Pre and Post Workout Nutrition: What’s the Best Meal?

pre and post workout nutrition - What's the best post-workout meal?

Whether you want to lose body fat, build muscle mass or both, nutrition plays a key role in achieving your goals. Breaking it down further, pre and post workout nutrition play are of utmost importance for muscle building as well as fat loss.

This is because your pre-workout meal fuels your performance in the gym and post-workout meal kick-starts recovery immediately after.

Although there is no such thing as “best”, in this article I highlight my highest recommendations when it comes to pre and post workout nutrition.


Note* There are some studies conducted recently showing evidence for little difference in timing nutritients, as long as you eat your total calories daily. However, these studies are done on untrained subjects or subjects with minimal training experience. If you have been training consistently for 6months+, timing your nutrition will have more significance on your progress and results. The longer and further down the line you are in terms of training experience, the more importance these variables will hold for you.


Pre and Post Workout Nutrition

Let’s start from the beginning.

Your workout will be affected by the things you do up to 72 hours prior.

It becomes more so evident up to 24 hours before the training session.

Factors such as sleep and hydration are going to be strong denominators to your workout intensity.

The recommendation for sleep is anywhere between 7 to 9 hours of quality deep sleep to achieve optimal performance.

The recommendation for water intake is around 400 to 500 ml every waking hour, daily for maximal hydration. Adding a pinch of salt for some minerals wouldn’t hurt.

Chugging 2L of water right before training isn’t shown to hydrate you very well.

Drink water consistently throughout the day for best results.


Pre-Workout Meal

Assuming the goal is maximum performance in the gym, there are two “best” pre-workout meals one can have based on their body composition

It comes down to insulin response and avoiding the crash it may possibly cause.

If you are 15%+ body-fat you would do much better with a higher protein, medium fat, low-carb with vegetables pre-workout meal.

If you are 12% and under, you may positively benefit from having some carbohydrates with a higher protein and lower fat meal before training.


15%+ body-fat group

In this case, due to the sub-optimal body composition, insulin should be kept stable, avoiding sudden spikes caused by high-carb meals.

Since insulin sensitivity is lower, eating a higher carb meal before training may result in a crash mid-workout and a feeling of sluggishness.

This will negatively affect your performance.

By eating mostly protein and fats, insulin stays relatively low providing stable energy.

In addition, having some fats pre-workout (MCT’s – medium chain triglycerides) may possibly help your body utilized more fat as fuel.

This pre-workout will provide drive, mental focus, clarity and a strong performance in the gym, while possibly promoting more fat loss as well.

Example: 1 – 1.5 scoops of protein, 1-1.5 tbsp coconut oil, spinach, handful of raspberries+strawberries

Example: 150-200 grams white fish/chicken breast/ground turkey cooked in coconut oil, stir fry with assorted vegetables + handful of almonds


12% and under body-fat group

In this case, if you tend to stay on the leaner side you’ll make better use of some carbohydrates pre-workout without causing a crash mid-training.

Due to a better insulin response, allowing some carbohydrates pre-workout may positively benefit your performance in the gym.

Be careful not to go overboard however, since you’re still prone to over-stimulating your insulin causing sluggishness and relaxation

A good measurement would be about 30-40 grams of carbs for a big body part (legs, back) and around 20-25 grams for a smaller body part (arms, shoulders).

Avoid fast-digesting carbohydrates and go for the slow carbs.

Slow-digesting carbs like sweet potato, rice pasta, lentils, whole grain oats, etc. can provide just enough insulin activity to combat any muscle breakdown while inducing cell swelling and hyperemia.

Cell swelling and hyperemia are believed to be highly correlated with muscle hypertrophy, optimizing them is vital to your growth.

Example: 1-1.5 scoops of protein, 1/2 cup of oats, spinach, handful of strawberries + ½ tbsp of coconut oil

Example: 150-200 grams white fish/chicken breast/ground turkey cooked in coconut oil, 150-200 grams sweet potato 

Pre-workout meal should be consumed 60-90 minutes prior to training. Give yourself enough time to digest the food before you begin working out.


Post-Workout Meal

Now that you’ve finished training and broken down your muscle fibers, it’s time to begin the recovery process.

The best recommendation for your post-workout meal is to keep it medium protein, high-carb and minimal fat.

Note: Fat slows down digestion and delays the carbs and other nutrients being shuttled into the muscle cells.

At this point, inducing a insulin spike is beneficial to shuttle nutrients into the muscle cells and initiate recovery.

The more muscle mass you have on your body, the more carbohydrates you’ll need for optimal recovery.

Protein intake should be anywhere between 35 to 50 grams.

Carbohydrates should be anywhere between 50 to 90 grams based on your muscle mass and how lean you are.

If you’re a muscular, lean individual use the higher end, if you’re a smaller person go with the lower end.

Example: 1.5 – 2.5 scoops of protein, 1 banana, 60-90 grams carbs from maltodextrin or dextrose

Example: 150-250 grams chicken breast/white fish/extra lean turkey, 150-250 grams white rice w/ 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar + 1 apple

If you are a true beginner – less than 6 months training – timing your post-workout meal won’t create much difference. Even if you have it 4 hours later, it’s fine, as long as you consume your total calories daily.

However, I advise all my clients to eat their post-workout meal within 60-90 minutes post-training regardless of training level. It certainly won’t hurt your gains and it also teaches discipline. 


Final Words

If you care about optimizing performance and recovery, pre and post workout nutrition becomes key in achieving it.

It sets the tone for your workout and initiates the recovery process to ensure all your training pays dividends.



Primal Breed is committed to providing you effective personal training in Toronto, helping you lose unwanted weight permanently and build lean muscle for life.

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