What Should I Eat Before and After Going to The Gym?
With the opening up of gyms again, comes a change in exercise regime for some. This could mean stepping up your training routine now you can switch up your sessions from home workouts to pumping iron once again! With that in mind, we’re here to give you some guidance to support your training and answer a very commonly asked question: What should I eat before and after going to the gym?
When heading back to the gym or switching things up with your training, take things slowly and ease yourself back into it. Check out our 5 top tips for creating a workout routine. There is no point in rushing, as you risk the chance of injuring yourself, which would be a huge set back!
It is important to be aware that there are no ideal pre-and-post training guidelines for all – it is always dependent on context and you as an individual (as with most things nutrition related).
What to eat before the gym?
Pre-workout nutrition is important to ensure you are adequately fuelled for the session ahead.
This all comes down to context. If for example, you plan to go for a 10km run or do a heavy weights session it will likely be beneficial if you consume a meal or snack containing adequate carbs in the lead up to this session (in addition to across the day). This is because carbs are the body’s main / preferred source of energy.
To give you a bit of background, carbohydrates consumed are metabolised into glucose. Excess glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen and can be quickly converted back into glucose if required.
Glycogen (storage form of glucose) stores within the body are limited and depletion has been found to negatively impact exercise performance, namely through feelings of fatigue and exhaustion. When levels are extremely low in muscle stores, the body is forced to revert to utilising protein to produce glucose, which can lead to muscle damage and even overtraining if sustained for a period of time.
I’ve rounded up a couple of my go-to’s:
- Bananas are considered to be low GI, meaning they provide a slow release of energy. A quick and easy snack before a session.
- Nuts and dried fruit – dried fruits are almost completely made up of glucose, a simple carbohydrate that is easily burned by muscles as fuel during exercise, making them the perfect base for a pre-session snack. Nuts are a great source of healthy fats and are energy-dense. They are also packed with soluble fibre, which increases food transit time between the stomach and the small intestine. This process slows the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, which promotes more stable blood sugar levels. Great as a light snack before attempting some heavy lifts!
- Apple and peanut butter – apples are packed full of antioxidants and flavonoids – there’s truth behind the saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’. Studies have linked, quercetin (a flavonoid) with improved endurance performance by increasing V02 max in those new to exercise (1). Peanut butter is rich in healthy fats and so energy-dense.
Do you need to eat something 30 minutes before?
If you are consuming enough across the course of a day, in regular intervals, a snack 30 minutes before your session is not always essential, but can be used as a pick me up if needed. I would typically recommend going for something light and easy to digest e.g a small piece of fruit.
Note you may need to experiment with time-frames and see how your body responds.
What to eat after the gym?
To put it simply, post-workout is all about recovery – carbs to refuel your muscles and high-quality protein to initiate the repair of muscle tissue.
You may have seen avid gym-goers chugging on a protein shake the minute they leave the weights section, in order to maximise their gains. It is often referred to as the ‘anabolic window,’ where growth and recovery are said to be enhanced by taking in protein/nutrients within a narrow time frame after training (2).
Unless you’re someone who trains multiple times per day or very intensely across the course of the week, it will likely be more important to focus on your diet as a whole across the course of the day, as opposed to getting too hung up on strict post-workout nutrition strategies.
However, consuming a well-balanced meal consisting of good quality protein and carbohydrates, combined with a source of healthy fat, within a couple of hours of your session will do the trick in most cases!
In instances where your workout has been particularly taxing or you need to bridge the gap before your next meal, grab something with an emphasis on protein and carbs, eg. homemade shakes/smoothies like our epic refuel shake. They are really handy to have post-workout as you are able to pack in plenty of carbs and protein in an easily digestible form. Try one with protein powder, milk, berries and oats.
Other ideas include:
– Hummus and crudites/ rice cakes – not only are chickpeas packed with plant-based protein, but they are also a source of carbs, making them a sensible choice either pre-or post-workout when paired with crudites or rice cakes.
– Omelette with avocado, spinach and tomato If you prefer working out in the morning, eggs can be a great breakfast to indulge in afterwards. Eggs offer a great source of protein to assist with muscle repair, whilst pairing it with veggies provides a good dose of fibre to keep you full until lunchtime.
– Chicken breast with steamed vegetables and whole grain noodles – chicken is one of the leanest animal protein sources available which will assist with muscle recovery. Serving this great protein source with a portion of whole grains will provide us with slow release carbohydrates which will replenish our glycogen stores.
What about supplements?
Sports nutrition is a fast-growing industry with proteins, energy gels and supplements, all of which are thought to bring some sort of benefit to sporting performance. It used to be an industry solely geared towards bodybuilders and athletes, but it is now far more common for the rest of the population to dabble in it at some time or another.
Whilst there are many on the market, there are far fewer which are actually backed by science.
There are two which have been extensively researched over the years:
- Caffeine – has been shown to impact the central nervous system and the perception of fatigue, but associations have also been made with adrenaline stimulation, fat mobilization, and muscle contractility(3).
The majority of benefits have been shown in sustained maximal endurance exercise and has been shown to be highly effective for time-trial performance. It has also been found to be advantageous for intermittent or interval type team sports of high intensity, as well as strength-power sports(4).
It has also been shown to improve the rate at which glycogen stores are replenished post-workout when consumed in combination with carbohydrates(5). This is particularly useful if your sessions are in close succession or you train intensely extremely frequently.
- Creatine – is another widely researched sports supplement. It plays a role in energy production, which is particularly relevant under conditions of high energy demand such as intense physical activity.
Studies have consistently shown that creatine supplementation increases intramuscular creatine concentrations which may help explain the observed improvements in high-intensity exercise performance leading to greater training adaptations (6).
Although both supplements are widely researched and have been found to be beneficial for sporting performance, a healthy, balanced diet and appropriate training routine should be put in place first and foremost, before opting for sporting supplements.
Pre and post-training nutrition is dependent on the individual and the activity you are taking part in. Snacks aren’t essential but can be used as a pick me up pre-session or to bridge the gap before your next meal post-workout.
As a guide, try not to eat too close to a workout, perhaps between 1-2 hours before. I wouldn’t recommend a large meal before a workout session, so if you’re feeling hungry, best off to grab a light snack. Post-workout, I would aim to have something to eat within a similar window, whether this be a snack or a larger size meal.
Ideally, snacks and meals should contain a combination of protein, carbs and healthy fats – all of which are important at both points in time.
It’s important to find out what works for you as there are no set guidelines – what works for one, may not be suitable for another.
Lastly, I would always suggest trialling things ahead of any competitive events as you would not want to negatively impact your performance on the day!
If you would like to discuss your goals or any potential nutrition changes to support your revised training regime, book a call with us.
Georgia Head, Fresh Fitness Food Nutritionist, BSc Nutrition & MSc Sports and Exercise Nutrition
1) Davis, J., Carlstedt, C., Chen, S., Carmichael, M. and Murphy, E., 2010. The Dietary Flavonoid Quercetin Increases VO2max and Endurance Capacity. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 20(1), pp.56-62.
2) Schoenfeld, B., Aragon, A. and Krieger, J., 2013. The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1).
3) Andrea Kench, Hiran Selvadurai, in Diet and Exercise in Cystic Fibrosis. The Sports Medicine Resource Manual, 2015, Pages 317-332
4) Goldstein, E., Ziegenfuss, T., Kalman, D., Kreider, R., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C., Taylor, L., Willoughby, D., Stout, J., Graves, B., Wildman, R., Ivy, J., Spano, M., Smith, A. and Antonio, J., 2020. International Society Of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Caffeine And Performance.
5) Pedersen DJ, et al. High rates of muscle glycogen resynthesis after exhaustive exercise when carbohydrate is congested with caffeine. J Appl Physiol (1985). (2008)
6) Kreider, R., Kalman, D., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T., Wildman, R., Collins, R., Candow, D., Kleiner, S., Almada, A. and Lopez, H., 2017. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1).