Diet and physical activity are two elements of a puzzle complementing each other in the achievement of slim figure and sports goals. There is no doubt that we have to eat (!) As a consequence of not eating, the organism’s quick reaction will be the loss of concentration and muscular strength, getting tired faster, slower regeneration and lack of effects of the workout. If you have experienced some of these symptoms or want to avoid this state, keep on reading.

What does pre- and post-workout diet depend on?

One unequivocal answer to the majority of questions on nutrition in sports does not exist, because of many related factors, such as:

  • current goal,
  • sports discipline,
  • workout intensity and frequency,
  • body composition,
  • health condition,
  • individual tolerances.

Adequately selected pre- and post-workout meals contribute greatly to faster regeneration and better workout effects, thus, better results and goal achievement.
Do not forget that exact recommendations depend on your current goal, sports discipline, frequency of workouts, body composition, and individual tolerances. Contact a dietician in order to select an individual plan, and you should use this article only as general recommendations on a pre- and post-workout diet.

Pre-workout diet

A pre-workout meal should meet the following criteria:

  • provide energy for the work of muscles,
  • replenish liver glycogen (in the case of a morning workout session),
  • replenish muscle glycogen,
  • protect against hunger during workout,
  • for strength and velocity sports – protect the muscle mass against catabolism.

When composing a pre-workout meal, a lot depends on the athlete’s tolerance, i.e. how much time before workout he/she can eat the meal not to feel hungry during workout on one hand, and for the meal to get digested on the other hand.
It is recommended to eat a meal based on low-GI products in the proportion of 1-4 g per 1 kg of body weight 1 to 4 hours before workout. Exact values depend on the athlete’s tolerances and well-being.

Carbohydrates before workout:

Carbohydrates should be the basis of a pre-workout meal in most sports disciplines. Sugars before workout will provide fuel for muscles. It is worth choosing products characterised by low GI and low in fibre. For example, kasha commonly considered to be wholesome will not be a good solution here. Millet groats with fruit will be a better choice.

Protein before workout:

It depends, mainly on the time remaining until workout, individual tolerances and the nature of the workout. For a strongman and a person developing the body mass consuming protein before workout is obligatory, but for a long-distance runner not necessarily. It is worth remembering that protein is digested slower than carbohydrates, and fast absorbing protein, e.g. whey protein, preferably in the form of a isolate, or the fastest absorbing hydrolysate, should be chosen at that time.

Fats before workout:

Fats are food ingredients which we usually avoid in pre- and post-workout diet. It mainly concerns avoiding fried meals and products rich in fats. It is because they slow down digestion and may slightly impede blood flow in blood vessels, which is definitely undesirable during workout. On the other hand, not all fats are the same. MCT, i.e. medium-chain triglycerides, are an exception here, because they get digested rapidly. At the same time, they are a stable energy source, thus, protecting muscle glycogen, and improve resistance, which is especially favourable in sports such as running or cycling.

Post-workout diet

The main goals of post-workout diet:

  • muscle glycogen replenishment,
  • provision of substrates for repletion of damaged muscle fibres,
  • water resources replenishment,
  • acid-base balance restoration.

What, how much and when we should eat after workout depends on many factors: mainly on our goal, level of physical fitness, body composition, degree of muscle damage and frequency of workouts. Regeneration is the fastest during two hours after workout. Our metabolic rate is the fastest as well. Post-workout eating depends to a large degree on the time left until the next workout. The shorter the time until the next workout (4-8 h), the more aggressive strategies need to be adopted, and the greatest attention must be paid to food and regeneration. If the break between workouts is more than 12 h, then we can follow standard recommendations. It is also worth mentioning that our regeneration rate is directly proportional to the level of physical fitness, and this is why professional sportsmen can train with more frequency. It is due to a faster glycogen resynthesis rate, which results from adaptation to physical effort.

Carbohydrates after workout:

Carbohydrates are a nutrient which is especially recommended in a post-workout meal, because they play the main role in muscle glycogen replenishment. Post-workout meal is the best moment during the entire day to consume carbohydrates because of a specific metabolic window and increased sensitivity to insulin, which considerably accelerates metabolism. According to general guidelines, 1 g/kg of body weight of carbohydrates should be consumed within 2 hours after workout (this applies to people with an appropriate body weight). Depending on the workout intensity and nature as well as the athlete’s tolerance, different consistency of meals is recommended, however, directly after workout, meals in liquid or semi-liquid forms are recommended, followed by a solid meal.

Protein after workout:

Protein after workout is necessary as a substrate to replenish damaged muscle fibres. Studies prove that protein combined with carbohydrates significantly improve muscle glycogen replenishment. Protein in a post-workout meal is indispensable if our goal is to develop our body mass and strength and to regenerate our body. In such a case, our meal should contain 20-40 g of protein. It is also worth including a source of lightweight protein with a high leucine content. A rich source of whey protein is curd cheese or ricotta, while a convenient way of consuming it is a protein supplement in the form of whey protein hydrolysate or isolate, i.e. the popular WPH or WPI.

Fats after workout:

Fats should be avoided, especially in a meal directly after an intensive workout.

Glycemic index of products:

Products with high GI are usually recommended in a post-workout meal due to the fact that they accelerate glycogen replenishment. On the other hand, studies show that a low-GI meal consumed after workout increases resistance and speeds up fat tissue burning. This is why a lot depends on the athlete’s individual goal and the current training period.