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Pre and post workout fuel

April 06 2022 6 min read

It’s the eternal question gym goers ask: what are the ideal pre and post workout foods for training? Sports nutritionist Gabrielle Maston provides the answer.

Pre and post workout snacks are not imperative for training gains, so your muscles won’t shrivel up if you miss your post training protein shake. However, if you hone in on the finer details in some circumstances, you may get small benefits from timely snacks surrounding your training.


If your goal is to increase muscle and bulk up, then you should be utilising pre and post workout snacks to bolster muscle protein synthesis. If you’re looking for bigger biceps, a mixture of carbs, creatine and protein is ideal 30–45min pre and post training.

Carbohydrates will give you an insulin peak pre and post workout. Insulin is an anabolic hormone which promotes protein synthesis by allowing glucose, creatine and amino acids to enter the muscle cell.  Coupling your carb intake with protein allows more amino acids to be present to start rebuilding muscle that needs repairing after training.

Creatine is a combination of amino acids found in meat and supplements that is used during high intensity, short duration training such as lifting weights. The idea of taking creatine pre and post workout is to give you that additional edge to get a few more reps out of each workout.

To get some serious bulking benefits from your pre training regimen, you may want to try a meal containing steak for a creatine and protein boost. Couple this with fast releasing rice or potato and veggies. Post training, follow up with a fruit banana smoothie: milk and yoghurt for whey and casein protein, banana and honey for slow and fast releasing carbs.


To lose weight you have to get your calories in check. If you add more snacks than you need you will start tipping your calorie budget for the day. The idea with exercise in a weight loss program is to build lean muscles and burn into fat stores. Fat does not burn when there is an excess of food in the system.

You don’t want to go into a hard training session fasted either, because you might pass out! Try to have your normal scheduled snacks 1–2 hours pre workout and schedule to eat a normal meal post workout within 1–2 hours to keep hunger levels in check. Choose something high in protein and veggies post workout to curb hunger.

You may want to try a veggie box post training: carrot, celery and cucumber sticks with hummus dip and cottage cheese.


Things become more interesting when we explore cardio-based sports like cycling, swimming and running.  Endurance based activities last for more than 1.5 hours of continuous cardio exercise. During this time a large majority of the fuel burnt through exercise is carbohydrate based.

Performance will decline if not enough carbs are present.  When to have your pre workout snack and the amount of carbohydrates to have are crucial factors in getting any performance benefits. It is especially beneficial to get carbohydrate timing right in competition mode and during the competition season. If you are trying a fat adaptation eating plan where you lower your carbs, do this on the off-season.

Rehydration is always important!

Regimented fat adaptation plans during a race will slow you down. For endurance athletes, snack 30 minutes prior to any heavy training set and have at least 30g of carbs in that snack. It is equally important to replenish your muscle carb stores post training. Scheduling a snack or a mixed meal containing carbs is enough to refuel muscles.

You may want to try a bowl of fruit salad with yoghurt pre workout. Post training follow it up with a pesto pasta with chicken and salad. Don’t forget to rehydrate! Often endurance athletes run the risk of under-performing due to dehydration. Dehydration can affect speed and concentration levels.

Drink at least 1L of water during training sessions and follow this up with another litre post training. You may find water a little boring after a while so be creative! You can add lemon, sprigs of mint or chilled tea. It’s not recommended to use sports drinks all the time due to the excess sugar. Leave the sports drinks for race day.


If your goals are general fitness, timing a pre and post workout snack is not necessary. Listen to your hunger cues, eat your snacks when you feel hungry outside of your workout. Choose snacks that are wholegrain, high fibre and protein rich. Fill up on nuts and dried fruit for example.

You will still get fitness without snacking. If you happen to be hungry before training try a mixture of wholegrain carbs and protein like wholegrain crackers with tasty cheese and sliced tomato. Drinking plenty of water during your training session will help to make your skin look clearer and make you feel better.

After a long day of work, headaches and a cloudy mind often happen because you are dehydrated. Make sure you take a drink bottle to the gym!

Overall, deciding if or when to snack is dependent on your fitness goals, so be clear on what you want to achieve — then decide on whether it’s worth snacking or not. Simplicity is the key! Pick easily transportable snacks so you don’t miss out: fruit, nuts, yoghurt, sandwiches, tuna and crackers are all super easy options to get you snacking on time.