Does it really matter what you eat before and after a workout?
However, nutrition timing is not nearly as important as the hype suggests.
The bottom line is to make sure that your aggregate daily nutritional needs are met by the time your head hits the pillow, regardless of timing and frequency of eating.
In this article, I will offer practical recommendations for timing nutrition around training sessions and address questions like when to drink protein shakes.
Your actual needs will vary depending on your size, genetics, duration and intensity of your training, and of course… your personal goals.
Consume approximately 15-20% of your targeted daily nutrition 2 hours before and 25-30% after a workout (for a total of 40-50%) is optimal, specifically on days you train hard. And if you’re trying to pack on size, I recommend sipping on vegan protein shake throughout your workout.
The reason why I recommend not as much food intake before, versus after, is because to digest more food would require more energy, in turn can render you with less energy to work with for the training session. In other words, eating a lot before a workout can make you feel tired and sluggish.
You may also want to take BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) before, during, and after a workout if you’re on a calorie restricted diet during a cutting phase (fat-loss period). Otherwise, if you’re eating enough food and protein, I don’t think it’s necessary.
To use myself as an example: I weight 230lbs so my targeted daily amount of protein is approximately 230 grams to maintain my current size and strength. Therefore I would consume the higher end of 69 grams of protein (230 x 30%) within the 2-hour window before hitting the weights, and then another 69 grams of protein within the 2-hour window afterwards.
Side Note: If I want to gain 5lbs of muscle and weight 235lbs I would consume 235 grams of protein a day. You always mirror/match your protein intake with the desired body weight.
It’s important to note you don’t have to eat 1 meal with the full 69 grams of protein, you can option to break it up so that 2 hours out you can have a larger meal with 40 grams, and then an hour out have another meal with 29 grams of protein. Personally I like to split it up for more balanced energy levels and it tend to feel more comfortable on my digestive system, but everyone’s different so just respond to what your body is telling feels best.
Please keep in mind nutrient timing is just one tool we have in our bodybuilding toolbox. And like everything we can apply in life, context is an overriding factor, which is why I specifically indicate a percentage of your targeted daily nutrition because depending on your personal goals you will have different dietary needs.
For instance, a female bikini competitor has different goals and nutritional needs than a male bodybuilder. Or, a vegan endurance runner has different goals and nutritional needs than a pescatarian powerlifter.
Nutrient timing isn’t the magic bullet to create explosive results per se, but it is tried and true fundamental. It will certainly assist you in becoming a more physically effective version of yourself in fitness.
Protein, Carbs, and Fats
Consuming protein a couple hours before, and after, a workout pumps amino acids into your system at the most optimal time your body needs it. This increases your muscle and strength building capacity in a big way. This is also why we take the BCAAs in parallel with this timing.
Consuming protein a couple hours before, and after, a workout provides energy and enhances your training whether it’s high intensity or lower intensity. When consumed with protein, carbohydrates increase protein synthesis and stimulates the release of insulin. And personally, I suggest you avoid any of those sugary carb drinks, they are simply unnecessary. Bananas or apples are a much healthier option.
Fats don’t fuel training sessions per se, that’s what carbs are for, but they do slow down our digestive system. To be clear, fat doesn’t reduce the benefits of protein and carbohydrate intake within our 2-hour window of training either. It comes down to the individual and how it affects you energetically. In this case, if it feels good…do it!
When to drink protein shakes?
In the past, many fitness experts recommended fast acting proteins like whey… the logic behind this was that the more quickly amino acids get pumped into your muscles, the more effective it was after a workout. More recently, some experts suggest that fast-digesting proteins may get absorbed too fast because they’re in and out of the bloodstream so quickly that protein synthesis doesn’t get a good chance to do it’s thing.
It is my observation that protein powders aren’t necessarily any better, or worse, than whole food protein after training.
So it comes down to convenience and preference. However, I suggest that you try both a few separate times, be mindful of how they make you feel, and journal about the experiences. At the end of a 1-2 week trial period, go with the option that makes you feel the best energetically.
Portions in Practice
This example can be used for both before and after training, but keep in mind this is more of an example for maintenance versus growth. To reiterate, your portions will vary depending on your weight, type of training, and your personal goals. These can be consumed in one meal or broken up into two meals:
- 3 handfuls of protein
- 3 handfuls of vegetables
- 2 handfuls of carbs
- 2 thumbs of fats
- 2 handfuls of protein
- 2 handful of vegetables
- 1 handful of carbs
- 1 thumb of fats
*Sometimes after an intense training session you might not feel like eating. No worries, you can option for a protein shake and some fresh raw veggie juice all the same.