Pre And Post-Workout Nutrition: The Facts

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Few things cause more arguments in fitness circles than the topic of pre and post-workout nutrition.

On one hand you have people who say it really doesn’t matter when you eat during the day as long as you eat. On the other hand, you have those who believe if you don’t slam a shake immediately following your workout, you will lose all your gains.

But which camp is right? After all, us bros work hard for our gains. We don’t want to take the chance that we’ll lose them.

In today’s article, I am going to breakdown the role workout nutrition plays and if it is as big of a deal as it’s made out to be.

The Science of Workout Nutrition

There are three main purposes of workout nutrition:

  • Aid in protein synthesis, or the repairing of muscle damage caused by the workout.
  • Replenish energy stores used during the workout.
  • Help build new muscle tissue.

When we exercise intensely, specifically resistance training, we cause micro-tears in our muscles. Our body then uses whatever energy is available to help repair these tears, thus creating a stronger, more dense, and (if enough energy is available) bigger muscle.

In order to aid this process, and prevent further breakdown of muscle tissue, the body needs amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle. The best way to get amino acids into our system is eating a diet high in protein.

Similarly, intense workouts also deplete the body’s supply of glycogen, its preferred source of fuel. Carbs are the body’s main source of glycogen, so not only is protein important for fueling good workouts, but carbohydrates are necessary as well.

Post-Workout vs. Pre-Workout Nutrition

Many people believe that post-workout nutrition is most important because you need to replenish everything that you used during the workout. This is where the idea of the “anabolic window” came from.

The anabolic window is the supposed magical 30-60 minutes following your workout where you need to consume some form of protein and carbs, or all your gains will be lost.

Thankfully, recent research suggests that this window is open for a much longer period of time (up to 24 hours) and that what we eat, and hitting our macronutrient targets, is much more important than when we eat.

Post-workout nutrition becomes even less important when pre-workout nutrition is involved. If you are ingesting any sort of protein and carbs before your workout, your insulin levels will remain elevated well through your workout, sometimes up to several hours after.

Why this is important is because insulin is responsible for helping shuttle nutrients around the body. Higher levels of insulin around your workout will help ensure that protein goes to help repairing and building muscle, while carbs go towards helping replenish energy stores.


So what does all this mean?

Well, first off, it means that what we think we know and have been told about post-workout nutrition may not be completely true, and that it may be pre or even intra-workout nutrition that will provide us with the most benefits.

More importantly though, it means that we cannot view each of these meals in isolation. If you have a meal a few hours before you train, eating after your workout becomes less important. If you go into your workout not having eaten anything however, getting some post-workout nutrition is more important (although it still doesn’t have to be taken in immediately).

Lastly it means that timing is not more important than overall caloric and macronutrient intake. If you are eating for your goals, training with intensity, all while getting adequate rest and recovery, pre and post-workout nutrition falls into the category of things you don’t need to worry too much about.

So if slamming a shake and devouring a banana like a starving monkey immediately post-workout makes things easier for you, then by all means keep at it. But don’t do it because you think you are saving yourself from any lost gains.

Until next time.