The Difference Between Pre and Post Workout Nutrition

  Nov 16, 2015  |  #Fitness

Good morning. I hope you all had a great weekend! I’m back on the east coast and still adjusting to the time change. I got back really late Friday night and look what I came home to! My sweet husband picked up some necessary groceries and some beautiful flowers. I think I’ll like being back here 🙂


For today’s post, I wanted to talk a little about pre- and post-workout foods. I think many of us wonder if we’re eating the most ideal foods before and/or after working out to fuel our bodies. It does differ whether you’re eating or snacking to fuel versus recover, so let’s discuss some of the differences.

Firstly, exercise is great for us for many reasons, but working out does cause stress on the body. Therefore, it’s very important to consider what foods we’re putting into our body before and after doing so to try to counteract this extra oxidative stress. Nutrition is so so important. While running is my go-to exercise, I’ve tried to provide some general information, though it will vary depending on the length, intensity and form of your exercise.




Before working out, you want to focus on carbohydrates since these macronutrients provide “instant” energy (aka break down into glucose the quickest). Carbohydrates prevent our blood sugars from dropping too low and help prevent those feelings of hunger during exercise. They also help us work out harder and more efficiently, so we’re not fatigued or burning through our muscle while we’re working to build it up. Also, hydrate! I love and strongly recommend NUUN electrolyte tabs, which add flavor and electrolytes like potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium. They have so many great flavors!

NUUN, pre and post workout nutrition


While normally you would aim to eat complex carbohydrates, this may vary slightly before exercise. Some people may be able to handle small amounts of fiber and whole grains, while others may not and may be prone to gas, bloating or upset stomachs. You also don’t want to eat anything too high in fat before exercising because like fiber, it will take longer to digest and may cause discomfort. If you’re eating shortly before working out (within 30 minutes to an hour), it’s fine to grab carbohydrates with a higher glycemic index (meaning they are absorbed more quickly), such as half a bagel, ½ cup of cereal with low-fat milk, or a piece of white toast with nut butter. These “quick” carbs require less digestion and are converted to sugar (energy) quicker.

cereal, pre and post workout nutrition

Generally, I aim to snack about 1-2 hours before a run, particularly if I’m running in the afternoon or after work. My favorite pre-run snacks are 2 rice cakes with 2 teaspoons of peanut butter and ½ banana, apple and string cheese, Larabar, a cup of greek yogurt with fruit, or a decaf non-fat latte. I usually pack portable snacks because I don’t know where I’ll be running or if I want to stop at the gym or an exercise class on the way home, I like to be prepared. I also hydrate like it’s my job with NUUN. In the case that I exercise in the morning, I’ll have something small to fuel my run, even if it’s half a banana or some coffee with milk. My body feels stronger when I have fuel.

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If you’ll be working out over 30-45 minutes, you may want to add a little protein in your snack as well because that will prevent your body from just relying on carbs and provide a steadier amount of energy. The harder or more intense and time consuming your workout will be, the more protein you may want to add in as well, but try to incorporate it earlier in the day as it takes longer to digest.

Post Workout

In a post workout state, you really want to try to get some nutrients in within 30 minutes to 1 hour. That’s the ideal time frame when your body is ready to replenish glycogen stores, absorb and use nutrients, and help the muscles recover and rebuild. You primarily want to focus on re-hydrating yourself. Drink plenty of water. There are also lots of foods you can include with high water content, such as watermelon or cucumbers (my favorite).

Carbohydrates are again the nutrient of priority to replenish your glycogen stores, but there is also a stronger focus on protein here. The carbohydrates will refuel the muscles and the protein will help repair, rebuild and prevent any further breakdown of muscles, so you experience less soreness the next day. The recommendation is either a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, which is why chocolate milk is such a coveted option. I love chocolate milk after a workout, but do try to stick to 1 cup as calories and sugar can add up quickly. Unless you’re exercising right before dinner, try to add a larger, regular meal 1-2 hours after your snack, or when needed. If you’re hungry, eat!

chocolate milk, pre and post workout nutrition


Some other examples of post workout options that I like include homemade protein shakes (optional: add in spinach for extra micronutrients), Greek yogurt, Whole wheat Pita with tuna/chicken/turkey, Trail mix, Peanut butter/jelly sandwich, Hard boiled egg with veggies, sweet potato.


For normal exercising individuals (3-4 times/week for 30-60 minutes), your diet should be 45-65% carbohydrates. If you’re exercising more than this, you’ll want to up your carbohydrates to provide sufficient energy for these workouts and adjust meals and snacks accordingly. The general recommendation for protein is about 10-35% of your diet. Normal people need about .8 grams of protein per kg of body weight, but active people may need to increase it to 1.2-1.4 g/kg for endurance athletes, and as high as 1.7 g/kg for power athletes (source) to repair muscles.

Basically, you always need carbs.  Without proper energy, your body won’t perform or recover properly.




Hopefully this was helpful!

Your turn:

What’s your pre and post workout snack regimen?

When do you like to work out?

15 responses to “The Difference Between Pre and Post Workout Nutrition

  1. This is why I just can’t work out before breakfast! When I’ve tried to before, I felt l like I was hitting a brick wall. My pre-workout is usually my breakfast and then post-workout I love cottage cheese or greek yogurt w/ fruit. Since I started weight lifting, I’ve tried to be diligent about getting protein in soon after I work out.
    Also, what a sweet welcoming!

    1. I hear that! I try and try to be a morning workout person but I just love eating a big breakfast and drinking coffee right when I wake up, so it’s not in my DNA. If I absolutely have to get a workout in, I can do it. Very important to get that protein in post workout – great job!

  2. Absolutely love this post, I was nodding to many things and also got to learn some new stuff as well! Love that everything you say is evidence based and how specific you are about all the information you are giving! Thanks for giving us examples of what you would usually eat after or before a workout, that really helps 🙂

    1. The salt makes sense because of all the water and sweat you are losing! 🙂 I love morning smoothies and since they’re liquid, they are easier to digest and stomach for many people.

  3. For those with a sensitive stomach look at Huma Gels for a nice easy on the tummy pre run fuel. They are 100% all natural. First ingredient for the fruit flavors are either mango, blueberry, strawberry, Apple, or raspberry purée. 100 calories per gel and it’ll get you going!! Also for an easy post workout snack check out bonk breaker bars!! Real food and real good!! Thanks for another great read!

  4. Great info Sarah, I do much better with fueling before than after. I love nuun and usually carry my own water while training or racing and it is always Nuun! It took me some time to figure out I needed carbs to fuel my runs. I try to have carbs before a race and I feel like my body is much more efficient with them than without! Thanks for this!

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