For the past year and a half, my routine had been very routine.
Alarm goes off 4:50 AM. Snooze Until 5:00 AM. Drive to the gym and start workout at 5:30 AM. Finish workout at 6:30 AM. Go home, start working, eat breakfast around 10 or 11 AM.
Something I want to make very clear in this article is that we are all individuals . What works for one of us, might not work for another. Also with most things in life 80% of your results will come from a few important actions. Then there are things that may still be important, but won’t make up the large percentage of your results.
For building a strong, healthy body, I think the three most important things are your sleep quality/quantity, training smart with progressive overload, what you eat in a 24 hour period. AFTER these three things comes the timing of your nutrition. Still important, just not more important than those three.
With all the pre and post workout nutrition information in this post, take it in under the lens that first and foremost it’s important that you master your overall nutrition intake. As shown in my routine above, I didn’t utilize pre and post workout nutrition in the past years, yet still was able to do 10 pull ups, deadlift 270 pounds and maintain a lean physique.
It wasn’t until the global pandemic that I took the opportunity to change my routine to allow for better nutrient timing. Plus I enrolled in Dr. Stacy Sims’ Women Are Not Small Men course which is persuasive about the importance of pre and post workout nutrition. So on May 15th I decided I would give fueling around my workouts a try for 30 days to see if it had any positive effects for me (given that I’m already consistent with my sleep, workouts and overall food intake).
Bonus – Thought from a Registered Dietitian
You are in for a treat! To help make this article as accurate and helpful as possible, I’ve enlisted the help of Morgan Smith, MS, RD! She says:
“Food is fuel. If you care about your long term hormonal health, ability to perform, or want to make improvements with your aesthetics you should be eating a pre and post workout meal – especially if you are participating in strength training or a high intensity training session. No matter what diet style you follow, these types of exercise utilize carbohydrate as fuel.”
Make sure to check out all the awesome things she is doing over on instagram, like hip thrusting more than you, making incredible meals and being an WNBF Bikini Pro!
Benefits of Pre Workout Nutrition
Let’s have our Dietitian weigh in first!
“Pre-workout. This doesn’t have to be a full on meal but you do need to get some food down the hatch. Aim for at least 30g of carbs and 20g of protein, 20 to 90 min before starting exercise. Fats are a great addition to a preworkout meal because it’ll slow down the rate of metabolism so it will fuel you throughout your workout. If you have a hard lifting session or long endurance activity planned then you’ll need more carbohydrate before or to add and intra workout drink or snack.”
Think of this as putting fuel in the tank for what you are about to do. If you give your body energy, it will be able to work harder, get more out of a session, get more results.
Of course, your exact amount of fuel depends on what intensity and type of workout you’re doing, but in general we want a predominately carb based snack before a workout with a little bit of protein. My go-to in this 30 day experiment has been 1/2-1 banana and a little bit of peanut butter (this is a tad low in protein, but I just went with it) about 30 minutes before my workout. For upper body workouts I did half a banana and for lower body or longer runs I did a whole banana.
Honestly I love peanut butter and banana so it kind of felt like a treat to have this in the morning, since I previously had nothing. It made me a little more excited for the workout!
I also think a benefit of adding pre-workout nutrition for the first time was the mental effect. It’s like the first time you take preworkout supplement. Simply the act of thinking that something was going to fuel me even better for a workout, probably made me feel like I could push a little harder!
In my Women Are Not Small Men course, Dr. Sims also recommends pre-workout nutrition to help mitigate the increase of cortisol during fasted workouts, decrease the catabolic (muscle breakdown) response and spike the blood sugar for improved performance.
Benefits of Post Workout Nutrition
You’ve fueled for your workout, completed your workout, now what does Morgan recommend you do after?
“Post workout. This is all about stimulating muscle protein synthesis (MPS). An important item here is protein quality, bioavailability, and branch chain amino acids, specifically leucine to get the ball rolling. Men can get by stimulating MPS with 20g of protein post workout. Research shows that women need more because they metabolize BCAA differently than men. Women need 30g of protein post workout. Those needs increase to 40g if you are a peri/post menopausal woman. Excellent protein sources with high leucine are whey, beef, and eggs. Carbs should be at least another 30g. Keep fats low in your initial post workout meal as you want to quickly breakdown and absorb protein and carbs. Try to get this meal in close to ending your training session.”
This is a great way to think about post workout nutrition — starting the recovery process. The longer it takes you to recover, the longer it is before you can push hard again.
To help keep it straight, think carbs and little protein pre workout; protein & carbs post workout.
Dr. Sims research on women has show that 30 grams of protein within 30-45 minutes post-workout is the ideal amount to promote optimal recovery in premenopausal women. There’s been some workouts where I get only 20-25 grams of protein after, but it’s still a big difference from the 0 grams of protein I was getting right after a workout previously.
Dr. Sims also recommends post-workout nutrition to stop the catabolic response post exercise, replenish depleted glycogen stores from exercise and prevent a LEA (low energy availability) state*.
*LEA is when a person is under eating for their activity level and has small, sometimes unnoticed, but negative effects on energy, performance and overall health.
Did I notice a difference? It’s hard to say.
I did really enjoy eating more bananas with peanut butter 🙂 And it did feel good to know that I was taking care of my body and helping it recover post workout.
Something to remember is that my total daily intake of food is in a good place. If you go from under eating to eating the right amount & fueling your workouts, you may notice a bigger change than I did!
Also note that with an experiment like, the impact of meal timing isn’t going to be EARTH SHATTERING; I might not tangibly notice them but they could still be there. I need to continue this experiment longer than one month to see if I notice more positive effects. I do, however think that my fatigue/time to recover from workouts has slightly decreased!
Is pre and post workout nutrition a miracle cure to unlocking all the muscular and strength potential of your dreams? No.
Is it probably helpful to the general population? Yes.
Is it especially helpful for women? Yes.
Is it definitely helpful to professional athletes or more serious exercise enthusiasts? Yes.
Will it give you a little mental and physical boost knowing you are fueling your workouts? Likely.
Let me know your thoughts! Do you think nutrient timing is more important than I give it credit for? Do you think it depends on the person?