Mar. 7. 2014
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped and the Mindful Nutrition Method™


Fuel your Fitness with nourishing pre- and post-workout nutrition! Spring is just around the corner and my inbox is starting to fill up once again with sports nutrition related consultations and weight/fat loss goals (which is awesome, I LOVE this topic). One of those common questions I receive from clients is “what do I eat around exercise time?”. This is such a great topic to discuss and today I’m going to break down optimal nutrition around your workout, i.e. pre-workout foods and post-workout foods, and touch on some topics such as nutrient timing and meal combinations.

First and foremost, this information needs to be applied in general terms as we all have completely different genetic makeups, fitness goals, workouts, lifestyles, and metabolisms. This guide isn’t meant to be a “cookie cutter” plan, but more like a starting point for you to branch off from, so listen to your body and of course take your desired results into consideration. To start, ask yourself some helpful questions around your workouts such as:

Q // How is my energy level before a workout?

  • If it’s low, try adding in a bit of carbohydrate like a fruit. 
  • If you feel great, it’s likely that whatever you ate earlier in the day is still digesting and providing enough “fuel”.

Q // Do I feel lethargic or sleepy during my workout after I’ve eaten?

  • You may have eaten too much or too large of a portion of fat with the meal. Fat takes the longest for our bodies to digest and if you’re feeling a bit sluggish, try replacing the fat with carbohydrates and protein only.

Q // What time of day do I typically workout and when was my last meal?

  • If you’re a morning exerciser, try keeping it simple with a piece of fruit and a couple of nuts or a hard boiled egg.
  • If you’re an afternoon or evening exerciser and recently ate within the hour of working out, chances are you may not need a pre-workout snack. If you’re an athlete or involved in heavy training, add in a carbohydrate prior.

Q // Do I feel like I can push harder and be more intense during my workout after eating this [fill in the blank] food?

  • If yes, then awesome! Sounds like you landed the right amount of food with carbohydrates, protein, and fat to give you energy.
  • If no,  adding a bit more carbohydrate may possibly do the trick.

We’re all about instant gratification in our society, so we often overlook that what we eat the day before an event or workout may affect our performance and energy levels the next day. There’s a saying I enjoy that says “eat for tomorrow”. Use this motto as a way to think about certain foods you may be eating and time them around your workout program (for example, higher carbohydrate days before or the day of a workout).

What about “nutrient timing”?

Slam a protein shake post-workout in the anabolic window is a must, right? Well, not really. Eating 6 small meals a day at exactly 2 hours apart is optimal for fat loss and metabolism health, or only exercising fasted, right? No, not really again. Carbohydrates only in the morning and absolutely none after 5pm, right? No, this is just getting silly now. You hear all of these “rules” around eating and what’s known as “nutrient timing“, which is timing your intake (i.e. carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) according to certain times of the day and in certain meal combinations. Of course, there’s going to be a place and time for being more strict around nutrient timing and some individuals have better results with proper meal combining and timing, but for the majority of us… it doesn’t matter too much.

What’s more important than pre- and post-workout nutrition is your overall intake during the entire day! Making sure we’re supplying our bodies with nourishing whole foods on a daily basis rich in protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, fiber and nutrients is key, not just singling out two meals per day (i.e. pre/post workout). 


Let’s get it started.

I’m sure you all could guess that I’m not a big fan of pre-workout pills, drinks, or supplements being all “hippy-like” and natural here on Nutrition Stripped. Honestly, there’s some good reasoning behind my philosophy. Most processed pre-workout supplements contain a huge amount of caffeine which can be incredibly taxing on our bodies (especially those with any hormonal issues). Also, a lot of these companies have proprietary blends (a.k.a. a way of saying who knows what the hell is in this mix, but it tastes good). If you’re going for a bit of stimulation before a workout, just drink a good ole’ cup of coffee. Simple as that.

Depending on your exercise/workout routine, the pre-workout may or may not be needed. For example, if your exercise consists of walking, using the elliptical, or biking at a low-moderate pace for under 30 minutes, you most likely will not need any form of pre-workout. On the other hand, if you engage in heavy weight lifting, circuit training, HIIT, or a combination of the above, having a pre-workout will provide great energy to burst through your workout.

Pre-workout foods:

  • Carbohydrates mainly + a bit of protein are best before a workout
  • Fruits (bananas, berries, apple, pears, etc.)
  • Dried fruits (dates, apricots, cherries, etc.)
  • The Body Book Green Smoothie or my Stripped Green Smoothie
  • BCAA’s (branched chain amino acids) + fruit of some sort or another carbohydrate
  • A light meal rich in carbohydrates and protein, keep the fat at a minimum
  • If you’ve eaten a more substantial meal about an hour or so before your workout, chances are you can get away without a pre-workout snack (unless muscle building is your goal or you’re engaging in endurance/high intensity work)
  • Fruit leather

Just as your pre-workout is determined by your goal (i.e. fat loss, competition, muscle building, maintenance, or general health), the post-workout nutrition will also differ. I can’t say this enough, pre- and post-workout nutrition greatly depends on your goals. For the majority of us, when just being generally healthy is our goal, nutrient “timing” doesn’t need to be strict. In general, here are some ideas for what a post-workout meal or snack could be like:

Post-workout foods:

  • Carbohydrates + protein + moderate/low amount of fat
  • A whole food meal would be perfect and ideal. For example, a protein of your choice with a sweet potato, salad, and a bit of avocado or olive oil for dressing.
  • Stripped Green Smoothie with added protein powder or another protein source like hemp seeds.
  • Stripped Green Smoothie Bowl with added fruits of your choice + protein of your choice (I love Vega, SunWarrior, Hemp protein, etc.).
  • Protein rich pancakes (Coconut Crepe-cakes, Carrot Cake Tahini Pancakes, etc.)
  • Smoothies like the Plant-Protein Power Smoothie, etc.
  • On-the-go? Try a banana + protein shake (quality brands only!)
  • Piece of gluten free toast and hard boiled eggs (farm fresh is ideal)
  • Oatmeal with hemp seeds
  • Sweet potato with tahini
  • Cinnamon Sweet Potato Truffles
  • And of course, any other lunch or dinner whole food meals!

What are some of your favorite workout foods? Do you like posts such as these nutrition topic related ones? Share below!

xx McKel