What To Eat Before And After A Workout: The Ultimate Guide

What you eat before and after your workout – aka your pre and post workout meals – is a diet topic filled with confusion, arguments, and misinformation.

And then there are the questions. Good lord… the questions. Here’s an example of the type of stuff I get asked on a daily basis:

  • What should I eat before my workout?
  • What should I eat after my workout?
  • What’s the best pre/post workout shake or snack?
  • Exactly how many grams of protein, carbs and/or fat should these meals contain?
  • Should my protein or carb source be a fast digesting one?
  • Should I have a solid food meal or a liquid meal (like a shake) because it digests faster?
  • Is whey isolate best? Or is whey concentrate best? What about hydrolyzed whey?
  • How long before my workout should I have my pre workout meal?
  • How soon after should I have my post workout meal?
  • And on and on and on.

Clearly, this is a topic that people need help with. And today, I’m going to provide you with the biggest help of all.

The Definitive Answers To ALL Of These Questions

I’ve spent the last 12 months rigorously reviewing all of the existing research relating to pre and post workout nutrition.

I’ve read every relevant study, book and article on the subject. I’ve looked at nearly 100 recommendations from various experts in the field of diet and nutrition, and I’ve spoken directly with dozens of trainers, coaches, nutritionists and food scientists. I’ve even tested many of these different protocols myself and closely monitored my progress to see what would happen.

And now, after an entire year of researching, experimenting and immersing myself in my work, I have decided to finally put together the most thorough, comprehensive and definitive guide on this subject that you have EVER seen.

So, without further ado…

The Ultimate Guide Starts Now

Welcome to the ultimate guide to the pre and post workout meals. Let’s get started…

What To Eat Before Your Workout

Consume a meal containing a nice amount of protein and carbs from whatever sources you prefer within 1-2 hours before your workout.

What To Eat After Your Workout

Consume a meal containing a nice amount of protein and carbs from whatever sources you prefer within 1-2 hours after your workout.

The End

Thank you for reading this ultimate guide. I know it got pretty complex at times, but I hope I was able to fully answer all of your complicated questions.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

I realize that due to the complex nature of this subject and the immense size of this guide, you may still have some questions about these meals. No problem. Here are the answers to some of the most common questions people have had after reading this ultimate guide…

QUESTION #1: What the shit?!? Why are you making this out to be so simple? Everyone knows that what we eat before and after our workouts is super complicated and warrants extreme obsession over every minor detail. WTF? 

Yeah, um… about that. For the majority of the population, this topic really isn’t that complicated at all. People love to make it out to be, but really… it’s not.

QUESTION #2: But what about the people who say these meals are the key to our success with losing fat or building muscle? They say these meals are so important that they can make or break the effectiveness of our workouts. And if we don’t get them exactly right, down to the exact gram and the exact minute, we’ll gain fat, lose muscle and the entire workout will have been a waste?!?

These people are idiots. Ignore them.

QUESTION #3: So then you’re saying that what we eat before and after our workout is of no importance whatsoever?? Because I’ve also seen people who claim that these meals are completely pointless, and that you can skip them altogether and it won’t make any difference at all.

Nope, these people are also idiots. Ignore them as well.

QUESTION #4: So then what the hell, bro? Are these meals THE MOST IMPORTANT THING in the world, or are they COMPLETELY POINTLESS? Which one is it? It has to be one of the two!!

lolz, it’s neither. As with most things in the diet and fitness world (and really, life in general), things aren’t black or white, good or bad, one extreme or the other extreme. Rather, there’s a gray area in the middle where most things realistically tend to be. The pre and post workout meals are a perfect example.

So no, they are definitely not the most important thing. Within the context of your diet, that distinction will always go to your total daily calorie intake and macro intake. That’s the only stuff that can truly make or break your success. However, this fact doesn’t mean that these meals aren’t of any importance at all. They are simply one of a handful of lesser but still meaningful factors of your diet that warrant some sane degree of focus from you after you’ve gotten the more important stuff right first.

QUESTION #5: But what about the post workout anabolic window of gainz?!? Everyone knows that if you don’t slam down a post workout shake immediately after your workout (ideally within 5 minutes after your last set, but certainly never more than 30 minutes after), you’ll instantly lose all of your gainz!

Eh, not quite. Under typical circumstances, that brief “post workout window” is actually larger than people think it is, and the need to rush like a crazy person to drink a shake in the locker room next to a bunch of sweaty naked people (been there, done that) is unnecessary.

QUESTION #6: But don’t we still need to consume a super fast digesting liquid meal after working out that is comprised of ultra fast protein (whey) and ultra fast carbs (dextrose, maltodextrin or waxy maize) so this meal digests as quickly as possible?  

Nope. Under typical circumstances where a decent pre workout meal was eaten within 1-2 hours before the workout and the workout was a typical length (60-90 minutes), the nutrients you consumed pre workout will actually still be getting released into your bloodstream at this point, meaning there is no legitimate urgency for consuming a “fast” post workout shake, or consuming it ASAP.

QUESTION #7: What about the science! I don’t believe anything I read anymore unless someone cites studies that support it (even though I never actually read the studies, I just like to see the word “studies” and then assume everything is legit). Do you have any published research from smart people in some reputable journal that supports the claims you’re making?

Yup. How about something published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN) that was co-authored by people at the very top of this field (like Brad Schoenfeld and James Krieger)? If so, it’s here and here.

QUESTION #8: But some random bro at my gym and some random bro on social media and some random steroid-using bodybuilder and some random person who is paid by a supplement company all disagree with this!! 

That’s a shame. Here’s me giving zero shits.

QUESTION #9: So then are you saying it’s bad to consume a “fast” shake? Or that it’s bad to have my post workout meal “immediately” after my workout? 

Nope, I’m just saying that under those same typical circumstances I mentioned a minute ago, there is simply no need and likely no benefit to doing so. You certainly still can – there’s nothing bad about it assuming you like doing it for whatever reason and/or it suits your personal needs and preferences (hell, I still do it for reasons I explain here) – it’s just not the required magical thing some people think it is.

QUESTION #10: So you’re saying I can leave the gym, drive home without exceeding the speed limit, and calmly eat a solid food meal like an hour after my workout and everything will be okay?

Yup, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

QUESTION #11: Wait a second. I could swear I’ve read things you’ve written a really long time ago where you recommended consuming a fast digesting liquid meal as soon after your workout as possible. Aren’t you contradicting yourself now?

No, see… you’re confusing “contradicting myself” with “learning new things over time thanks to evidence and experience and then adjusting my opinions, beliefs and recommendations accordingly.”

Because yes, I, like everyone else in the nutrition world in the early/mid/late 2000s, used to give this stereotypical recommendation. And, while it’s possible that you may still come across some now-outdated thing I wrote in like 2007 or earlier where that old recommendation can still be found, what you’re seeing in this article is in line with what I’ve been recommending from around 2010 to the present day.

And guess what else? If any new evidence comes to exist at some point in the future that shows something else is more ideal for the meals before and after a workout, I’m going to adjust my recommendations yet again. (And I’ll update this article, too.)

QUESTION #12: You mentioned consuming a “nice” amount of protein and a “nice” amount of carbs in these meals. What the hell does that mean?

It means stop sweating the details. It means I don’t personally see any need to put a precise number of grams on it. It means just eat a nice amount of protein and carbs 1-2 hours before and after your workout. Simple as that.

QUESTION #13: But I need something more specific! Please! Pretty please!

Okay, fine…

  • Protein: between 0.15-0.25 grams of protein per pound of your current body weight.
  • Carbs: between 0.15-0.35 grams of carbs per pound of your current body weight.
  • (Note: people who are significantly overweight should use their goal body weight rather than their current body weight.)

There. But please keep in mind that these numbers are not magical, nor are they set in stone. It’s really nothing more than a slightly more specific starting point. A little lower than these amounts is fine. A little higher is fine as well. Whatever fits your needs, goals and preferences.

QUESTION #14: What about food sources? What are the best protein and carb sources to eat in these meals?

Eh, pretty much whatever foods you want. For example, for protein, chicken, turkey, beef, eggs, fish, whey protein powder and so on. For carbs, rice (white or brown, both are fine), potatoes (white, sweet, whatever), oats, fruit, and so on. There are no universal “best” sources for these meals or really ANY meal. Pick the foods you prefer that contain the nutrients you need. That’s pretty much it.

QUESTION #15: Can these meals contain a meaningful amount of fat or fiber?

If you’d like them to, and it fits in with your total dietary needs for the day (and in the case of your pre workout meal, it doesn’t leave you feeling uncomfortably full during your workouts)… then sure.

QUESTION #16: For the pre workout meal, what if I don’t have 1-2 hours before my workout to eat a meal because I train first thing in the morning or am coming straight from work or school?

In that case, drinking something easily digestible (e.g. whey + Gatorade) within 30 minutes before your workout and/or sipping it during the workout would be a good option to try.

QUESTION #17: What about fasted training?

That depends. Are you training fasted because you think it has some special fat burning benefit? If so, it doesn’t. Are you training fasted because you think it has some kind of strength, performance or muscle building benefit? If so, it doesn’t.

Are you training fastest because you’re doing some form of IF (intermittent fasting) that requires you to train fasted, or because you simply prefer training fasted? If so, that’s fine, though A) this is unlikely to be ideal for maximizing training performance or muscle growth (it can certainly still work, of course), B) you may want to consider having a scoop of whey or at least some BCAAs pre workout if possible (some proponents of IF recommend this as well), and C) training fasted would be a rare scenario where consuming a “fast” post workout meal as soon as possible after your workout would become more important and beneficial.

QUESTION #18: Do the calories, protein, fat and carbs in these meals count toward my totals for the day like every other meal? Or are these magical calories and macronutrients that I don’t need to pay any attention to? 

The first one.

QUESTION #19: This guide has been useful, but I think you’re forgetting the part where you’re supposed to link to some special supplement or whatever that you’re secretly being paid a commission to promote. 

Oh, my bad. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything like that to link to. Although, I have written two books – Superior Fat Loss and Superior Muscle Growth – which countless studies have shown to be the best books ever written about anything, ever. Now you know it’s legit. 😉

But seriously, buy my books.

QUESTION #20: Don’t you think it would be a good idea to make up one final question so this reaches a nice even total of exactly 20 questions?

Hell yeah!

73 thoughts on “What To Eat Before And After A Workout: The Ultimate Guide

73 Comments

  1. You are too funny! I laughed out several times. Now a request. I need to be reminded. I stopped getting to the gym for several months. Please tell me not to be an idiot and try to pick up where I stopped. I figure I should I should start over with the beginner routines.

  2. HA! I love your ‘ultimate guides’. For me I don’t get to do pre – workout meals as the only time i get to work out is as soon as i wake up in the morning.

  3. “So you’re saying I can leave the gym, drive home without exceeding the speed limit?”

    Gold.

    RE: Fasted training … “this is unlikely to be ideal for maximizing training performance or muscle growth.”

    Yes.

  4. Love This. I am the person that would take power aid and whey to the gym with me and drink it while working out because it’s just what I preferred to do, now I opt not to eat anything before a work out as I go directly after work, but do eat a nice meal after. The shit I get from it is crazy. But realistically unlike most people if I eat before the gym, I don’t want to gym anymore no matter how much I eat lol.

  5. Listen, if I want to down protein shakes surrounded by naked sweaty guys, I’m gonna down protein shakes surrounded by naked sweaty guys. You feeling me, bro?

    That aside, your posts are just the nuts – crack me up EVERY time

    Stay safe

  6. OMG thank you so much! As a personal trainer I get asked this all the time! As I am reading your article I’m hoping you’ll say at the end ” who the hell cares, just eat a balanced meal!” and as usual you didn’t let me down. I love your articles. They always confirm my thoughts. Thank you for making people see how simple it can be. Keep up the good work!

  7. how convenient! i just got home from the gym, literally 5 minutes ago, and im’a gonna eat. here’s what, fyi.
    1 cup of oatmeal in 8oz skim milk with a dash of chocolate protein power, ON brand… 5.5 oz chicken breast. and a banana.
    did push day, reverse pyramid shoulder presses 3 sets, with a couple lateral raises. then? calf raises. followed by…3 sets.reverse pyramid decline presses. finally? 2 sets rope pushdowns.
    feeling lightheaded and jittery….less writing,, more eating.
    the end

  8. Dear Jay,

    Thanks so much for presenting once again your No Nonsense Guide to Pre/Post Workout Nutrition. I LOVED it so much!!! Yeah, as I’m going into my third year of Body Building I have discovered that it’s somewhere in the middle that you’re gonna find your ‘sweet spot’. Thanks for a great article my friend!

  9. Nice! It just so happens that I’ve been doing what you recommend here for the past 2 years, and I’m quite happy with the results.

  10. Hey Jay, great name by the way.
    So my name is Jay, I’m 6’4″ 430lbs and my ideal weight should be 280…I’m also trying to be Vegan…do you have a good source of natural plant based protein and carbs you can recommend…other then eating a bunch of brussel sprouts or broccoli at 4 am???
    Thanks keep the blog coming,
    Love your humor…Jay S. Deerfield Beach FL.

    • Carb sources are easy. Rice, potatoes, fruit, vegetables, etc.

      For vegans, protein is the hard part. Chances are you’re already aware of the typical “best” vegan sources (none of which are all that great, to be honest). Beyond that, there are some vegan protein powders to consider.

  11. And the winning first prize of this years Plain Speaking Campaign goes to……

    So refreshing to have a no BS approach! Thanks

  12. I’ve just started getting involved with weight-lifting when I joined the military the end of last year. I’m already lifting more weight than I ever have before in my life. Your upper/lower split workout plan is awesome and the emails I get here and there relating to diet and nutrition really help to keep me on track. Your sense of humor just makes it that much better. Thank you!!!

  13. I have repeatedly tried to leave an email address for your 9 step diet plan but nothing registers in the box when I type. Is this a joke? I like your articles and would like to see this diet plan.

  14. Hey Jay!

    You’re information on fitness and nutrition is exactly what the world needs. Purely factual and purely common sense. Thank you for standing out in this industry above the shit that’s out there today. Really, thank you! You’re stuff is awesome! I look forward to your articles, keep it up!

    -Stephen

  15. What’s going on Jay…loved the answer sheet! I’m seriously thinking about buying your Superior mass program and was actually told by a very well known guy who’s written his own extremely great programs personally that not his program but yours would suit me best. My biggest issue since I’ve been working out the past 10 years is my diet…setting it up to suit me and exactly what and how much to eat and when. Does your Superior Muscle Mass program go into more detail on this? Like almost step for step? If so I’m sold!!

    • Indeed it does. A step-by-step guide to setting up your diet based on your specific goals, needs and preferences is EXACTLY what’s in the book.

      Also, just out of curiosity, who was the guy who recommended my program over their own?

  16. Very useful guide.
    I train fasted in the morning not because I care about IF, but because pretty much everything gives me heartburn or doesn’t digest well when I workout. Gatorade wouldn’t, but whey is likely to. So I drink BCAAs, the calorie free kind with no sugar (Scivation Xtend Raw)…the thing is, I have no idea how much to consume. How many grams would you recommend?

    • Do you have issues with whey only before your workout, or all the time? If it’s all the time, you may want to try a 100% whey isolate instead of a concentrate or an isolate/concentrate blend (which is what most whey’s are).

      In fact, even if you only have problems when using it before your workout, switching to an isolate may still solve it.

      • Thanks for the reply! Nope, no issues with whey afterwards. Pretty much anything I consume before a workout doesn’t seem to digest until I’m done. I just belch it up the whole time. Heartburn tends to occur too. Well, I’ll definitely try isolate. It’s also really tough for me in general to have the luxury of a full hour before a workout to consume anything, as I workout in the morning (my only opportunity) and also have to go to bed late. So…:
        -Is consuming whey 30-45 min before not enough time?
        -If the whey can’t happen, how many grams of BCAA should I be drinking?
        Thanks Again

        • Whey 30-45 mins before your workout should be fine. If it’s not, you may want to try consuming it slower/over a longer period of time (e.g. sipping it during the workout).

          10g or so of BCAAs pre workout should be fine.

          • Got it, thanks. I’ll give the whey another shot. Maybe I’ll try throwing just one scoop in with a ton of water, so it’s extra thin.
            Thanks for all the help.

  17. The few… the proud… the Mari… (Jk) it’s really people that respond to their reader’s comments. :’)

    Excellent article, full of pragmatic and humorous material as usual. This site has definitely changed my life and saved me countless hours. Thank you, man!

  18. Love your work and books – so informative, funny And to the point. Often share articles on my fb but no or not many likes or comments…oh well… When it comes to carb sources are veggies ok- doesn’t have to be starchy carbs – rice potatoes etc..

    • Glad to hear it!

      Vegetables are fine, though it’s going to be pretty hard to eat a meaningful amount of carbs if you’re trying to do it with mostly vegetables (thanks to the combination of being low in calories and high in fiber).

      • I think you’d be surprised if you saw my portion size of veggies for each meal! Also I’m close to 50 y.o so amount of carbs and calories are unfortunately way to easy to reach. Calories only 1700 and carbs 140-150 grams.
        Don’t get me wrong I am fine with eating starchy carbs but prefer veggies because I can eat sooooo much more and it helps with bodily functions.
        Really just curious to know that if the calories and carbs are being met, the body uses it as fuel /repair in the same way.

  19. What To Eat Before Your Workout
    Consume a meal containing a nice amount of protein and carbs from whatever sources you prefer within 1-2 hours before your workout.

    “Joe, I’ve noticed for decades you always eat a meal about 1 1/2 to 2 hours before a workout. What’s the science behind that?”
    Answer: ‘Cuz, if I eat any closer to a workout, I get indigestion.

    What To Eat After Your Workout
    Consume a meal containing a nice amount of protein and carbs from whatever sources you prefer within 1-2 hours after your workout.

    “Joe, I’ve noticed for decades you always eat a meal within thirty minutes after a workout. What’s the science behind that?”
    Answer: ‘Cuz, since it’s usually totalled 3 to 3 1/2 hours since I last ate by the time I’ve finished a workout, I’m hungry!”

  20. Jay,

    I’m too busy to make a meal before the gym and after. No really I am! Hovering over a stove with aches and pains to try and get my body like a super model is not my idea of good day!

    So! Can’t I just like drink some of those overly priced drinks that consists of pre and post work out?

  21. Is there any research at all to back this up ? As far as I have been hearing post/pre workouts are kinda controversial.

    • “Is there any research at all to back this up ?”

      If you mean, “Is there any research to back up this advice given by the author of the article: ‘Consume a meal containing a nice amount of protein and carbs from whatever sources you prefer within 1-2 hours before your workout….Consume a meal containing a nice amount of protein and carbs from whatever sources you prefer within 1-2 hours after your workout….’ “, then, yes there is. If you read his article carefully, AW gave two links to supporting research, which are copied below:

      https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-10-5

      https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-10-53

      And, yes, pre/post-workout meal timing is controversial — but, (as I’ve observed through my own forty-five years of bodybuilding since I began at age sixteen) mainly due to marketeers opportunistically or prematurely grasping bits and pieces found in biochemical studies and overstating their significance, in order to sell their supplements, books, and gimmicks.

    • Thought to add…
      Assuming muscle-building is one’s goal, then, each person’s ultimate muscle mass and proportions are set by his/her genetics. That’s true for not only lifelong-PED-free bodybuilders but even for professionals using copious amounts of drugs (since genetics control response to drugs).
      For the PED-free bodybuilder, no complex menu, no precise meal timings, no exotic “latest-scientific-hypertrophy-diet” can enable anyone to exceed the limits set by his/her genetics. if your genes set your natural maximum calf and arm size at 15.5′ and 16″ for when you’re 10% Bodyfat, then NOTHING can enable you to surpass those maximums.
      As long as a bodybuilder (who’s finished puberty) trains consistently and PROGRESSIVELY (meaning, gradually increases the resistance he uses for the same reps on an each exercise), then consuming about 1 gram of protein per pound of his bodyweight per day and about 200 calories above his maintenance calories per day will keep him adding muscle until hitting his genetic limits. That process can take 4 to 5 consecutive years of training, with most muscle added in the first two years (and, what he adds in the first two years will likely be very close to his genetic limits).
      Here’s the thing — no “scientific meal timing” can enable anyone to (naturally) exceed whatever his genes allow him to build in those four-to-five years; however, inadequate protein and/or calorie intake, and failure to add more resistance to the bar as often as you could can slow the hypertrophy process, making it take longer than it has to take. Meaning, instead of four-to-five years (or the majority of muscle in two years) it might drag it out to six or seven years (or the majority of it to three years). But , that’s the worse that can happen as long as you keep training — it’ll take longer to ceiling at your genetic potential.

      So, beyond the daily protein and calorie requirements, it’s about “patience, perseverance, consistency, consecutiveness, progressive training”. Because, while you can optimize how long it takes to reach your genetic potential, you cannot exceed it…and once you’re at it, the rest of your bodybuilding life is about “maintaining what you built”. As a 61-year-old who began at age sixteen, I’ve spent nearly FORTY of my forty-five years bodybuilding maintaining the muscle I had after about year five. So — in perspective — does it really matter if you reach your limits in four years or six years, since, if you plan on bodybuilding lifelong, you’ll spend the decades afterward doing maintenance anyway?
      Takeaway is, don’t worry about “scientific meal timings”, etcetera — focus on the simple daily protein/calorie requisites and be consistent in your progressive training. If you do, then you WILL finally reach your full natural potential, whether a little sooner or a little later.

      • WOW …. 45 years …. I am genuinely impressed and I red out of curiosity your whole post since you are a veteran in body building …. some very interesting info you provide here and it makes sense to me.

  22. Hahahahahaha
    Thank you Jay one more time!!!

    Right to the point as always!

    Thank you so much for opening my eyes 2 years ago!

    Tom

  23. I really appreciate this, explained simple and nothing made out complex as alot of guides do. Also made it very entertaining haha.
    Keep up the good work mate.

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