What to Eat Before & After Exercise to Build Muscle

What you eat before and after a workout can have a significant effect on your ability to build muscle and lose fat. Not only do you need energy for a workout, you need to recover and proper post-workout nutrition is a critical part of recovery. Even if you eat well well before and after your workout, it won't make a difference if the rest of your diet is unhealthy. So, if you spend the other 20 or so hours of the day eating nothing but donuts and soda, you need to re-evaluate your diet or your goals. Consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.


Before a Workout

What you eat before a workout depends on your goals, your size, and the volume and intensity of your training. If you have a short workout where you are training only a few small muscles, you can get by with an extra 25 g of carbohydrates and 25 g of protein just to ensure that you do not burn excess muscle while training, as small amounts of protein before a work can enhance muscle growth. If you are engaged in heavy, high-volume squats and deadlifts, you may need to double that amount. Get your protein from an easily digestible source such as whey. Your carbohydrates can come from anywhere but fruit, as fructose is primarily used by the liver, and will not adequately supply blood sugar or muscular energy. Unless you are engaged in some sort of marathon training session, there is no reason to have any fat before you workout.

Post-Workout Sugar

Following an intense workout, your blood sugar and muscle glycogen, your intra-muscular sugar, levels are low. Your hormones are primed to help restore depleted sugar levels, so this is the ideal time to consume an easily digestible sugar such as dextrose or maltodextrin. Both are consumed quickly and will restore depleted muscle glycogen levels, allowing quicker recovery. This is another time in which you should avoid foods high in fructose such as fruits. Your goal is to recover, not fill your liver with sugar.

Post-Workout Protein

During training you break down protein and burn amino acids, which is why you will need nearly twice as much protein as a non-training individual. To replace these, a rapidly digesting protein such as whey is an ideal choice, as well as micellar casein, or a specific milk protein. In combination with a sugar post-workout, a protein will allow you to recover quicker and build more muscle. So combine dextrose or maltodextrin with whey or micellar casein for a significant muscle-building shake.

Limit the Fat

Unless you are engaging in prolonged exercise such as endurance training, you may wish to avoid fat before and after your workout. If necessary, consume a small amount of essential fatty acids via supplement form, such as fish oil capsules, which can increase your testosterone response. This is not critical if you get enough fish oils, nuts and seeds throughout the day, but it may help if you do not. Otherwise, there is the chance that fat can slow down the rate at which you digest your protein and carbohydrates, which defeats the purpose of using fast-acting food sources.

  • "Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook"; Nancy Clark; 2008

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.