An optimal nutrient intake not only helps you maximise physical performance but can also minimise any muscle damage (1). Each macronutrient has a specific role especially before a workout, the ratio in which you consume them will vary depending on the individual and the kind of exercise they are about to undertake (2).
Muscles use glucose from carbohydrates to make fuel and your body processes and stores glucose in the form of glycogen found in the liver and muscles. For both low and high-intensity exercise, your glycogen stores are your muscles main source of energy (3). However, for longer workout sessions, the degree to which glucose is used from the carbohydrates is dependent on several factors such as the intensity, type of workout and overall diet (3).
There are numerous studies that document the potential that protein consumption has on improving athletic performance, both before and after exercising.
Studies show that your body’s ability to rebuild its glycogen stores and use protein is generally enhanced right after you exercise (21) and for this reason, experts recommend that you eat a post-workout meal that contains both carbohydrates and proteins within forty-five minutes of exercising. Interestingly, it is also believed that delaying carbohydrate consumption by just two hours after exercising can lead to a fifty per cent decrease in the rates of glycogen synthesis (10, 21).
However, if you ate a good well-balanced meal before working out, research does suggest that the benefits from this earlier meal will still apply after your training (15, 16, 21).
It is also important to make sure that you drink plenty of water both before and after a workout and remain properly hydrated, as during exercise you end up losing a lot of water and electrolytes through sweat. Replenishing fluids and electrolytes after exercising aid your body’s recovery and performance (22).
For more information on combining nutrition and exercise, see our nutrition for sport and exercise course.
1. Hawley, J.A. and Burke, L.M., 1997. Effect of meal frequency and timing on physical performance. British Journal of Nutrition, 77(S1), pp.S91-S103.
2. Kerksick, C., Harvey, T., Stout, J., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C., Kreider, R., Kalman, D., Ziegenfuss, T., Lopez, H., Landis, J. and Ivy, J.L., 2008. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 5(1), p.17.
3. Gollnick, P.D. and Matoba, H., 1984. Role of carbohydrate in exercise. Clinics in sports medicine, 3(3), pp.583-593.
4. Coyle, E.F., Coggan, A.R., Hemmert, M.K. and Ivy, J.L., 1986. Muscle glycogen utilization during prolonged strenuous exercise when fed carbohydrate. Journal of applied physiology, 61(1), pp.165-172.
5. Coyle, E.F., Coggan, A.R., Hemmert, M.K., Lowe, R.C. and Walters, T.J., 1985. Substrate usage during prolonged exercise following a preexercise meal. Journal of Applied Physiology, 59(2), pp.429-433.
6. Tarnopolsky, M.A., Gibala, M., Jeukendrup, A.E. and Phillips, S.M., 2005. Nutritional needs of elite endurance athletes. Part I: Carbohydrate and fluid requirements. European Journal of Sport Science, 5(1), pp.3-14.
7. Bussau, V.A., Fairchild, T.J., Rao, A., Steele, P. and Fournier, P.A., 2002. Carbohydrate loading in human muscle: an improved 1 day protocol. European journal of applied physiology, 87(3), pp.290-295.
8. Goforth Jr, H.W., Laurent, D., Prusaczyk, W.K., Schneider, K.E., Petersen, K.F. and Shulman, G.I., 2003. Effects of depletion exercise and light training on muscle glycogen supercompensation in men. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 285(6), pp.E1304-E1311.
9. Kerksick et al 2017. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14(1), p33.
10. Poole, C., Wilborn, C., Taylor, L. and Kerksick, C., 2010. The role of post-exercise nutrient administration on muscle protein synthesis and glycogen synthesis. Journal of sports science & medicine, 9(3), p.354.
11. Ivy, J.L., 1998. Glycogen resynthesis after exercise: effect of carbohydrate intake. International journal of sports medicine, 19(S 2), pp.S142-S145.
12. Biolo, G., Williams, B.D., Fleming, R.Y. and Wolfe, R.R., 1999. Insulin action on muscle protein kinetics and amino acid transport during recovery after resistance exercise. Diabetes, 48(5), pp.949-957.
13. Willoughby, D.S., Stout, J.R. and Wilborn, C.D., 2007. Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass, and strength. Amino acids, 32(4), pp.467-477.
14. Kraemer, W.J., Hatfield, D.L., Spiering, B.A., Vingren, J.L., Fragala, M.S., Ho, J.Y., Volek, J.S., Anderson, J.M. and Maresh, C.M., 2007. Effects of a multi-nutrient supplement on exercise performance and hormonal responses to resistance exercise. European journal of applied physiology, 101(5), pp.637-646.
15. Tipton, K.D., Elliott, T.A., Cree, M.G., Aarsland, A.A., Sanford, A.P. and Wolfe, R.R., 2007. Stimulation of net muscle protein synthesis by whey protein ingestion before and after exercise. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 292(1), pp.E71-E76.
16. Tipton, K.D., Rasmussen, B.B., Miller, S.L., Wolf, S.E., Owens-Stovall, S.K., Petrini, B.E. and Wolfe, R.R., 2001. Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism, 281(2), pp.E197-E206.
17. Cribb, P.J. and Hayes, A., 2006. Effects of supplement-timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38(11), pp.1918-1925.
18. Biolo, G., Tipton, K.D., Klein, S. and Wolfe, R.R., 1997. An abundant supply of amino acids enhances the metabolic effect of exercise on muscle protein. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism, 273(1), pp.E122-E129.
19. Kreider, R.B. and Campbell, B., 2009. Protein for exercise and recovery. The Physician and sportsmedicine, 37(2), pp.13-21.
20. Tipton, K.D., Ferrando, A.A., Phillips, S.M., Doyle Jr, D. and Wolfe, R.R., 1999. Postexercise net protein synthesis in human muscle from orally administered amino acids. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism, 276(4), pp.E628-E634.
21. Aragon, A.A. and Schoenfeld, B.J., 2013. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?. Journal of the international society of sports nutrition, 10(1), p.5.
22. Convertino, V.A., Armstrong, L.E., Coyle, E.F., Mack, G.W., Sawka, M.N., Senay, J.L. and Sherman, W.M., 1996. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 28(1), pp.i-vii.