Krieger)?

QUESTION #8: But some random bro at my gym and some random bro on social media and some random steroid-using bodybuilder and some random person who is paid by a supplement company all disagree with this!! 

That’s a shame. Here’s me giving zero shits.

QUESTION #9: So then are you saying it’s bad to consume a “fast” shake? Or that it’s badto have my post workout meal “immediately” after my workout? 

Nope, I’m just saying that under those same typical circumstances I mentioned a minute ago, there is simply no need and likely no benefit to doing so. You certainly still can – there’s nothing bad about it assuming you like doing it for whatever reason and/or it suits your personal needs and preferences (hell, I still do it for reasons I explain here) – it’s just not the required magical thing some people think it is.

QUESTION #10: So you’re saying I can leave the gym, drive home without exceeding the speed limit, and calmly eat a solid food meal like an hour after my workout and everything will be okay?

Yup, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

QUESTION #11: Wait a second. I could swear I’ve read things you’ve written a really long time ago where you recommended consuming a fast digesting liquid meal as soon after your workout as possible. Aren’t you contradicting yourself now?

No, see… you’re confusing “contradicting myself” with “learning new things over time thanks to evidence and experience and then adjusting my opinions, beliefs and recommendations accordingly.”

Because yes, I, like everyone else in the nutrition world in the early/mid/late 2000s, used to give this stereotypical recommendation. And, while it’s possible that you may still come across some now-outdated thing I wrote in like 2007 or earlier where that old recommendation can still be found, what you’re seeing in this article is in line with what I’ve been recommending from around 2010 to the present day.

And guess what else? If any new evidence comes to exist at some point in the future that shows something else is more ideal for the meals before and after a workout, I’m going to adjust my recommendations yet again. (And I’ll update this article, too.)

QUESTION #12: You mentioned consuming a “nice” amount of protein and a “nice” amount of carbs in these meals. What the hell does that mean?

It means stop sweating the details. It means I don’t personally see any need to put a precise number of grams on it. It means just eat a nice amount of protein and carbs 1-2 hours before and after your workout. Simple as that.

QUESTION #13: But I need something more specific! Please! Pretty please!

Okay, fine…

  • Protein: between 0.15-0.25 grams of protein per pound of your current body weight.
  • Carbs: between 0.15-0.35 grams of carbs per pound of your current body weight.
  • (Note: people who are significantly overweight should use their goal body weight rather than their current body weight.)

There. But please keep in mind that these numbers are not magical, nor are they set in stone. It’s really nothing more than a slightly more specific starting point. A little lower than these amounts is fine. A little higher is fine as well. Whatever fits your needs, goals and preferences.

QUESTION #14: What about food sources? What are the best protein and carb sources to eat in these meals?

Eh, pretty much whatever foods you want. For example, for protein, chicken, turkey, beef, eggs, fish, whey protein powder and so on. For carbs, rice (white or brown, both are fine), potatoes (white, sweet, whatever), oats, fruit, and so on. There are no universal “best” sources for these meals or really ANY meal. Pick the foods you prefer that contain the nutrients you need. That’s pretty much it.

QUESTION #15: Can these meals contain a meaningful amount of fat or fiber?

If you’d like them to, and it fits in with your total dietary needs for the day (and in the case of your pre workout meal, it doesn’t leave you feeling uncomfortably full during your workouts)… then sure.

QUESTION #16: For the pre workout meal, what if I don’t have 1-2 hours before my workout to eat a meal because I train first thing in the morning or am coming straight from work or school?

In that case, drinking something easily digestible (e.g. whey + Gatorade) within 30 minutes before your workout and/or sipping it during the workout would be a good option to try.

QUESTION #17: What about fasted training?

That depends. Are you training fasted because you think it has some special fat burning benefit? If so, it doesn’t. Are you training fasted because you think it has some kind of strength, performance or muscle building benefit? If so, it doesn’t.

Are you training fastest because you’re doing some form of IF (intermittent fasting) that requires you to train fasted, or because you simply prefer training fasted? If so, that’s fine, though A) this is unlikely to be ideal for maximizing training performance or muscle growth (it can certainly still work, of course), B) you may want to consider having a scoop of whey or at least some BCAAs pre workout if possible (some proponents of IF recommend this as well), and C) training fasted would be a rare scenario where consuming a “fast” post workout meal as soon as possible after your workout would become more important and beneficial.

QUESTION #18: Do the calories, protein, fat and carbs in these meals count toward my totals for the day like every other meal? Or are these magical calories and macronutrients that I don’t need to pay any attention to? 

The first one.

QUESTION #19: This guide has been useful, but I think you’re forgetting the part where you’re supposed to link to some special supplement or whatever that you’re secretly being paid a commission to promote. 

Oh, my bad. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything like that to link to. Although, I have written two books – Superior Fat Loss and Superior Muscle Growth – which countless studieshave shown to be the best books ever written about anything, ever. Now you know it’s legit. 😉

QUESTION #20: Don’t you think it would be a good idea to make up one final question so this reaches a nice even total of exactly 20 questions?

Hell yeah!

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