Nutrition Timing Explained – Pre- and Post- Training

We all know that what you eat is important. But what about when you eat? Especially if you’re active?

Personally I believe by eating a healthy, well-considered meal 1-2 hours before exercise and another healthy, well-considered meal within 1-2 hours after exercise, most people can meet their workout nutrition needs without anything else. If you’re a healthy person who exercises regularly, you probably don’t need special workout nutrition strategies. So let the stress go.

Yes if you are an endurance athlete, training to be a serious bodybuilder or getting ready for a Fitness Comp, then it has probably been recommended to you by your coach to do so, and that’s perfectly understandable. You are training for high-level competition, you may want to gain weight or might be trying to drop to a single-digit body fat percentage, and the body does require certain performance-enhancing, muscle preserving protein and carbs before, after or even during training.

My best advice however for anyone who is like me, ‘Average’, I would recommend you focus on food quality and quantity rather than timing. If you’re exercising for general health and fitness, if your goals are modest and/or if you don’t have unique physiological needs, then you don’t need any particular nutrition strategies, and I class us as ‘Average’. I would advise you focus on eliminating nutrient deficiency, ensuring that your portions are the right size, and that you start eating right for your body type.

Whether you’re an Ectomorph (Muscle Gain or Endurance Support), Mesomorph (Physique optimization or Intermittent Sport Support) or Endomorph (Fat Loss or Strength Sport Support), it is suggested that you eat normally 1-2 hours prior and eat normally 1-2 hours post.

During your workout is perhaps when things change a little, if you’re an Ectomorph or Mesomorph, then it is recommended that you perhaps have a Protein and Carb Drink, BCAA’s or Water – however if you’re an Endomorph have BCAA’s or water.

For a lot of people, stressing out about when to eat their carbs and fats, and what to eat in and around their workouts can be distracting and self-sabotaging. Now if nutrient timing actually gives you a framework for making good food decisions and controlling total intake, then by all means keep it up.

I am not saying that nutrient timing is good or bad, what I am saying is that nutrient timing won’t suddenly transform your physique or performance especially if you aren’t yet doing the basic good habits consistently.

While you don’t need to rush in the door and straight to the fridge when you get home from the gym, it is advised that you don’t wait forever before eating. Failing to eat within the 2 hour window following training can slow recovery. However it’s important to acknowledge that this is heavily influenced by what you eat before you work. In short, if you ate quite a small pre-training meal, or ate several hours before training, then it probably is important that you get that post-workout meal into your system pretty quick, ideally within the hour. This also applies if you trained in a fasted state also.

But if you ate a normal sized mixed meal a couple of hours before training, or perhaps had a small shake closer to training, then you have an hour or 2 after to eat your post-workout meal and still get the maximum benefits from it. Win Win, you have time to prepare an actual meal instead of eating out of that Tupperware in the dressing room.
In the main, the best approach to recover from training is the same as your preparation for the workout. Make sure you are getting a mixed meal of real food.

For Men:

  • 2 palms protein
  • 2 fists of vegetables
  • 2 cupped handfuls of carbs
  • 2 thumbs of fats

For Women:

  • 1 palm protein
  • 1 fist of vegetables
  • 1 cupped handful of carbs
  • 1 thumb of fats

Those are just rough guidelines, because in the end, there is no perfect pre-and-post –training feeding regimen for everyone. What to eat is always context specific. But for more of us, those without athletic competitions on the horizon, the best pre- and post-training meal will contain a combination of all the above and the overall aim is to build muscle, supply energy, decrease inflammation and boost recovery.
So enjoy your workout and enjoy your meals. Eat, move and live… better.