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Pre Workout vs Post Workout Nutrition: What To Know

Are you confused about pre workout vs post workout nutrition? This post will review some of the key differences and the imporatnce of pre and post workout nutrition, and how you can strategically plan your nutrition around each.

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Many of my clients want me to give them a list of foods about what to eat in the pre workout vs post workout realm. There seems to be a lot of confusion about pre vs post workout protein, carbohydrates, fasting and more.

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 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 for performance, endurance and recovery, like we preach in our Nail Your Nutrition Fueling Course

The Nail Your Nutrition Course


13 modules of sports nutrition information to help you PR, feel nutritionally adequate, confident and strong for your next 13.1 or 26.2. Learn how to fuel your endurance activity, recover quickly and get all the right nutrients to keep you fit and healthy to meet your performance goals.

While running is my go-to exercise, I’ve tried to provide some general information for all workouts, though it will vary depending on the length, intensity and ins-and-outs of your exercise of choice. 

Pre Workout Vs Post Workout Nutrition 

Pre and post workout nutrition are not one in the same. Alot is very individual and will depend on when you’re exercising, how long you’re exercising for, and the last time you’ve eaten.

For example, if you’re preparing for a marathon, or any race over 90 minutes, you will likely want to understand carb loading for runners.

You can see up to a 2-3% improvement in performance by including some of the best carb loading meals and foods.

Girl running around a track | Bucket List Tummy

In pre workout nutrition, we’re talking about the foods that will fuel you up before your activity. And hence, prevent glycogen depletion and give you sustaining energy. 

In post workout nutrition, we’re mainly referring to foods for recovery. These foods will help your muscles replenish and rebuild so you can feel good for the subsequent exercise. 

Many of these healthy snacks for athletes can be catered to either pre workout or post workout snacks. 

It’s also important to mention that pre workout vs post workout nutrition goals may be different for adults vs children and teenagers.

Here’s a good post about nutrition for teenage athletes!

Eggs and oatmeal after a workout

Key Difference Between Nutrition Pre and Post Workout

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 translate to direct fuel that our muscles know how to process and use. They also help us work out harder and more efficiently, so we’re not fatigued or burning through our muscles while we’re working to build it up.

Following a low carb diet for athletes while engaging in endurance exercise is not always the smartest decision.

The main difference in a pre vs post workout meal is typically the size of the meal and the amount of protein and fiber! You can find many low fiber options for athletes in this sample grocery list for athletes. 

Many athletes rely on fast-acting carbs, like white bread, applesauce, gels or running chews before a workout.


Another important part of pre workout nutrition is hydration. 

I love and strongly recommend NUUN electrolyte tabs, UCAN and Skratch hydration, which add flavor and electrolytes like potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium

Ucan fueling
Click here to order

Whether you need hydration tips for summer running or hydration reminders for winter, going into a workout hydrated is your best bet. 

Nuun tub and skratch electrolyte packets


If you’re a coffee drinker, good news – caffeine can be ergogenic before a workout!

Is coffee better than pre workout? It really depends on the season you’re taking it. Coffee can provide ergogenic benefits and you can get other things, like BCAAs, through other products and foods. 

What Are Good Carbohydrates To Eat Before a Workout?

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 and upset stomachs, which we call runners stomach

This guide to race day nutrition talks in depth about how far in advance to eat before a race, and how to handle fueling during. 

This is the sports nutrition resource you’ve been missing in your training. It can help make sure you’re eating enough for performance and recovery.grab it now!

intuitive eating ebook

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.

A little protein (<10 grams) should be okay but this will depend on the person! 

I typically tend to recommend:

Oatmeal with peanut butter, greek yogurt and chia seeds as pre-race breakfast

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).

Some ideas would be 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.

white bowl of cheerios on wooden counter

Generally, I aim to snack about 1-2 hours before a run, particularly if I’m running in the afternoon or after work.

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.

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 and I bet yours will too!

What to Eat Before a Long Workout

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.

Or, allow your body some extra time to digest it. 

I’d suggest some easy-to-digest proteins, like eggs, peanut butter and even yogurt. 

over easy eggs on white plate with piece of toast

Considerations For Post Workout Nutrition 

The main goal of post workout nutrition is to refuel your muscles and cells.

While the ideal time frame may not be 30 minutes for refueling like we once thought, I always tell my athletes the sooner the better, one of my favorite debunked sports nutrition myths

Athlete meal delivery services can be great for post workout nutrition, especially if you have no appetite after a workout or haven’t prepped anything.

After a workout, your body is primed and ready to:

  • replenish glycogen stores
  • absorb and use nutrients
  • help the muscles recover and rebuild
  • rehydrate


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).

If you have trouble drinking water, I highly recommend investing in an infuser water bottle!  

pink water bottle with trees in backround

The general recommendation is to drink 16-24 ounces for each pound lost, which is likely higher during longer endurance workouts and in summer months.

Therefore, running and cycling post workout nutrition may have higher rehydration needs than a strength session. It’s also important to consider sodium and electrolytes, depending on your sweat rate lost.

There are plenty of options to look into (I love UCAN), but you can also make a homemade hydration drink with carbs, sodium and juice. 

diy electrolyte drink with turmeric and orange

Why Eat Carbohydrates After a Workout?

Again, carbohydrates are the nutrient of priority to replenish your glycogen stores. Since carbohydrates are the main form of energy we use to power exercise, we need to eat consistent carbohydrates, both before and after a workout (and during a longer workout).

After a workout, carbohydrates will help stimulate the hormone, insulin, which will help our bodies take in both carbohydrates and protein, important for nourishment. 

How Much Protein Do I Need After a Workout?

Should you drink protein shakes before or after a workout? Definitely after!

There is also a stronger focus on protein in the post workout nutrition space, in comparison to pre workout nutrition. And athletes, especially, have higher protein needs. Even protein for endurance runners is high(er)!

The carbohydrates will refuel the muscles and the additional 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 (typically 20-30 grams of protein). Chocolate milk is such a coveted option because it has a natural ratio of them. 

Also, having a solid protein powder after running or even a protein shake can be useful.

If you like to eat something solid, a smoothie bowl with strawberries and banana can be hearty, with toppings.

Chocolate milk after a run

When we talk about protein, we specifically want to include the amino acid, leucine, which helps with muscle growth and repair, decreased muscle soreness, blood sugar regulation and more. Leucine is mainly found in aminal products, eggs and smaller amounts in soy and pea protein. 

When thinking about pre vs post workout protein, know that more will be utilized in the post workout period when the muscles are depleted. 

Eggs, dairy, meat on table, as foods high in leucine

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!

Some other examples of leucine-rich post workout options that I like include:

Macronutrient Breakdown for Athletes

For normal exercising individuals (3-4 times/week for 30-60 minutes), your diet should be at least 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.

There are also benefits to carb loading before a race, as we discuss in our Fueling Course

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 to repair muscles (source).  

Fat typically makes up the difference in a person’s diet. Remember, if you’re increasing one macronutrient group, you’re likely decreasing one or both of the others to counteract it.  

You want to be eating the right distribution of macronutrients to have steady energy and prevent constant hunger, which is common among athletes!

My Hunger EBook helps athletes spot their hunger and ensure they’re eating enough for both pre workout vs post workout nutrition. 

learn how to honor your hunger Ebook


Campbell B, Kreider RB, Ziegenfuss T, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007;4:8.

Institute of Medicine Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Energy, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2002.

Phillips SM. Dietary protein requirements and adaptive advantages in athletes. Br J Nutr. 2012;108(Suppl 2):S158-167.

Powers SK, Jackson MJ. Exercise-induced oxidative stress: cellular mechanisms and impact on muscle force production. Physiol Rev. 2008;88(4):1243-1276. doi:10.1152/physrev.00031.2007

Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance [published correction appears in J Acad Nutr Diet. 2017 Jan;117(1):146]. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116(3):501-528. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2015.12.006

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  1. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. Great info! I like to have a morning smoothie and then workout about an hour later. And then after runs I need something salty!

    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.

  4. 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 🙂

  5. I’m funny about eating right before, so I aim for about a 1 hour window. I always get my carbs before and after, and I focus on 20g of protein after for muscle recovery.

  6. 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!