LAST UPDATED: October 15th, 2020
I’ve seen many types of gym-goers since I started exercising.
Experienced, beginners, and the ones going for recreation.
Guys who followed their fitness trainers’ advice made progress.
The ones who didn’t, soon quit weightlifting.
And when it comes to useful advice, one of the most important is related to food.
Look, you can’t build muscles properly only by going to the gym.
I always like to say that if you want to achieve your goal at the gym 50 % comes from your training and 50% from your healthy diet.
So, the main question is – what to eat before and after a workout to build muscles?
You build muscles (or not) anytime you intake food.
A healthy, well-balanced diet positively affects your health and the efficiency of your training.
Food recovers your muscles and encourages their growth, speeds up burning fat layers, it improves your exercise potential and your overall health.
You will get better results if you choose the right ingredients at the right time.
Here’s the kicker;
The difference between a top athlete full of energy, in a good mood and an average gym-goer who finds it hard to work out and feels tired days after exercising, isn’t only in the way and intensity of their training. (1)
What you eat and drink before and after training has a key role in prepping and recovering your body, but many people neglect this.
Read how to achieve better results at the gym by changing a few dietary habits.
Feel more energetic, improve your health, and get good results faster.
What you eat before and after training depends mostly on:
- The type of your training (the type of exercise you need to achieve your goal)
- The time when you train
We are talking about gaining muscles so we need to consider the food that’s necessary for that.
So, let’s start.
#1 – What to eat before a workout
What you eat before training is equally important as what you eat after that.
Unfortunately, most of you, especially beginners, don’t pay much attention to this.
It’s very important to include nutritious ingredients in your meals before and after training and to eat them at a proper time.
The aim of your before workout meal is to prepare your body for all the hard work during your exercising.
Moreover, it’s vital to carefully choose your after workout meal, too so that you help your muscles recover, boost their growth and reduce fat layers, get your energy back and feel good.
I know many of you wonder what to eat before and after training to make your training entirely beneficial.
Do your sugar levels suddenly drop while you work out?
Do you feel weak, dizzy, or does your head or body hurt?
If the answer is yes, the reason for that is your bad diet before training.
So, before you workout you need to eat:
Complex carbohydrates are the best choice for your before workout meal because you digest them slowly and they provide you with enough energy during your training.
You can also eat some fruit (orange, apple, banana smoothie) as an additional source of energy which digests fast before you start your training. (2)
Note: Carbs such as sugar and sweets are not recommended, especially not before your workout.
Eat complex carbs with a low and medium GI (glycemic index) like brown rice, oat flakes, rye bread, wholewheat pasta.
So, you need to intake carbs before your workout with these foods:
- Brown rice
- Oat flakes
- Wholewheat pasta
- Sweet potato
Proteins before a workout
To have a complete meal you need to have some proteins, whether is before or after your workout.
Eat proteins before training because they positively affect your performance and the effect of your training.
By combining proteins and complex carbs you can reach protein synthesis in your muscles (muscle growth).
Furthermore, eating proteins before working out is important since it helps your muscles grow, recover faster, your strength increases, and you have more energy for your training.
So, when it comes to proteins before a workout, you need to eat:
- Eggs (whites)
- Poultry – Chicken, turkey (without the skin, of course)
- Fish (tuna, salmon)
- Dairy products
Fats before a workout
Essential fatty acids (EFA) boost and maintain your testosterone levels- the key hormone for building muscles.
They take longer to digest and they will provide you with energy even when you exercise hard.
However, fats slow down the absorption of other nutrients so you need to limit their intake to 15 grams if you eat them before your training.
You can get good fats also from eggs and tuna.
Supplements before a workout
Supplements can help you when you are on a diet regime and you want to lose weight.
They can enhance the effectiveness of your training.
Besides diet and supplements it’s important to hydrate your body, rest, and sleep well.
60-65% of our body is water.
This fact is enough to illustrate how important it is to drink water.
Losing only 2 % of body mass because of dehydration can seriously damage your physical and mental abilities.
Drink a bottle of water half an hour before and after training (liquids in your meals also count).
You shouldn’t intake liquids when you start feeling thirsty during hard training.
Try to have a bottle of water with you during your workout and sip every 10 minutes.
Read more about drinking water for muscle mass here.
Also, drinking aloe vera juice before sleeping can be very good for your overall health.
I am drinking these juices regularly.
You can read more about aloe vera juices here.
So, what’s the bottom line when it comes to eating before a workout:
For your before workout meal, you can eat dry fruit like dry plums, grapes, figs, apricots, dates, and cranberries.
You should know that dry fruit is high in calories so it’s recommended to eat it in a small amount before training.
The advantage of dry fruit is that the energy it gives you gets into your bloodstream very fast.
You mainly need carbs with a low glycemic index which take longer to digest and give you energy continuously during your training (brown rice, sweet potato, oats, pasta, wholegrain bread).
In addition, you need to eat proteins found in red and white meat, eggs, and cheese.
They make sure the level of amino acids is high during your workout.
You should eat fewer proteins and carbs than usual so that you don’t overwhelm your stomach before training.
It’s good to be almost full for your training, not hungry.
Make a balanced meal that will give you energy and concentration for your training, without burdening your stomach.
You can read my detailed list of muscle-building foods here.
#2 What to eat after your workout
What you eat after your training affects the protein synthesis which takes place a few hours after your workout is done, so it affects the development and recovery of your muscles.
The intake of carbs and proteins after exercising positively affects your workout result whereas eating proteins that digest slowly (casein) before sleeping helps your muscles recover during the night and it improves your health by providing essential amino acids.
Carbs after a workout
When you are at the end of your training your glycogen reserves are almost spent and you need to renew them to avoid the breakdown of your muscles.
That’s why carbs are the first thing you need to intake after exercising.
Avoid unhealthy foods like donuts and sweets.
You can read about foods you should avoid after a workout here.
Choose the carbs that are absorbed fast, i.e. carbs with the high glycemic index.
- Orange juice
- Cherry juice
Proteins after a workout
Besides carbs, your body needs proteins after training.
The best protein for that is the whey protein which is absorbed fast.
If you want a constant source of protein during a longer period of time then choose casein (found in low-fat dairy products).
Tip: Whey protein is the perfect protein since it’s easy to prepare and absorb after training.
The combination of proteins (protein shake) with carbs that are quickly absorbed is recommended to intake 30 minutes after your training at the latest.
Supplements after a workout
You need to renew glycogen and stimulate muscle growth after your workout.
The best option is a protein shake (whey protein) combined with carbs that are easy to digest (dextrose, glucose).
So, what’s the bottom line when it comes to eating after a workout:
You need to intake as many nutrients as possible, preferably with 2 small meals 2 hours after exercising at the latest.
That way you will get new glycogen reserves in your muscles and liver, prevent the breakdown of proteins in the muscles, and carbs will give your muscles more volume and a good look.
You need to intake simple sugars right after training.
That means eating fruit with less fructose and more glucose, like banana and raisins.
Your second meal after training should be the same as before training only double the number of proteins, and lower the intake of carbs.
Read more about post-workout nutrition here.
And last but not least…
A meal before sleeping
During your night sleep, you leave your body without food for up to 10 hours.
In order to prevent the breakdown of muscles and maintain your functions, eat a small, mostly protein meal before sleeping.
Casein, the milk protein, takes longer to digest and “delivers” important amino acids during a long period of time.
So, a glass of low-fat yogurt or milk containing this protein is a great choice.