Pre and Post Workout Nutrition Strategies

You need to know what works for you to get the most out of pre and post workout nutrition.

Post workout nutrition makes a huge difference on your ability to recover, get better, feel good and rest properly. Everyone is different, so use the following guidelines to plan your pre and post workout nutrition strategy. Please take notes on how you feel and how you perform as it relates to a nutrition strategy. Keeping a training journal is a good idea, but nothing in here is set in stone. You are a freaking awesome machine with components that vary immensely from the person next to you. You have to tinker with these things to know what is best for you. These guidelines are heavily based on OPT which I found to be the best overall approach to pre and post workout nutrition out there. I finished the article by asking a few trainers what they do for pre and post workout nutrition.

Please read this article as a primer.

Body Fat %

Big fat cells have a higher disposition for toxins, so people with a higher relative fat cell profile have a tough time detoxifying if you burn fat. You can’t just lose body fat by “exercising more.” Higher body fat also makes it hard for your body to use carbohydrates efficiently. Over stressing yourself in exercise causes adrenal glands to stress your system. You must transition to lower body fat over time and with proper paleo/primal nutrition habits. Body fat in mid section is worse than evenly distributed body fat all over your body. Bottom line: Higher body fat % will have low tolerance for carbs post workout, so eat LESS carbs post workout and go for a normal (paleo/primal) meal that stabilizes blood sugar. Lower body fat % (~10% male, ~14% female) can tolerate carbs and increased absorption and can eat a carb source post workout.


Men have more lean mass than women, so they can generally eat more carbs post workout. Women don’t necessarily respond as well as men. Lean men can use a starting carb range of 50 to 100 grams, lean women can use a starting range of 25 to 40 grams.

Training Age (How “Experienced” Are You?)

It’s the intensity relative to the time domain you are doing exercise. Sorry, doing long slow distance is not a change of intensity, it’s a homeostasis. The more training aged you are, the less capable you are of absorbing and using carbs post workout. If you trained for 5-6+ years, you have a higher disposition to tax your central nervous system (more intensity), so you get a high anabolic response. Be aware that adrenal overload of 5+ weekly training sessions and/or a stressful lifestyle, especially for women, will harm your ability to maintain lean body mass and will produce more fat.

Type of Training

Understand the difference between a Central Nervous System Stimulant and a Cellular Breakdown workout. The former looks like our strength training components, the latter looks like a standard CrossFit WOD. You should eat more protein for a CNS Stimulate workout and more carbs for a cellular breakdown workout. We often mix it up, so each day is a little different and plan your post nutrition strategy accordingly.


Different types of food have different absorption levels. Listen to your body and see how you feel. Find what works. If you are exploding on the toilet or feeling sick to your stomach, then something is wrong.


Cellular breakdown: T-3 to 4 Hours: Fast prior to a workout to avoid digestion process in the gut. Don’t be afraid of being hungry, just TRY it. You have plenty of energy saved up for the workout.

CNS Stimulant: You can eat as close as you can to the workout, so long as it doesn’t mess up your insulin levels.

Real Work Trainer Pre/Post Workout Nutrition

Chris G

Pre-Workout Meal (if any) and why: Ideally I’ll work out on an empty stomach. On a heavy lifting day I might have some protein beforehand. If it’s a longer met-con day I might have a bite of fruit beforehand.

Post-Workout Meal (if any and multiple descriptions if you do more than 1) and why: I almost always try to get a good mix of protein and carbs right after working out. On a heavy lifting day I’ll emphasize protein in the meal (meats, eggs, fish), and if it’s a longer met-con day I’ll add more carbs (sweet potatoes, fruit). A go-to smoothie for me has been raw milk, protein powder, BCAA’s, and creatine.

Elizabeth B

Pre-Workout Meal: usually none. I don’t really want to puke. Unless it’s a pure strength day, then I eat nuts or nut butter and often even bring food with me to eat between lifts (sweet potato or protein shake or more nuts)… and lots of water. If it’s a hot day and the workout involves a lot of cardio I will sometimes drink coconut water beforehand to hydrate.

Post-Workout Meal: Either a sweet potato or a protein shake (whey protein, coconut milk, banana, frozen blueberries). I like the shake aspect because sometimes after a hard workout it is difficult to stomach actual food, and this way I can take advantage of my post workout 30 minute window to get protein and carbohydrates in my body. Oh, and lots of water.

Jon F

Note, these eating habits are geared toward maintaining my current bodyweight at around 162 lbs. If I was trying to gain weight, my carbohydrate intake would be even higher, as would my post-workout fat intake. For weight-gain eating habits, see the blog: benandforneygetfat.

Pre-Workout: sometimes I train fasted (i.e. 16-18 hours since last meal); most of the time, I eat 1-2 hours prior to training. The meal is Paleo+dairy: roughly 6-8 blocks protein (from eggs, whey, and/or dairy), 4 blocks carbohydrates (from fruit and lactose); 20-24 blocks fat (from olive oil, nut butter, and/or avocado). Supplement with one multivitamin and 2 grams of fish oil.

Post-Workout: I always do my best to eat within 30-60 minutes of completing a workout. The meal is typically Paleo+dairy, but I will allow a fast-food meal once every week or two. If I’m making my own post-training meal, it is in smoothie form: 6-8 blocks protein, 6-12 blocks carbs (from frozen fruit and honey), zero blocks fat. If I’m fast-fooding it, I get, either a Chris Long sub from Little Johns or I go to Wendy’s and get a Double Baconator and a small Frostie. Either way, the goal is to consume a very large meal, rich in protein and carbohydrates. Supplement with 2-4 grams of fish oil. Recently I’ve been experimenting with taking 9 grams of branched chain amino acids along with my post-workout meal.

Kyle R

Pre-Workout: I can’t train totally fasted. I think I have a higher tolerance for carbs than most people. I typically eat a fruit or a high glycemic carb source pre-workout.  I do like having a coffee about 30 minutes before any kind of workout.

Post-Workout: I eat within 5 minutes of finishing a workout. Typically, that’s 40 to 100 grams of carbs, 30 to 30 grams of protein, usually in a milk + protein mix or chocolate milk. I do cycle through a creatine phase every few months and I take it usually with my post workout meal.

Jason G

I don’t have a set pre-workout meal, although I’m happier on an empty stomach than a full one. Post-wod is almost always a protein shake (protein powder + milk) or some large amount of protein + carbs (like a big cheeseburger or something).

20 thoughts on “Pre and Post Workout Nutrition Strategies

  1. Nice article, I find eating carbs before a workout prevents me from bonking like I would on a totally empty stomach.

    On bodyfat – for a woman, 14% bodyfat is on the leanest side of athletic, skating towards too low for health (about 12% is necessary for normal function). 20% and even higher (up to 25 or so) is still quite healthy. You need your fat to keep making estrogen and all that stuff. It’s hard to find precise numbers, but it’s possible to experience amenorrhea at 16% bf. Just something to keep in mind when goal setting.

    1. ya good point. everyone is a little different, and if you are getting obvious signs of overtraining and health issues (overly tired, excessive soreness, bad sleeping habits, loss of appetite, etc.), you need to adjust

    2. Lydia is absolutely correct. For women, we need typically at least 12% body fat simply for our bodies to function properly. Men need much less.

      This article provides a pretty good guide to body fat percentage, and I highly recommend looking over the table towards the bottom labeled “Average Body Fat Percentage of Athletes.”

  2. Interesting to read about what you all eat. But Jon… are you serious about the baconator?

    1. I’m not Jon, but yeah he’s serious.

    2. I mean absolutely no offense. It’s actually pretty awesome, I just don’t think I could handle it.

      1. Just as Kyle recommends trying fasting before working out, I would recommend trying a post-wod baconator 🙂

      2. Single or a Double?

  3. When you are talking about “Fasting” before a workout; how long is the fast? Hours?

    1. I think 2 to 3 hours is sufficient, but experiment.

  4. Some guys like Martin Berkhan from and John Berardi from have even had success with overnight 16 hour fasts.

    Here’s an article:

    Here’s an e-book:

  5. It would be great to have an article about taking some energy DURING a long workout. I used to run a bit and the trainers were always talking about the need to have some Gu or something like that during runs longer than 10 miles or so. I typically did nothing until I ran 13-15 miles. Then I would eat half a peach or nectarine; I won’t put that Gu crap into my body (ditto for “sports drinks”). I found the small amount of fiber-heavy fruit to be very effective as an energy boost; it made a noticeable difference for me. It’s kind of messy but it actually works OK in a ziploc in the butt pack. Not that we need that in the gym.

  6. Pingback: WOD – 12-17-2012
  7. When you eat less than you “burn”, your body turns fats back into energy. But our bodies try to protect the fat, since it’ is supposed to be saved for lean times, so it can be difficult to loose fats. But keep at it, dedication will win. Just burn more than you eat… either exercise a lot more or exercise a little more and eat less.`

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