Many people know that protein is important for muscle growth, but pre and post-workout nutrition can often be overlooked. Ensuring that you're consuming enough carbohydrates and protein before and after a workout can help support muscle growth, recovery, and boost your energy level. Here's your super simple guide to pre and post-workout nutrition!


What to eat before a workout? (and when)

Eating before a workout is important for optimizing performance. Studies have found that even a small amount of carbohydrates (about as much as 2 tbsps of honey) can boost your performance. For resistance training workouts, eating enough carbohydrates before is particularly important. Without carbohydrates to rely on for fuel, your body will be forced to breakdown muscle for energy, which we want to avoid. 

Eating protein before exercise is important as it can support your muscles' recovery and proactively prevent soreness. 

Hydrating before a workout is also key. Drinking enough water before your workout can help prevent later dehydration. 

To avoid stomach upset during your workout, its best to allow the food 1-4 hours to begin digesting before exercise. Meals with more fiber and fat tend to take longer to digest whereas smaller snacks or meals made up of simple carbs can be eaten closer to a workout.

What to eat after a workout? (and when)

Carbohydrates and protein are essential after exercise. 

When working out, your body relies on glycogen as a source of fuel. Consuming carbohydrates replenishes your body's glycogen stores post-workout. Replenishing glycogen is important to prepare your body for your next workout and avoid fatigue.

Protein plays an equally vital role. When you exercise you're actually damaging muscle fibers. Although this doesn't sound desirable, muscle protein breakdown is what leads to muscle growth and increases in strength (when combined with proper nutrition). Consuming enough protein after a workout helps your muscles repair and grow (known as muscle protein synthesis). 

Lastly, don't forget to rehydrate! Your body loses fluids during exercise, if you don't hydrate adequately this can lead to tiredness, cramping, and even breakdown of muscle.

How much carbs and protein should I aim for?

The goal is around .5g per lb of body weight of carbohydrates post-workout for recovery. Research generally supports consuming 30g of protein per meal for muscle growth.

The myth of the “anabolic window”

You may have heard of the “anabolic window”, a theorized 30 minute window after exercise in which consuming protein is more beneficial for muscle growth and recovery. If you're one of the many people who stress about consuming protein ASAP after a workout, I have good news. The “anabolic window” is not as short as many believe. 

Research has found that eating a meal composed of protein and carbohydrates has the same impact on muscle growth whether consumed 1 or 3 hours post workout. So there's no pressure to down that protein bar right after your last set!

Key takeaways?

  • Pre-workout carbohydrates are vital to boost energy and performance in the gym
  • Post-workout meals should focus on protein and carbohydrates to support muscle growth and recovery
  • Hydration is vital both before, during, and after a workout
Natalia Daraie author of the article, girl in a dress

Natalia Daraie

Natalia is a Psychological & Brain Sciences major at UCSB. She is passionate about all things wellness. As a member of the Girl Gains club, she loves exploring different avenues of fitness, including nutrition, lifting, pilates, and relaxing walks outdoors. She's a big fan of matcha lattes, listening to podcasts, and can often be found scrolling through Pinterest for new meal ideas.

Instagram: @nataliadaraie Tiktok: @nataliasdar

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