|April 5, 2024

Best Pre- and Post-Workout Meals to Fuel Your Sweat Session

By Spencer Brooks
Reviewed by Theresa Greenwell for Scientific Accuracy on 04/05/2024

Best Pre- and Post-Workout Meals to Fuel Your Sweat Session
  • What you put into your body both before and after your workout can either inhibit or boost your progress and recovery.
  • Whether you fast or eat before a workout, it’s best to consume quality carbs after you train to replenish glycogen-depleted muscles.
  • Use the easy-to-make recipes for pre- and post-workout meals outlined below to give your body the nutrients it needs to thrive.

You may have heard the saying: “Abs are made in the kitchen.” It’s true: the food you eat has a bigger impact on muscle-building and fat loss than you might think. If you don’t fuel your body properly with the right pre- and post-workout meal, you won’t take full advantage of your workouts and your progress will slow down.

As a quick example: eating 75 grams of sugar (about the amount in a 20-ounce bottle of soda or a fruit-packed smoothie) causes an immediate 25% drop in your testosterone, and it stays low for several hours.[1] Testosterone plays a huge role in both muscle gain and fat loss; if you’re having cookies as a pre-workout meal or a sugary protein shake for a post-workout meal, you’re going to seriously undercut your progress.

But if you fuel your workouts with nutrient-dense, high-quality food, you’ll see a dramatic difference in how you look and feel. Here are the best pre-workout meals and best post-workout meals to help you perform better in the gym and reach your fitness goals.

3 best pre-workout meals

As you read a moment ago, you want to avoid sugar for both pre-workout meals and post-workout meals because it will cause your testosterone to dip (although there’s a good case for having some carbs in your post-workout meal, which you’ll read about in a moment).

Instead, load up on fast-burning fats for your pre-workout meal — or don’t eat at all. Here are three excellent options for a pre-workout meal.

Eat Nothing

best workout mealsIf you haven’t tried intermittent fasting before, skipping food before a workout may sound strange. Shouldn’t you fuel your body? Won’t you lose muscle?

Not necessarily. Working out while fasting can actually help you gain muscle and shed fat simultaneously. Here’s why:

  • Intermittent fasting alone puts you into fat-burning mode,[2] and working out fasted makes you burn even more body fat.[3]
  • Men who ate all their meals in an 8-hour window every day for 8 weeks, combined with lifting, lost significantly more body fat than those who ate an identical diet spread across the whole day.[4] No muscle loss, either.
  • Fasting dramatically increases human growth hormone (HGH). A 24-hour fast doubled HGH levels, and a 48-hour fast increased HGH 5-fold.[5] HGH helps you put on muscle faster and also speeds up muscle recovery, so you can get back in the gym faster with less soreness.[6][7]
  • Trying to burn fat while maintaining (not gaining) muscle? Fasting is four times better at preserving muscle than normal daily calorie restriction.

There’s a compelling case for skipping a pre-workout meal entirely and working out before your first meal of the day.

Drink Bulletproof Coffee

Young woman making Bulletproof Coffee recipe.

If fasted workouts are a little too intense but you don’t want to eat anything heavy for a pre-workout meal, Bulletproof Coffee is the perfect option. Here’s why:

  • Caffeine helps you work out harder. People who drank coffee or took caffeine before an endurance workout — biking, in this case — were faster and put out significantly more power than their caffeine-free counterparts.[8] Weightlifters saw similar benefits from caffeine.[9]
  • Caffeine speeds up your metabolism to help you burn more fat.[10]
  • Brain Octane Oil rapidly converts to ketones,[11] giving your cells the fuel to have a great workout. Brain Octane also increases your metabolism.[12]

Bulletproof Coffee is a light and energizing pre-workout meal.

Nutrition Info (per 8 oz cup):

  • Calories: up to 330
  • Total Fat: up to 38g
  • Protein: .3g
  • Net Carbs: 0g

Fill up on fat & protein

Hamburger salad with avocado

If you prefer a full pre-workout meal, focus on fat and protein; you’re best off saving your carbs for after your workout, when they can help with recovery.

This keto hamburger salad fits the bill perfectly. It has high-quality protein to support muscle growth and repair, and plenty of slower-burning fat for sustained energy while you sweat.

Drizzle a tablespoon of Brain Octane C8 MCT Oil over the salad to get an immediate energy boost and enhance fat-burning. If you’re building muscle on the keto diet, this low-carb recipe is also a great post-workout meal.

Nutrition Info (per serving):

  • Calories: 697
  • Total Fat: 50g
  • Protein: 48.7g
  • Net Carbs: 6.6g

3 best post-workout meals

Your post-workout meal is just as important as your pre-workout one.

This is the time to eat some high-quality carbs; they’ll replenish the muscle glycogen that you depleted during exercise, and you’ll have increased insulin sensitivity from the workout so your blood sugar won’t spike too much.[13] You’ll also want more protein that your muscles can use for growth and repair.

Salmon & cauliflower

This creamy spiced tandoori salmon recipe with cauliflower rice comes together in minutes for a simple paleo, keto, and Whole30 weeknight dinner.

This easy baked tandoori salmon with cauliflower rice (or regular rice) has everything you want post-workout: plenty of complete protein from the salmon, fiber-rich cauliflower, lots of nutrient-dense herbs and spices, and quality fat from avocado oil. Salmon is also an exceptional source of omega-3s that will help minimize joint inflammation after exercise.[14] If you want to keep it low-carb, stick with the cauliflower rice. To refill your glycogen stores as quickly as possible post-workout, swap the cauliflower rice for organic white rice.

Nutrition Info (per serving made with cauliflower rice):

  • Calories: 432
  • Total Fat: 23g
  • Protein: 34g
  • Net Carbs: 13.9g

Grass-fed beef & sweet potatoes

Paleo meatballs with sweet potato noodles on white plate

This post-workout meal of grass-fed beef meatballs and sweet potato noodles feeds your muscles and your joints. It combines a complete protein source with a nutrient-dense carbohydrate that will replenish depleted glycogen stores.

Full of flavor, quality fats and protein, this Thai-style dish is a delicious way to jumpstart the post-workout recovery process.

Nutrition Info (per serving):

  • Calories: 648
  • Total Fat: 36g
  • Protein: 24g
  • Net Carbs: 46g

Sushi (sweet potato style)

Paleo sushi rolls with purple sweet potato

This recipe for purple sweet potato salmon sushi rolls includes a fiber-rich source of carbohydrates that adds a serious pop of color to the dish. Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein.

Ultimately, the simple combination of fish and veggies wrapped in seaweed will provide the nutrients you need for growth and repair.

Nutrition Info (per roll):

  • Calories: 368
  • Total Fat: 26g
  • Protein: 16g
  • Net Carbs: 12g

The bottom line: If you’re not a fan of fasted workouts, stick to quality fats and protein prior to training. Your post-workout meal should include protein and quality carbs to help repair damaged muscle tissue and replenish glycogen levels. Let these recipes serve as a guide for you to make gains and achieve your fitness goals.

The recovery process includes more than what you put on your plate. Use the tips and tricks from our comprehensive recovery guide to get your body ready for your next gym session.

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