Workout Nutrition

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A common question we get in regards to physical activity is “what should I eat before and after a workout?” Well, that can depend. What is your ultimate goal? Fat loss? Muscle gain? Training? Whatever the goal, there are a few principles that apply.


Pre workout nutrition should be individualized. Most often, we guide you towards consuming a carbohydrate and protein-based meal or snack prior to exercise. Having some protein pre-workout, and adequate daily protein, helps to provide the necessary amino acids for muscle building. Having some carbohydrate can help to fuel your workouts since your muscle wants to use glucose for energy. That being said, some people prefer fasted morning workouts. If you are getting adequate protein the rest of the day, this approach could be alright for you to follow. People who tend to have a lower carbohydrate diet in general may feel better with this method of training.

You can have your pre-workout snack/meal 1-3 hours prior to the activity. The timing depends on the quantity of food and how quickly it is digested. A snack of 100-200 calories may be tolerated if consumed 1-1.5 hours prior to exercise, whereas a meal closer to 300-500 calories should be consumed closer to 2.5-3 hours prior.

Pre-workout meals should be lower in fat in order to prevent GI distress during the workout since it takes longer to digest and absorb.

Some pre-workout snack options:

  • 1/2 banana or 1 piece whole grain toast+ 1 Tablespoon peanut butter
  • greek yogurt
  • Kind bar
  • protein powder with almond milk
  • Dried fruit with nuts
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A good post workout snack or meal is much like a pre-workout plan.  The goals of post workout nutrition are:

  • replenish your energy stores
  • increase muscle size and/or muscle quality
  • repair any damage caused by the workout

To replenish energy stores you need some form of carbohydrate after your workout.  Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you need to “carb load”.  Experts say you can benefit from 0.25-0.4gm of carbohydrates per pound of body weight to estimate post workout needs.  EX: 120# x 0.25 = 30gm.

Protein is needed for muscle repair and growth.  How much protein and how soon you should eat it after a workout is still highly contested.  Our recommendation here at Weigh to Wellness Denver is to have adequate protein throughout the day on a daily basis.  If you have consistent protein intake you should be able to build muscle mass at any time.


It is very important to be well hydrated prior to your workout.  Most experts agree that if you are dehydrated before you start exercising it is nearly impossible to make up that hydration during a workout.

An easy way to tell if you are well hydrated before your workout is if your urine color is pale yellow or close to clear.

Some guidelines for hydration prior to a workout is to drink 16 ounces 2 hours before the workout and 6-12 ounces 30 min before the workout and 6-12 ounces every 15 minutes during exercise.

Foods that can help you rehydrate after a workout: broths, fruits and vegetables.  Consuming these foods after a workout can help you replenish fluids lost during your workout.

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Electrolyte enhanced beverages or snacks are not usually necessary for workouts lasting less than 60 minutes.  Electrolyte replacement is highly recommended for workouts lasting longer than 90 minutes. Especially if your workout is for endurance training (for triathlons and marathons).  Electrolyte replacement is also recommended for exercise done in hot places and if you expect to have excessive sweating during your workout.

Remember that drinks like Gatorade, Powerade or Vitamin waters were formulated for athletes and are designed to put calories back into your system so that you can maintain your weight even during heavy workouts.  Drinking a regular Gatorade after a 60 minute workout can replace all the calories you just tried to lose.  There are lower calorie options for your electrolyte replacement instead of high calorie drinks.  One example are Nuun tablets that you can put into your water. One tablet is only 10 calories and contains all the electrolytes listed below to help optimize performance.

Key electrolytes lost during exercise: sodium, chloride, magnesium, calcium, potassium



Caffeine has been considered a performance enhancer for quite a while. It is a stimulant which can give you a boost of energy, so this makes sense. But when and how much caffeine do you need to boost performance?

Caffeine can help to improve aerobic and anaerobic activity. If you are doing endurance type activity, such as a long run, your routine daily cup of joe can help to improve performance. Coffee and caffeine have been shown in studies to improve endurance performance. However, to improve a short, high-intensity, burst of activity, such as a sprint, having an infrequent cup of coffee prior is slightly beneficial. The higher your tolerance, the less potential benefit.

When it comes to strength training, the results are mixed regarding caffeine’s benefit.

Caffeine can also help to burn more fat. This occurs for several reasons. It can help to give you a more productive workout. It can also help you to burn more calories for a short period of time by boosting your metabolic rate. Again, the higher a tolerance you create with caffeine, the lower this effect may be. Caffeine can also improve your bodies ability to break down fat, a term called lipolysis.

So overall when it comes to caffeine, feel free to experiment! Try your cup of coffee 1-2 hours prior to exercise and see if you notice that it helps to give you an energy boost to have a better workout.