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The Clar-e-ty Guide to Pre/Intra/Post-Workout Nutrition

We’re diving into one of my favortieeee topics day… performance-based nutrition.

No matter if you’re a competitive CrossFit athlete, an everyday gym go-er, an Olympic-style weightlifter, a bodybuilder, at-home fitness fanatic, endurance athlete, powerlifter, or whatever type of fitness you love, learning how to dial in your pre, intra, and post-workout nutrition can be a game-changer in terms of performance and recovery.

And we don’t know of anyone, no matter what fitness looks like for them, that wouldn’t want to feel more energized during and after their workouts and optimize their recovery from those workouts.

It’s important to note that meal/nutrient timing isn’t as important as adherence, energy balance, macronutrients, and micronutrients, BUT some of the tips and tricks that are given in today’s blog can be extremely beneficial when combined with the things listed above.

Note the hierarchy of nutrition here:

In general, if everything below meal timing on the hierarchy of nutrition is dialed, then you can reap the benefits of playing around with nutrient timing.

So today’s blog is going to be a deep dive into some of the Clar-e-ty favorite ways to optimize your workout performance and recovery through your nutrition.

We will discuss three nutrient timing windows:

-Pre-Workout Nutrition

-Intra-Workout Nutrition

-Post-Workout Nutrition

As with all things nutrition-related, all of the information given in this blog will be very general. Specific tips will be highly dependent on the individual, their dietary needs, their training volume and intensity, and their goals, which is why hiring a Clar-e-ty Coach is so valuable because we have the knowledge and experience to show you how to individualize your diet to you.

This blog will, however, be helpful in giving you a general idea of how pre/intra/post-workout nutrition4-mile can affect your performance and recovery.

So let’s get goin’!

Pre-Workout Nutrition

The primary focus of your pre-workout meal is going to be to fuel your workout. This meal should be mostly comprised of protein and carbohydrates while keeping fat and fiber to a minimum.

Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of energy. Meaning, when you’re 1 mile into your 4 mile run, or 10 mins into a 25 min METCON, you’re going to want to have carbohydrates stored in your muscles as glycogen to give your cells quick energy so you can keep getting after your workout.

By consuming quick, easily digestible carbohydrates (i.e. rice, potatoes, oats, grains, bead, etc.) in your pre-workout meal, you will be ensuring you have stored glycogen for higher-intensity output and better muscle contractions during exercise. This is going to be especially important for CrossFitters, Oly lifters, Orange Theory/HITT workouts, etc.

The amount of carbohydrates in your pre-workout meal will be, again, highly dependent on your training style, workout duration, etc., but a general rule of thumb is 30-60g of carbohydrates.

If you’re a smaller individual who is going to an hour-long CF class, 30-40g of carbs should be plenty!

If you’re a bigger athlete who is going to do an hour-long strength session, followed by a longer METCON, and then accessory work after, you might look to get somewhere in the 60-100g of carbohydrate range in your pre-workout meal to ensure your body has the energy to pull from as you progress through your workouts.

Protein in your pre-workout meal is going to help encourage muscle protein synthesis which will, in turn, prevent muscle breakdown and ensure your muscles have the fuel needed to repair and build new tissue during and after training.

The amount of protein in your pre-workout meal should be in the moderate range. If you’re a female athlete anywhere in the 20-30g range should do the trick and if you’re a male athlete, somewhere in the 30-40g range will suffice.

Fat and fiber are going to slowww down the digestion of your pre-workout meal which is why we suggest keeping those to a minimum. We don’t know about you, but we don’t want to be doing thrusters and pull-ups with a bunch of veggies sitting in our stomaches. So although we preach the importance of getting veggies in at every meal, keep them to a minimum pre-workout.

Minimal fats in your pre-workout meal are okay, but we don’t suggest going over 5-10g. If you’re doing a longer lifting session or a longer run, you might get away with 10-15g of fat, but it’s all going to be finding what works best for you and your body.

Now to get into the optimal nutrient timing window for your pre-workout meal. This will depend on you and how long it takes for your food to digest from the time you consume it till it’s “3…2…1…go!”

The general rule of thumb is 1-3 hours before your workout. Some people do just fine with eating one hour before their workout and others need to eat three hours before to fully digest their meal. We wouldn’t suggest exceeding that 3-hour window for consuming your pre-workout meal (unless you plan to have a light snack or supplement with intra-workout carbs + protein) because after that 3-hour mark is up, your body will have already used that stored energy for something other than your workout. This could lead to you not feeling as fueled during your workout.

Pre-Workout Meal/Snack Ideas:

  • Overnight protein oats with egg whites and fruit

  • Chicken breast, sweet potatoes, small piece of fruit

  • Shrimp, white rice, small piece of fruit

  • Kodiak cakes

  • Dave's Killer Bread with jam and honey

  • Pasta with ground beef

  • Rice cakes with non-fat yogurt and fruit/honey topping

  • Fuel For Fire pouches

  • Magic Spoon cereal

Again, finding what works most optimally for your pre-workout meal and nutrient timing will be what’s best for YOU in the end.

Next up, we’ve got intra-workout fuel. Who needs it? How is it helpful?

Let’s find out!

Intra-Workout Nutrition

Not every athlete requires intra-workout fuel. For instance, if you’re just going on a 30 min run, or doing an hour-long CF class, you probably don’t need intra-workout fuel.

But if you’re looking to gain mass, or if your workouts typically last longer than one hour, you might consider supplementing with intra-workout carbohydrates or carbohydrates + protein.

You also might consider intra-workout carbohydrates if you consumed your pre-workout meal outside of that 1-3 hour ideal window to urge your body to continue using carbohydrates as fuel versus storing that energy for later and your energy levels tanking in the middle of a workout.

Intra-workout carbohydrates can enhance performance during longer, more intense workouts, and can help endurance athletes get through longer sessions. Ideally, we want these carbs to come from a liquid or semi-solid source so it’s super quick to enter your bloodstream and get to your muscles for energy.

Consuming liquid carbohydrates intra-workout can also blunt cortisol during training which is already high because training is a stressor on the body, thus helping you recover faster and get ready for your next session or another workout.

If you’re doing a long lifting session/resistance training session and protein powder doesn’t upset your stomach intra-workout, you can also add protein powder to your liquid carb source to trigger muscle protein synthesis and enhance gains.

However, if you’re doing an OT or CF class, you might not want a bunch of protein sitting in your stomach while you’re doing burpees and fast lifting. In this case, we would suggest just a carb shake intra-workout, or half of your protein + carb shake pre/intra-workout, and then the other half post-workout.

Intra-Workout Carb Ideas:

  • Highly branched cyclic dextrin, or dextrose powder

  • Stingers (waffle snacks)

  • Go-go squeezes (fruit/baby food pouches)

  • Candy (Sour Patch Kids, Skittles, Hot Tamales)

Now before we get into your post-workout meal, let’s talk about the benefits of having a post-workout shake and who it might be most optimal for.

Post-Workout Shake

Not everyone is going to need a post-workout shake and like all supplements, it's definitely not necessary to reach your goals, BUT can provide numerous benefits and increase performance and optimize recovery.

Not only are post-workout shakes good for helping us reach our protein goals, but having a post-workout shake 15-30 mins after your workout can help jump-start the recovery process.

In the past, it was popular opinion that you HAD to consume a post-workout shake immediately post-workout or you’d sacrifice all your gains. However, recent studies have proven this to be false.

You do need to consume protein and carbs post-workout to prevent muscle breakdown, but the window is much larger than 30 mins to 1 hour. In fact, in some studies, that window is more like 2-3 hours before our bodies enter into a catabolic state.

However, the reason why we typically recommend a post-workout shake to clients is that many of us don't have the time to sit down and eat a full post-workout meal 1-2 hours after our training session. Having a post-workout shake can help those of us with busy schedules buy some time recovery-wise until we can get a full meal in post-workout.

So bottom line, if you’re not able to get a meal in 1-2 hours after your training session, you might consider a post-workout protein + carb shake.

**Also, please make sure to not skip out on the carbs in your shake. Too often we see people stress the importance of just protein post-workout, but we would argue that carbs are MORE important post-workout than protein.

Post-Workout Shake Formula:

  • 1:1 or 2:1 carb/protein ratio is always a good strategy (25g carbs: 25g protein or 50g carbs: 25g protein).

  • Ideally quick, easily digestible carbs and quality, easy to digest protein powder.

  • Examples: Highly branched cyclic dextrin + whey protein or Dextrose + pea protein

Alright, after your post-workout shake, it’s still important to get a post-workout meal in. So it’s time to discuss the role your post-workout meal plays in the recovery process.

Post-Workout Nutrition

And now for the final piece of the puzzle…post-workout nutrition. Arguably the most important time to fuel yourself. Here’s why…

Consuming a post-workout meal that, just like your pre-workout meal, prioritizes carbohydrates and protein will help support optimal recovery.

Pretty much everyone needs carbs post-workout. Exercise is a stressor on the body and unless your body gets nutrients coming in post-workout, it will be in a catabolic state (breaking down of tissue) which we want to avoid.

Carbs are also going to help your CNS (central nervous system) calm down from training and bring cortisol down which will help with recovery!

By replenishing your glycogen stores post-workout via carbohydrates, you’ll jump-start the recovery process and be ready to tackle the rest of your day or be ready for a good night’s sleep if you work out in the late afternoon.

Also, your body is super insulin sensitive in that post-workout window. Meaning, your body is ready and needing to use carbohydrates to replenish glycogen right into your muscles.

Bottom line is: DON’T skip out on carbs post-workout.

The amount of carbs you need to consume in your post-workout meal will depend on the type and duration of your workout, but general recommendations include 40-60g of carbs (mostly starches, some fruit) for smaller individuals and 60-80g of carbs for larger individuals.

We want most of these carbs in your post-workout meal to come from starches versus fruit because of how our bodies digest fructose (sugar in fruit). Fructose will be stored in your liver whereas starchy carbs are going straight to your muscles and affect muscle glycogen, training recovery, and insulin.

Protein, the other macro you want to prioritize in your post-workout meal, is going to ensure your muscles can repair after exercise and will prevent muscle breakdown.

The amount of protein needed in your post-workout meal will be dependent on the type and duration of your workout, but a good rule of thumb is the 20-30g range for female athletes and somewhere in the 30-40g range for male athletes. Same as your pre-workout meal.

Again, we want to keep fat and fiber to a minimum in this meal as they will slow down the digestion of your carbs and protein which is exactly what we want to avoid. Fat can be a little bit higher in this meal, but ideally in the 5-10g range.

We generally recommend waiting no longer than three hours post-workout to consume your post-workout meal. Studies have shown that consuming your post-workout meal within three hours of training completion, will increase the chances of anabolic (building of muscle) benefits.

However, we like to tell clients to consume their post-workout meal (if they’ve had a post-workout shake) 2 to 2 and a half hours after finishing their shake. However, if they don’t have a post-workout shake, 1 to 1 and a half hours post-training would be ideal.

Pre-Workout Meal/Snack Ideas:

  • Overnight protein oats with protein powder and some fruit

  • Turkey or beef tacos

  • Kodiak cakes

  • Dave's Killer Bread with jam and honey and omelet

  • Pasta with ground beef

  • Rice cakes with non-fat yogurt and fruit/honey topping

  • Super smoothie with oats, fruit, protein, etc.

Finding a post-workout meal that works best for you and sits best with your stomach will be trial and error. Most importantly, that meal will be unique to YOU. Just follow these general guidelines and you’ll help promote alllll the gains post-workout.

And there you have it, folks! All of the Clar-e-ty tips and tricks on how to use your nutrition to optimize your performance, recovery, and crush your goals!

If you have very specific performance-related goals, your nutrition should enhance your chances of achieving those goals, not hinder them.

As you can see there were a lot of “it depends” answers to what, when, and how much you should eat to enhance your performance which is why we preach individualized nutrition at Clar-e-ty.

Looking to crush all of your fitness and nutrition goals?

Check out all of our Clar-e-ty services here and let us help you navigate the process to getting your desired results.


Resources and Coaching:

Online Coaching here.

[Free] Nutrition Guide here.

Recipe & Macro Guide here.

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