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Should I Eat Protein Before or After a Workout?

No matter how you decide to get your heart pumping and your muscles moving, it's important to provide your body with enough fuel before you exercise. 

"Your body is your vehicle, so you have to keep your engine running when you work out. That means fueling up your body by eating the right foods and drinking the right fluids, in the right amounts at the right times," (American Heart Association).

Wow, that's certainly a lot of "right" we need to get right in order to maximize our performance during a workout. But there's good news, too. Because even the AHA affirms that there are "no-hard fast rules" to what you can and cannot eat before a workout—just a few guidelines you'll want to keep in mind. 

For instance, just as it's recommended to stretch before and after a workout, you'll also want to ensure you eat the right foods post exercise, too! Actually, believe it or not, there are even some mid-workout snack ideas that can benefit you, as well.

Before we explore this topic further, let's first answer the question on the table: "should I eat protein before or after a workout?"

Good question! In order to address this, let's first make sure we understand why protein is important for our bodies.

Why Do We Need Protein?

Protein is a macronutrient. It's found in our tissue, muscles, bones, hair, and skin. It's also found in certain types of foods we eat, like nuts, eggs, fish, beef, and soy

A lot of people assume protein = energy. But the reality is that protein takes longer to break down than carbohydrates—another essential macronutrient. Remember, our bodies naturally break down carbs into glucose, which is then absorbed into our bloodstream and converted into energy (i.e., fuel).

Protein, on the other hand, helps us build and repair muscles and tissue, which is why it's actually recommended for "after" your workout vs. before.

"Consuming protein after exercise helps the muscles to heal and prevents the loss of lean mass. Lean mass contributes to a muscular and toned appearance," (Medical News Today).

This doesn't mean you should (or shouldn't) skip protein before a workout. But it does demonstrate that your post-workout snack is just as important as your pre-workout snack—maybe even more so!

"After a competition or workout, focus on getting carbs and protein into your body. This gives your muscles the ability to replenish the glycogen they just lost through training and helps your tired muscles rebuild and repair with the available protein and amino acids," (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).  

So, what should you eat pre-workout? 

The AHA recommends filling up on water and eating nutrient-dense carbohydrates. This might include whole-grains; fruit; veggies; or low-fat yogurt. 

Depending on the intensity of your workout, and how many calories you burn, they also recommend bringing a mid-workout snack, such as raisins, a banana, or even some orange juice diluted with water. This way you get enough fluids and healthy carbohydrates to finish your exercise—without feeling fatigued or burnt out.

Choosing the "Right" Balance

The key to finding the best snack for your workout is choosing one with the right balance of nutrients to fuel, replenish, and repair your body!

"Getting the right nutritional balance after exercise restores energy levels and reduces fatigue, helping the body to repair muscles and build strength for future workouts. Proteins, carbohydrates, and healthful fats are all essential for the body’s recovery," (Medical News Today).

Having pre-workout bars on hand that contain these nutrient-dense carbohydrates and protein can make it quick and easy to snack before, as well as during or after your workout. 

So, remember there are "no-hard-fast rules" but there is an important balance our bodies need to thrive and perform at optimal level.

Have a Nutrition Question?

Check out our blog page for more lifestyle tips and news on nutrient density, blood sugar impact, and nutrition. 

We'll continue to share helpful articles that aim to educate and empower you to make mindful snack and meal choices, so you always feel your best! 

We also work closely with dietitians and even feature an "ask a registered dietitian" article to help answer many questions our readers have about pursuing a food/life balance via nutrient-dense foods. 

If you have a question you'd like to see featured in our next topic, leave us a comment on Facebook, or contact us directly!