What Should I Eat Before and After Going to The Gym?

We’re well into 2024 and you may be a seasoned gym-goer looking to level up or potentially a novice trying something new this year. This could mean stepping up your training routine and pushing your training that little bit further. 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 starting out or switching things up with your training, take things slowly and ease yourself into it. There is no point in rushing, as you risk the chance of injuring yourself, which would be a huge set back! Head over to our blog here for some extra motivation.

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. If you’re doing something a little less intense, like yoga, the necessity for this is reduced.

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. 

Aim to avoid training completely fasted (especially females), where possible, as it can negatively impact performance, energy levels, and hormone levels and can trigger potentially adverse eating behaviours.

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. It is also an important consideration if your class is first thing in the morning, before your usual breakfast time. 

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.

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. 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. 

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.

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Published by Georgia Chilton

In her teenage years, a love of food and rowing led Georgia into this field as she wanted to know how to optimise performance through nutrition. With a BSc in Nutrition and an MSc in Sports and Exercise Nutrition, she has the skill set to help you track towards your goals and maximise your potential.

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