Is There a Perfect Pre and Post-Workout Meal?

Every athlete has their favorite go-to pre and post-workout meals. These are meals usually composed of foods geared towards a specific goal, taste, and thought in mind. For example, a higher carb pre-workout meal for a longer duration workout, and so forth. What’s interesting is how it’s usually trial and error with multiple foods until one figures out what their body benefits and responds to best.

When it comes to supporting performance and gaining muscle, there have been multiple dietary recommendations made to best assist with both characteristics, but there’s never one clear cut answer. We have an idea of proper ratios and foods to seek, yet there’s no real “perfect” meal that so many continually seek out.

I was curious to hear what a nutritionist thought about the idea of the “perfect” pre and post-workout meal, so I reached out to Brian Tanzer who currently serves as Vitamin Shoppe’s Manager of Scientific Affairs.

Boly: When building a pre-workout meal, is there a “perfect” one-size fits all meal?

Tanzer: I don’t think there is ONE “perfect” pre-workout meal. The size of the meal, ratio of macros, etc. depend upon the type of workout and goals. Regardless of the type of workout, one should consume some carbohydrates and protein 30 minutes to 45-minutes before training. The optimal carbohydrate to protein ratio depends upon numerous factors including fitness level, exercise duration, and exercise intensity. A general rule of thumb is a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein within an hour or less of training.

Boly: What are some more examples of how one can dictate the manipulation of macronutrient amounts for different workouts?

Tanzer: A long cardio workout will benefit most from a higher carbohydrate meal/snack 30-60 minutes prior. In addition, a long cardio workout could also be supported by intra-workout simple carbs, water, and electrolytes. And for shorter more intense workouts, I recommend to look for about a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein with a small amount of fat, like mentioned above.

Boly: Post-workout: What’s the most important macro to get a lot of?

Tanzer: This depends on the workout. Most resistance training causes breakdown of muscle fibers and utilization of muscle glycogen. Be sure to replenish glycogen stores with complex carbohydrates, then promote recovery and muscle growth with adequate protein, a good number to look for is 30-40 grams post-workout.

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Regular ingestion of different protein sources along with carbohydrates stimulates greater increases in strength, while favorably impacting body composition when compared to consuming carbohydrates alone.

Boly: Are there ideal macro ranges for different types of athletes following a regular workout? Weightlifter, powerlifter, CrossFit?

Tanzer: I suggest looking at this question from an activity perspective. Any activity that places muscles under load requires adequate intake of carbohydrates and protein for recovery/growth. Maintenance of glycogen stores is essential for supporting endurance and performances as well as optimal recovery.

A balanced intake of carbohydrates and protein is effective for enhancing exercise training adaptations and reducing exercise induced muscle damage for strength athletes.

Boly: Should someone change their macro ranges if their goal is decreasing body weight and fat loss? Or should they leave them the same for recovery and worry about the rest of the day instead?

Tanzer: If loss of body fat is the goal, then one must still be sure to consume adequate carbohydrate before and after exercise, or they can risk loss of lean body mass. More importantly are the meal/foods consumed throughout the day. Limiting refined carbohydrates and increasing protein intake, along with adequate fat intake will promote a metabolic environment conducive to loss of body fat and increase in lean muscle tissue.

In Closing

Much like everything in the industry, the idea of “perfect”, or a “one-size fits all” type of pre and post-workout meal is a fictitious concept. Like Tanzer points out, what’s most important is creating meals based on your needs and goals, along with obtaining complex and whole protein sources.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Feature image from @healthymood_sf Instagram page. 

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Jake holds a Master's in Sports Science and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as one of the full time writers and editors at BarBend. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand. As of right now, Jake has published over 1,100 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake's bread-and-butter. On top of his personal writing, Jake edits and plans content for 15 writers and strength coaches who come from every strength sport.Prior to BarBend, Jake worked for two years as a strength and conditioning coach for hockey and lacrosse players, and was a writer at the Vitamin Shoppe's corporate office. Jake regularly competes in powerlifting in the 181 lb weight class, and considers himself a weightlifting shoe sneaker head. On the side of writing full time, Jake works as a part-time strength coach and works with clients through his personal business Concrete Athletics in Hoboken and New York City.