What to Eat Before and After You Exercise 

by JJ Virgin on May 9, 2024

Ever wonder why some workouts leave you feeling energized and accomplished, while others leave you dragging and sore for days? Sure, the type of exercise matters, but what you eat before and after can be just as crucial. 

Eating the right balance of nutrients before a workout can provide you with the energy and strength necessary to perform at your best. After exercising, your focus should shift to recovery, which involves repairing muscle tissues, replenishing energy stores, and reducing inflammation.  

What to Know About Food and Your Workout 

Resistance training, which is the ideal type of exercise for building and maintaining muscle, demands a tailored approach to nutrition. Food is the foundational support for muscle growth, strength gain, and repair. Different nutrients contribute uniquely to enhancing performance, optimizing rest and recovery, and supporting consistent progress:  


Carbohydrates are your primary energy source for high-intensity, short-duration activities. Your body stores glucose from carbohydrates in muscles as glycogen. This stored energy fuels exercises that demand quick bursts of energy. One study found people with lower glycogen levels had increased fatigue and lower performance during intense exercises​​.1 Maintaining optimal glycogen levels helps reduce fatigue, enhance performance, and support recovery. 


Fats provide a sustained release of energy, although your body metabolizes them less efficiently than carbohydrates. Eating some fat might be ideal before longer-duration, moderate-to-low-intensity exercises, where you need a steady, sustained energy supply. However, most experts recommend against eating fat before intense exercise, such as resistance training.2  


Protein is essential for the repair and growth of muscle tissue post-exercise. Protein is composed of 20 amino acids, categorized into essential and non-essential. Your body cannot make essential amino acids; you must get them through food or supplements. Your body can make non-essential amino acids. Optimal protein intake and resistance training are my magic one-two combo for building strength and aging powerfully. Studies show combining higher protein intake and resistance training improves muscle strength and function in older adults.3   

What to Eat Before Your Workout  

Eating the right foods before working out boosts your exercise effectiveness. The right pre-workout fuel impacts your performance, how your body builds muscle and burns fat, and your overall health goals. 

Carbohydrates are essential for energy before resistance training. Choose slow-releasing, low-glycemic carbs like berries or sweet potatoes to keep blood-sugar levels steady, ensuring consistent power and performance.4 

Research indicates that a mix of carbohydrates and protein better replenishes muscle energy than carbs alone.5 Carbs fuel your exercise, helping preserve energy (glycogen) stored in muscles, while protein aids in muscle repair and growth by providing essential amino acids for building and repairing muscle fibers.6, 7 

Studies show that having optimal protein before exercise aids body recomposition, promoting muscle gain and fat loss and enhancing overall body shape.8 

Water is also vital for peak performance and preventing dehydration, which can significantly affect endurance and strength. Drinking 14-20 oz of water two hours before your workout ensures you’re well-hydrated for optimal exercise performance.9 

Pre-Workout Supplements 

In addition to your meals, the right supplements before your workout can help maximize your performance and recovery, support stamina, maintain energy levels throughout your workout, and ensure your body has the correct nutrients to build and maintain muscle.  

Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)  

Essential amino acids (EAAs) play a key role in several vital functions. They are fundamental for muscle building, maintaining muscle health, and aiding metabolic processes, including how effectively your body burns fat and builds muscle. One of the primary roles of EAAs is in muscle protein synthesis, the process of creating new muscle tissue.10  

This becomes particularly crucial during exercise, as physical activity causes microtears in muscles that your body must repair. This repair process leads to muscle growth and strengthening, with EAAs serving as the critical building blocks for the repair and construction of muscle tissue.11 

Leucine, a standout among the EAAs, is especially significant for its role in muscle protein synthesis, notably among older adults. Research indicates that consuming leucine-rich foods or supplements before working out can significantly enhance muscle protein synthesis, promoting muscle growth and facilitating recovery.12 

The best way to get EAAs is with a free-form supplement, which provides these essential amino acids in their free, unbound form. Unlike complete proteins that your body must break down, EAAs can be absorbed directly into your bloodstream. They can quickly reach your muscles for repair and growth.*  


Creatine is one of the most effective supplements for improving strength and high-intensity exercise performance. It plays a crucial role in energy production within muscle cells, making it a key component for enhancing muscle strength, power, and overall performance.  

Creatine can increase muscle protein synthesis, reduce muscle damage to help you recover faster, and minimize muscle damage from intense activity.13 Creatine achieves these benefits through several mechanisms:  

  1. Creatine increases the availability of creatine phosphate in the muscle your body uses to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary energy carrier in cells. This increased energy availability helps improve performance and endurance during short bursts of high-intensity exercise.  
  1. By enhancing muscle protein synthesis, creatine supports the repair and growth of muscle fibers, leading to improved muscle recovery and development.  
  1. Because it reduces muscle damage, creatine may help reduce inflammation and mitigate the stress on muscle tissues following intense workouts.  

A micronized creatine supplement can improve your workout performance and accelerate muscle recovery. This allows for more effective training sessions and better overall fitness outcomes.*  

Taking creatine before or during workouts can help build muscle stores if you’re new to creatine. Over time, once you establish tissue stores of creatine, timing becomes less important.14 Just take it regularly to get those benefits!  


Electrolytes are crucial for maintaining optimal hydration, particularly around workouts, where fluid and electrolyte balance significantly affect performance and recovery.15  

These essential minerals, which include sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, help regulate fluid balance, support how your nervous system communicates, and aid muscle contractions.  

During exercise, sweating leads to loss of water and electrolytes. Electrolyte formulas aid recovery and set the stage for future training sessions by preventing dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, which could otherwise hinder performance and recovery. They can also help replenish muscle glycogen for recovery and readiness for upcoming training sessions.16  

Look for an electrolyte powder with no added sugar or artificial sweeteners. A quality powder like ElectroReplenish combines electrolytes with added nutrients that support performance and recovery, such as D-ribose, taurine, vitamin C, quercetin, and citrus bioflavonoids.*  

Do You Work Out Better Fasted or Fed?  

The debate between working out fasted or fed hinges on your preferences and specific fitness goals. Understanding how your body responds to exercise under different nutritional states optimizes your workout performance.   

The best approach depends significantly on how your body reacts to exercise when fasted versus when fed. I work out about 30% harder with the correct fuel, including EAAs and electrolytes. If you’re fasting for weight loss, remember that the overall calorie deficit across your diet determines fat loss, not necessarily the state of being fasted or fed during the workout.   

You’ll want to base your decision to perform resistance training fasted or fed on your capacity to push harder in either state. If you find that getting fuel before your workout enhances your ability to engage in more intense exercise, plan your pre-workout meal 1-3 hours before training with carbohydrates (to optimize glycogen stores and performance) and protein (to support muscle protein synthesis and repair).  

If you choose a fasted workout, organic coffee can enhance focus and energy. Sipping essential amino acids (EAAs) and electrolytes during your workout can support muscle protein synthesis, although it will technically break your fast.  

What to Eat After a Workout  

What you eat after your workout is as critical as your pre-workout nutrition, playing a significant role in muscle repair, growth, and overall recovery. After your workout, you’ll want to combine carbohydrates with protein. This pairing helps: 

  • Support muscle repair and growth 
  • Optimize recovery by replenishing the glycogen stores that your body uses during exercise.  

Studies indicate that the synergistic effect of carbohydrates and protein is more efficient at restoring muscle glycogen than carbohydrates alone.17 This combination aids in muscle repair and can improve performance in workouts, even up to 60 hours after the initial exercise session.18  

Combining carbohydrates and protein also enhances muscle protein synthesis during and after your workout, optimizing muscle repair and growth. Moreover, it contributes to the broader context of whole-body protein synthesis, supporting growth, repair, and maintenance throughout your body.19  

The anabolic window—previously thought to be a narrow timeframe of 30 minutes to an hour after a workout for optimal nutrient absorption—has evolved. Newer research suggests that the window for consuming post-workout nutrients may extend several hours following exercise.20  

In other words, the exact timing of your post-workout meal might not be as crucial as researchers previously believed, as long as your overall daily nutrient intake meets your needs.  

This more flexible approach allows for a broader range of timing for nutrient consumption post-exercise, emphasizing the importance of consistent, balanced nutrition throughout the day for recovery and muscle growth. 

What to Eat After a Workout  

After a workout, your body is in a prime state to replenish energy stores and repair muscle tissues, making your post-workout meal one of the most important meals of the day for recovery and muscle growth.   

Consuming carbohydrates after your workout is crucial for refilling the glycogen stores depleted during exercise. Replenishing glycogen stores helps to ensure that your body has the energy required for your next workout. Good sources of nutrient-dense carbohydrates include quinoa, oats, sweet potatoes, squash, berries, and unripe bananas.   

Protein is essential for repairing and rebuilding muscle fibers damaged during exercise. Aiming for 30-50g of protein after your workout can help optimize muscle protein synthesis, the process by which the body repairs and strengthens muscle tissue.   

A high-quality protein powder allows amino acids to reach your muscles, aiding in faster recovery. Protein powders are convenient and blend into smoothies for quick post-workout fuel.  

Remember to drink plenty of water after your workout. Water is essential for recovery, helping to replace fluids lost through sweat and supporting metabolic functions.  

What Not to Eat After a Workout  

While replenishing your body with the proper nutrients after a workout is essential, it’s equally important to be mindful of what to avoid. Certain foods can hinder recovery by slowing the absorption of nutrients. 

While the right fats are healthy at the right times, consuming high-fat foods immediately after your workout can slow down digestion, delaying the absorption of protein and carbohydrates. The essential nutrients your muscles need for repair and glycogen replenishment might not reach them as quickly.   

Likewise, high-fiber foods can slow nutrient absorption immediately after a workout post-workout period. This could delay glucose delivery to your muscles, slowing glycogen replenishment and recovery.  

Optimal Nourishment Complements Resistance Training for Peak Performance  

Combining these pre- and post-workout eating strategies with resistance training gives you a powerful combo to build muscle, reverse the effects of bone and muscle loss, balance hormone levels, steady your blood sugar, and age powerfully.  

Ready to get started? My Resistance Training Cheat Sheet is your roadmap to optimizing these crucial fueling phases for optimal performance and results. I’ve included essential home gym tools, an 8-week workout plan, and a handy progress tracker to fine-tune your workouts.   

Aligning your nutritional intake with your training objectives can unlock the potential for superior workouts and accelerated progress. Whether you’re just starting or want to fine-tune your current plan, the Resistance Training Cheat Sheet is for you!  

Get your Resistance Training Cheat Sheet FREE here.   


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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. Products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern.