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Pre-Workout and Post-Workout Nutrition

Nutrition is a huge topic in the world of health and fitness right now, and with good reason. In the CrossFit world, we strongly believe nutrition to be the foundation on which every other aspect of fitness is built. Remember, as your coach I may only see you for 1 hour per day, 4 or 5 times per week. This leaves 23 hours for you to be either negatively or positively impacting your health on days you make it into the box for your workout. Plus, given the extremely busy schedule you’re juggling, your pre-workout and post-workout nutrition can either hinder your growth, or exponentially improve it. The choice is yours.

What is Pre and Post-Workout Nutrition?

Very simply put, pre and post-workout nutrition is the food you are eating around your workout time. For those of you who work out early in the morning, the snack your munching down while getting ready to leave for the gym, and your breakfast after your workout play this role. For those of you who workout in the afternoon, your lunch is your true pre-workout meal, and your post-workout would either be a snack before running off to your evening tasks, or potentially dinner. If you workout in the later hours, the snack you have after your workday ends is your pre-workout fuel, and your post-workout nutrition is dinner.

Now that we have this established, let’s move on to how to eat during the pre and post-workout windows.

Pre-Workout Nutrition:

In general, your pre-workout nutrition should be focused on carbohydrates, with a little protein, too. Carbohydrates provide our bodies fuel to push hard during our workouts, and having protein in your system helps to alleviate muscle breakdown which happens as you workout.

Morning Pre-Workout Nutrition:

As mentioned above, pre-workout nutrition is going to vary based upon your schedule. If you workout at 6:30 in the morning, for example, you’re not going to want to have a full meal at 4:30 a.m. in order to let in digest. In this situation, the best option is to have a full meal at dinner the night before, and have a quick, carbohydrate heavy snack before heading into the gym. Bonus points if you can fit a little bit of protein into this snack, too. Some great options include things such as:

  • Greek yogurt with 1 cup of mixed berries and honey
  • Apple with string cheese
  • 1 egg with whole grain or sprouted grain toast

During this time, you want to stay away from too many fats, as it will slow the time it takes for the nutrients to be absorbed into your body and may make it feel like your stomach is still full while you’re working out. No fun.

Afternoon and Evening Pre-Workout Nutrition:

If you workout in the afternoon, you want to treat your lunch as your pre-workout meal. Let’s say you workout at 4:30 p.m. every day, for this example. Your lunch should be somewhere around 1:00 p.m., and make it a nice, full meal. This means approximately 1-2 palms (4-8 oz.) of protein, lots of healthy vegetables, a serving or two of complex carbohydrates, and 1-2 thumbs (1-2 Tbsp.) of healthy fats. Good examples here are:

  • Chicken breast with roasted sweet potato fries and a side salad with oil and vinegar dressed
  • Grilled top sirloin steak with brown rice and roasted broccoli, plus a small handful of almonds
  • Stir-fried tofu over a bed of quinoa with a lemony dressing and cabbage slaw

About 30 minutes before you workout, have an easily digested snack such as a handful of berries, half an apple (depending on size), or a banana if you do well eating those before you workout.

For the evening time, your pre-workout nutrition can mirror the afternoon group. However, you should have a little more to eat during that after work snack. The options listed above for the morning workout crew would do nicely.

Post-Workout Nutrition:

As with your pre-workout nutrition, your post-workout nutrition should prioritize carbohydrates and protein, but can include some more fat, as well. If you’re an athlete who needs to recover rapidly because you will be completing another training session (or you’re at a competition) in the same day, drinking a carbohydrate and protein beverage after your workout is your best option. However, for the majority of people, your post-workout nutrition should resemble a full meal.

Morning Post-Workout Nutrition:

Understandably, some of you may have to run off to work meetings after your morning workout. In this case, smoothies are a great option. You get all of the benefit of the fiber in fruits and vegetables, and combined with the milk of your choice, a scoop of protein powder, and a couple tablespoons of nut butter, a smoothie can be nutrient packed post-workout goodness. That being said, chew your food when you can. The process of chewing and having food in your mouth actually signals to your body it is getting nutrients and will greatly impact your feeling of fullness. Here post-workout nutrition options for the early birds out there:

  • Scrambled eggs with homemade home fries and sautéed bell peppers
  • Whole grain carrot muffin with Greek yogurt and nut butter
  • Oatmeal with protein powder, apples, and almonds

Afternoon and Evening Post-Workout Nutrition:

For the afternoon and evening crowd, just like the pre-workout nutrition advice, your post-workout nutrition can be a full meal. In fact, this window is the best time to schedule evenings out with friends. Because you just worked out, your body is primed to take in nutrients. If you’re eating at home (always the best option for nutrition) your meals should look like the examples outlined above. However, if you’re out with friends, here are some options:

  • Mexican restaurant: Chicken tacos on corn tortillas with guacamole and salsa on the side
  • American restaurant: Grilled chicken breast with baked potato (toppings on the side) and side of steamed broccoli
  • Barbecue restaurant: Smoked turkey with 1 Tbsp. sauce, collard greens and baked beans

Pre and Post-Workout Nutrition is for YOU:

What it all comes down to is finding what works best for you. No matter whose advice you’re following (even if it’s your own) be sure to ask yourself periodically, “How is this working for me?” If you eat an apple with peanut butter every day before you workout and you feel great, don’t stop doing that! Through trial and error, find out what works best for you.

Need help with your nutrition? Shoot us an email at or and let’s chat about how we can help your see results.

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