The Surprising Truth About Pre- and Post-Workout Meals

Way too many people buy “gainer” shakes or some other type of post-workout meal replacement.

If you do, stop.

Go look at your gainer shake’s ingredients. What is it mostly made out of? Protein and carbs. What kind of carbs? Most of the time maltodextrin, which has similar properties as dextrose, the simple sugar.

Now, I’m not really saying that anything is inherently wrong with those shakes; it’s just that there is nothing really good about them either.  The only good thing that they might do is force you to eat a lot after you lift, which brings us to today’s topics:

What should you eat before you lift?

What you eat before you lift should fulfill 2 goals:

  1. To give you enough energy while you’re lifting
  2. To give you protein that your body can use when you finish lifting

Your pre-workout meal gives you energy while you lift. This one shouldn’t really be too much of a surprise. If you feel like you don’t have a lot of energy when you are lifting then you might have screwed up your pre-workout meal (or you could be a little bit dehydrated).  However, this on an individual basis. Some people need to have carbs+pro when they lift, some just need pro, and some are fine with BCAAs beforehand. It’s really up to you.  If you can handle allocating a good chunk of your day’s carbs plus 20-50g of protein pre-workout and not throw up, that’s up to you, and it wouldn’t hurt you much (it could help). Normally, though, I’ll just choose some small meal.  Recently, I have just put a cup of milk, a banana and a protein scoop (whey) into a blender and had that a little while before I lifted.  Don’t be afraid of the fructose from fruit pre-workout.

Besides just eating, you can have some type of stimulant 20-30 mins pre-workout too, if you want.  This could be in the form of Jack3d, or anything else. Normally, though, I’ll just have a caffeine pill from Walmart. A lot cheaper.

Your pre-workout meal gives you protein that your body can use when you finish lifting. The protein that you have pre-workout needs to digest a bit before it can be used. Thus, the protein that you consume pre-workout will mostly be used for after you lift.  This is a good thing, because then your body has instant access to protein immediately when you get done working out.  This also gets rid of the myth that you need to consume protein immediately (IMMEDIATELY!) after you lift.  Since your body already has the protein in it from the pre-workout meal, it doesn’t matter much if you wait a bit to eat your post-workout meal.  Also, pre-workout is about the only time that I would say you should have whey for the type of protein.  This is because whey is a “fast” protein. By fast, I do not mean that it actually starts being used by your body before other types of protein, because it really doesn’t.  By “fast”, I mean that when it starts being used by your body (somewhere around and hour, depending on what else you ate with it and junk), more of it is used earlier while slower proteins are more spread out over time.  Anyway, just have whey before you lift.

What should you eat after you lift?

What’s the most important meal of the day? Breakfast, you say? Nope. Guess again…

Your post-workout meal (and arguable your pre-workout meal too).

Lifting has an effect on protein synthesis that nothing else can even come close to.  For the hours after you lift, your body has skyrocketed it’s protein synthesis, so you should take advantage of that. An easy way to think about it is that after you lift, your body will take what you eat and use more of it to go towards building (or at least repairing) muscle than at other times of the day. Therefore, you should allocate most of your day’s calories to after you lift.

As for the first post-workout meal, it doesn’t really matter much what you have, but there are some guidelines.

Have a ton of protein. As I said here, your body can digest a lot more than 30g at one time, especially post-workout.  There are many times when I have had over 100g of protein in my post-workout meal.  The more protein that you consume, the longer it will take to digest, but it will have no negatives effects.  The protein can be in the form of anything, too. Normally, I will have whey or whey+casein, but if you were to have chicken or something else it wouldn’t hurt you much, if at all.

Have a good chunk of your day’s worth of carbs. The amount of carbs that you have post-workout doesn’t really matter, and if you wanted to, you could not eat any carbs. However, since this meal would take the carbs you ate and store them in your glycogen storages in your muscles more than other meals, why not have a big chunk of your day’s worth of carbs here? I will normally eat at least 50% of the total carbs that I am going to eat that day in this meal, normally in the form of oatmeal, fiber bars, cereal, milk, pure dextrose, etc.  It doesn’t really matter much where the carbs come from.  One restriction you should place on carbs is not having a lot of fructose in this meal. Fructose is a type of sugar that goes straight to your liver and doesn’t help refill your glycogen storages at all.

Limit the amount of fat you have in this meal. Not that having fat during this meal is that bad, it’s just that there is no real point to have it. Save most of the fat that you are going to consume that day for later on, when you are running low on your carb budget.  Especially if you are dieting, this will allow you to eat something that will make you feel full later on instead of adding it to an already very large meal.

Take creatine. creatine is one of the only supplements that has a ton of scientific research backing up it’s benefits.  I recommend that everyone take between 5-8g of creatine after you lift, depending on how much you weight.  If you didn’t work out some day, then take creatine with a meal that has a lot of carbs.  There is no need to cycle creatine; that myth was broken some time ago.


The most important things are to always have a lot of protein in you around the time you are training and that the majority of your day’s worth of calories are after you lift, for better calorie partitioning.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave a comment below!