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Jon’s Post: Pre & Post Workout Nutrition

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Jon is one giant ab

A few weeks back I suggested to Juli that PaleOMG needed a pre and post workout nutrition post. My idea was that Juli works her magic and cooks some amazing food then the Gang eats them before and after a local weekend CrossFit competition. Juli thought it would be a better idea if just I got in line behind the larger-than-life BigKat and wrote guest post. So here it is my hungry friends – these are my experiences with pre and post workout nutrition.

I am a “competitive CrossFit athlete” which in its self is a funny statement. Basically, I am really good at exercising which puts me and all other “CrossFit athletes” in good company. Having said this, I am not a nutritionist; in fact I am an engineer. I can’t and will not give recommendations. I am the sort of person that doesn’t buy into the black box approach 100% and I have done my fair share of research. I am merely sharing some knowledge and what works for me and why.

Before you can begin thinking about the gritty details of food as fuel I believe you must understand how remarkably important what we put into our body is. We must have an inclusive understanding that the nutrients we give our body is the foundation of all our endeavors. To me this is why a diet that focuses on quality rather than quantity, or lack thereof, is the better choice. I started to see the importance of nutrition while in grad school. I got on board with my friend Heather in the early days of the development of her nutrition program – it changed my life. The girl has a degree in evolutionary sports nutrition and the results speak for themselves.

So, what should you eat and when? This is a loaded question with no absolute answer. I can tell you with complete confidence that there is no magic formula like 40-30-30 that works for everyone. As we learned in kindergarten, we are all unique and special – we have different tastes, different likes and dislikes, some of us can tolerate food that others can’t, and most importantly we all have individual goals. Set your goals! Make sure they are realistic, and work towards them every day, achieve them.

Hydration:

This comes first because hydration is an extremely important factor for optimizing performance. The physical effects of dehydration become noticeable after 2% of the body’s normal water volume has been lost and for every 1% of dehydration, performance is compromised by up to 10%. The rule of thumb that I follow is at a minimum you need to drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day. For example, I am an enormous man weighing in at 155-lbs. This equates to 78 ounces (155/2 = 78) of daily water consumption. Additionally, for every hour of exercise you need to drink at least 20 additional ounces of water. Keep in mind if it is hot, you need to drink even more water.

Pre-Work Out:

Day-to-day meals for me typically consist of more good fats and less carbs than a typical Paleo diet. I have found for me this just works better. A table spoon of unsalted grass fed butter in your morning coffee can be downright glorious. So, the day before a competition I substantially increase the amount of carbohydrates that I eat – I try to eat mostly easily digestible, non-dense carbs. Increasing carbs replenishes your glycogen stores. Glycogen is the most important and widely used source of energy for exercise and is needed for any short and intense activities. I also eat a healthy amount of protein for dinner and before bed. My favorite is wild caught salmon. A few weeks ago BabyKat Sergio sent me a good article about salmon. Salmon is very high in vitamin D which promotes calcium absorption in the gut – this is one of many factors that play a role in hydration and normal muscle function. In short, muscle tissue and neurons are electronically excitable. Muscle cells and neurons are activated by electronic impulses across the cellular membrane.  In muscle cells this impulse is also associated with muscle contractions. Calcium, potassium, and sodium ions are imperative for this electronic signaling and muscle contraction. Without the correct balance of these electrolytes cramps or severe contractions can occur.

The morning of a competition I try not to over eat – which is hard for me. I typically wake up a little early and eat a meal that consist of predominantly fat and protein with a medium amount of carbs. This equates to scrambled eggs cooked in coconut oil, guacamole, and some sort of vegetable. I am sure to allow for a few hours of digestion before the first event. The last thing you want is an overfull belly while you are competing.

Post-Workout:

Remember we talked about goals. Well whether you want to compete in the CrossFit games, run a marathon, dead-lift 500 pounds, or simply look better naked, we can all benefit from good post workout nutrition. The idea that pre/post workout nutrition is only important for the serious athlete is just silly. Without the right post workout nutrition you are setting yourself up for failure so give yourself the opportunity to succeed.

Intense physical activity causes cellular volumization which is largely responsible for amino acid transport as well as increased protein and glycogen synthesis. Eating protein post workout will stop the catabolic effects that training induces and promote anabolic conditions. Likewise, eating carbohydrates will refill muscle glycogen stores. Our goal is to take advantage of the metabolic window and get amino acids and sugar into our muscles at a time in which the body craves them the most. This gives us a faster and better recovery. This window typically lasts up to 30 minutes, but the optimum time is less than 15 minutes.

So what do you eat? Based on your goals this will change. I want to start off by saying that everyone will do good to lose the protein shakes in the gym. This is especially true if you are trying to lean out or lose weight. There is NOTHING better than good, nutritious whole foods to fuel your body. So I try to get protein from chicken, fish, beef, etc. – doing this will ensure that you increase your insulin sensitivity. However, I understand the convenience of protein shakes and there are benefits with them as well. Liquid sources are better at minimizing recovery and can be effectively utilized when training volume is increased or during a competition. Whey protein should only be consumed if you tolerate dairy – be honest with yourself and do the 30 day test. Personally, if I drink a shake it is egg protein. I drink whey protein on occasion but try to stick to 100% isolate, it has less lactose.

During this window is also when you should eat the majority of your dense carbohydrates (fruits, yams, coconut water). This will also help you maintain good insulin sensitivity. Fat slows nutrient absorption and should be avoided in post workout meals.

My goals revolve around competition so I consume between 40 and 50 grams of protein and about 30 grams of carbs after daily workouts – ask Julie, I always have some sort of fruit in my hand post workout. During competitions I will increase my carbs to around 50 grams by adding a yam. Another common goal is to lean out or lose weight and post workout macronutrient quantities can be determined using your percent body fat. If weight loss is your goal then you should consider a smaller carb load and protein from a non-liquid source. Experiment and determine what works best for you.

Now, to keep a common guest post theme I have to give a little love to the Gang:  I believe the relationships we make at the gym are bound by something a little stronger than most. Our little group or the “Gang” as Jake calls it has grown into something pretty unique and amazing. Sometimes the weight of the world gets pretty heavy, but in that back yard, or in the gym with our friends, we are infinite. Thanks guys.

“Stay curious, stay wild, and stay f*cking hungry!”

**Photography by Shaughnessy Photography. Check out her amazing work and like her Facebook page! One talented woman right there!

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Oh, Hi! I’m Juli.

I’m a food hoarder. And a really bad dancer. If you don’t know me well, you will probably not understand my humor. Therefore, I apologize ahead of time. Thanks for listening to my ramblings of my ever-changing life and trusting my kitchen mishaps. Your trust in me is appreciated.

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60 thoughts on “Jon’s Post: Pre & Post Workout Nutrition”

  1. Juli,
    What is your thought on protein shakes after workouts? I have been trying to find a female perspective on this and was wondering if you drink protein shakes at all and if so when? Thanks!

    1. I sometimes do, sometimes don’t. I did for a while and didn’t feel a huge difference in performance or recovery. If I do drink shakes, I drink Simply Pure Nutrients recovery shakes

      1. I’ve been doing the Simply Pure Nutrients protein powder (mixed with coconut milk) within the 30 mins after the Conditioning Class I teach two mornings a week because I go from that almost straight to a 4+ mile run… Tuesdays a recovery run and Thursdays a speed or hill workout. Been doing this for about a month now (since I switched my diet to Paleo) and it’s easier on my system (during the run) than having some sort of solid protein/food in my stomach.

    1. Beth – here’s another awesome blog post from robbwolf.com on post-workout nutrition: http://robbwolf.com/2012/05/31/11524/

      You may totally not need this, but if you do need some general info of basics of paleo, here’s a couple of links too:
      http://robbwolf.com/what-is-the-paleo-diet/
      http://whole9life.com/start/

      And my favorite books to read are:
      The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf
      The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson
      It Starts With Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig – they cover pre and post workout nutrition here too!

      Hope that helps 🙂

  2. kelsey hayman

    I also wonder about protein shakes, I usualy have them 3 times a week but 2 days a week I do full meals before work. The hardest part is the 30 minute time frame! any advice? I just dont feel like downing chicken after a workout! I have a question for you juli, do you usualy combine a carb with your protein shake? and if so, what carbs do you reccomend?

    1. I am a CF coach and endurance athlete. After a workout I will do a protein shake and mix it with a 1/2 serving of Vitargo, which would have about 30g of carbs. Its sugar free and gluten free and digests over 2x faster than any other carb so it wont cause bloating either. Julie, if you would like to try, email me at adickerson@genr8speed.com!

  3. Great post Jon. Heather is great, I attended her pre and post nutrition seminar about a month ago and we are a couple weeks into a body composition challenge based on her program. I can say without a doubt going from shakes to whole foods post workout has had probably the biggest impact of any advice I’ve gotten about nutrition in the last 10 years. For some people it’s tough to choke down a chicken breast, piece of steak or eggs 2 minutes after the last rep of your WOD but your body gets used to it pretty quickly. Just as she claimed, within a few days not only is it easier but your body actually craves it. It’s pretty easy to do, if your box doesn’t have a fridge just get a cooler bag and bring it with you–it’s almost become a cult like ritual where everyone finishes and then stuffs their faces before cool down–but it really works.

    1. Great observation! I went through the same thing. Its hard at first, but over time you crave it and need it. If I don’t have something to put in my body, fruit, meat, or an occasional shake, I feel shaky for a while after I work out – depending on the intensity.

  4. So everyone else above me ask about protein shakes. Boring. I’ll take the bait first then: so, is Jon single? I don’t think that’s been discussed yet.

  5. Awesome post! I always love a good, nerdy talk on nutrition! But, Evolutionary Sports Nutrition? really?! Where was THAT when I was in college!

    1. I know! Thats what I want to know. She went to a school in portland that allowed her to design her own degree. Really progressive.

    2. I was super lucky to go to school at Western Washington University, where we had an interdisciplinary program that allowed you to design your own degree. My concentration in Evolutionary Sports Nutrition combined nutritional anthropology, chem, bio, anatomy, agroecology, paleo nutrition and WAY more. It was a great program 🙂

    1. I have tried a few different kinds. I like Optimum Nutrition 100% egg protein the best. Something unsweetened that you mix with fruit is ideal, but then you kind of lose the convenience of the shake altogether. Right now I have a GNC generic brand cause it was on sale.

  6. Being new to CrossFit and now training for an endurance ride, this article was helpful. I love nutrition talk, I know, weird. Thanks!

  7. Jon mentions a body fat percentage ratio for post work for those who trying to lean out. Can you point me in the direction I can find that info.

    1. The body fat percentage is based on a sliding scale from OPENutrition in Fort Collins, CO. The idea is that if your goals are to lean out and you have a higher body fat percentage you should eat less carbs after a workout.

  8. Awesome awesome post – I’m a research freak myself and this is completely in line with everything I’ve been finding. Thanks for pumping some solid information into the community! I’m using Crossfit sparingly right now in my training since I’m experimenting with low carb levels in an effort to increase my atrocious insulin sensitivity. But I am still banging heavy weights on the reg, and doing 1 WOD per week. You inspired me to time my punctuated carb feedings in a smart fashion around that one WOD…

    As a slightly embarrassing side note – I was reading the hydration calculation, busted open Excel so I could do the formula with MY body weight… then realized I didn’t have to. Sadly, the calculation for my body weight was already done for me in the post. For a man. bahhhhhh.

  9. Loved this article! I’m a little ashamed of how many nutrition books I own out of pure curiousity. in stead of protein shakes i always pack an all natural sugar free apple sauce to down because i never feel like chewing after an intense WOD. Juli, you have some of the most attractive friends I’ve ever seen! Lol!

  10. Fantastic post Jon. One of the hardest things to get people to accept sometimes, is the fact that nutrition is really the driving force behind your performance, and not the number of WOD’s you do. I know for me personally, dropping the protein shakes all together made a huge difference for recovery. I’ll still make one occasionally on the weekends when I need a quick snack. An apple and a coconut water is my go to directly after a WOD. Well, once my heart rate and breathing has slowed down enough to chew.

  11. Hey Jon! Loved reading your article. We are currently developing a paleo/protein bar made from almond butter, egg whites, coconut, sesame seeds, flax seeds, cinnamon, honey and salt. This bar is going to be our ‘Refuel’ bar. We are in the process of developing a pre and post workout bar as well and would love to pick your brain!

    We’d also love to send you a sample of our refuel bar for you to try if you’re interested. If you would like to give it a try, please send your mailing address to taryn@amrapusa.com.

    Thanks again for your post! Have a great day!

  12. Jon, great post! It’s sometimes difficult for some of us to think ‘post workout nutrition’. I find it difficult to eat at the gym right away.. is there a window of opportunity that I should look at where I just HAVE to eat?

    1. The optimum time is between 0 and 15 minutes, an okay time is 15-30 minutes. Any time after this the window is pretty much gone and you should resume your regular eating habits.

      It can be hard at first to get post workout meals, in the beginning I struggled with it too. Over time your body becomes conditioned to it and it becomes much easier. Now, I actually crave it and will eat something within 5 minutes.

  13. Jon,
    I was at the Legends Comp too! I remember your tattoo, nice work. Thanks for the info as well, very informative. I have been bad at post-workout, as in not eating anything. I’ll give this a go and see how I feel!

  14. Thanks for all the good info on this blog! I try to eat Paleo 80-90% of the time and I am an avid CrossFitter. However, I am one those people that can not go totally low carb or I will lose weight very quickly (not that this is a bas thing) but the second I put anything outside of Paleo in my mouth I gain ten pounds back. I am trying to find my balance between carbs, weight loss and still staying heavy on the weights. I recently found a lot of recipes for rolled oats. How do you feel about this?

  15. Hey Jon! Enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for sharing! Do you ever have ‘cheat’ meals? If so, what do you give in to and how often? Does your change how strict you are based on whether you are competing or not?

    1. Ice cream is my cheat meal. Its like a drug to me. I am capable of eating a copious quantity coffee ice cream. After the Regional competition I nearly ate myself into a coma. Most of the time I am self controlled and can refrain. There are times in the year when my diet is very strict and other times when you just have to let go and indulge. Life is too short to be a tight ass all the time. Right?

      1. Ice cream is most definitely my kryptonite as well.

        It ruins me!

        I love food too much to give up absolutely everything. Having said that, I’d still much rather destroy a pint of Haagen Dazs vanilla than a pizza.

  16. I love this!!! I love his mentality about whole foods > synthetic foods! I am in complete agreement that whole foods should always come first, but sometimes the shakes are needed especially when you need instant recovery or it will be a bit of time before your next whole food meal!
    Thanks for this<3!

  17. I normally have a protein shake after a hard workout (I don’t eat that much meat) but am now confused after this post. Why should people trying to weight NOT have whey shakes? I just don’t want to hinder my efforts, thanks.

    1. If your goals are getting and staying lean, liquid food is not a good post workout meal because of the high insulin response. In my post I spoke about the metabolic window – this is when your insulin senility is increased and it takes less insulin to clean up post workout meal glucose from the blood. You want to take advantage of the window, but you don’t want to overwhelm it with a blood sugar spike from a liquid shake. Liquids process much faster, so instead of a slow blood sugar rise that you would get from starchy carbs and whole foods, you get an instant spike in your blood sugar levels.

      http://robbwolf.com/2009/07/01/post-workout-nutrition-high-or-low-carb/

  18. What about when you work on really early in the morning? Pre-workout nutrition can be very difficult when you can barely wake up in time to drive to the gym for a class. I normally eat a small snack on the way (hard-boiled egg), but my performance is always much worse than workouts later in the day. I can tell I am dehydrated and lacking in energy. Any tips?

    1. During the week if I go to the gym at 6 am I don’t eat – I just don’t like it. That being said, there is a lot of cool research that supports exercising at the end of a fast, which is essentially what you are doing if you work out in the morning (search intermittent fasting on robbwolf.com). For a lot of people it is hard to recruit in the early morning. I have found that I can lift more weight but tend to struggle with met-cons. Over time I have gotten better with morning workouts, but there is no way around it, morning workouts suck. I like to think that in morning workouts you are also building fortitude.

  19. I enjoyed doing early morning Crossfit workouts in a fasted state. I always felt great after, and ate a stupidly large meal without 30 min to an hour after a WOD. Feels awesome!

  20. I’ve started packing post-WoD meals to get in the 15 min interval since reading this. have noticed a complete difference in recovery. this was insanely helpful. thanks, Jon! and yay for the Zia pride.

  21. Sorry to sound so ig-nant… but I’m new. I just started Crossfit about 2 months ago, and I have 8 days left of my first Whole 30. I workout at 5:30am Mon-Fri, and my goal right now is simple… fat-loss. I drink plenty of water, and I usually workout on an empty stomach, but today I tried some black coffee as I heard it might give me a nice boost by the time I walk in the door. Big mistake. I thought my heart was going to explode. I like the energy boost, but not snorting 10 lines of coke kind of energy boost!
    I’d love an example of a pre and post-workout meal. I have been missing this optimum window for some time now… like by a good 1.5 hours :-/ I’m not a fan of shakes, or “dinner food” at breakfast unless it’s mixed with eggs or something breakfast-y; but definitely don’t mind eating something luke-warm after my workout. Your insight would be great at this point.

    1. Hey Casie. I’m not super helpful with this kind of stuff because I don’t tend to eat pre workout. I just have a meal an hour or two before and call it good. Sometimes I’ll even workout on an empty stomach and feel totally fine. As for post workout, sometimes I don’t eat anything, and other times I’ll just have a normal meal or a protein shake. Wish I could help more but I don’t tend to need much food post workout.

  22. Really appreciate your post John, i’m doing my research on Paleo at the moment and trying to adapt to sticking to a few rules whilst conjuring up recipe ideas and just got to post work out nutrition… now back to reading this post!

  23. Hello Jon and Juli.
    1) Thank you for this amazing website. I come here regularly for recipes.
    2) Thank you for the info on post work out. I usually wait until I am hungry to eat after a workout, which is usually between 60 – 90 mins after a WOD. I had read somewhere by Marks Daily Apple that a short fast after workout could boost HGH.

    My focus is to lean out and I’m slightly afraid to tweak with what I am eating. I’ve found that it is best for me to workout on an empty stomach. I’ve not paid much attention or awareness on my performance. I believe that is something I must get started with! 🙂

  24. Hi Jon!
    I have a client who is a high endurance athlete – does 4 hour bike rides on the weekends. What types of paleo carbs are best to load up on a couple of hours before a workout? Do you have a few examples?
    Thanks, and love the post!
    Cortney

  25. Hi Jon,

    I am an active, but overweight (if that makes sense) lady. I do crossfit in the summer but am trying to significantly get to at least 2 sizes smaller. Will this protein and carb intake make me “buldge” or get me “bigger”? I am Paleo and love it, but now that i have the eating habits down, i want optimal results for weight loss. Any suggestions? 🙂 Thanks!

  26. Hi Juli/Jon,

    Thank you for the information on your post! I find it most difficult to come up with a pre-workout snack that fuels me and that is low in sugar. I’ve had an Apple Pie Lara Bar (which is 18 grams of sugar, yikes) but it fuels me for the workout.

    I do crossfit 4x a week and am in pretty good shape, 5’9 3/4 and about 130lbs.

    Do you have any recommendations that work for you for a pre-workout and post workout for a woman trying to lean out?

    Thanks so much!

  27. If the optimal timing of the post workout anabolic window is less than 15-30 mins…how does your body eat, breakdown, metabolize, and absorb whole food in that time frame?

    What is the most anabolic hormone in the body? Insulin! Post workout you want to have a 2:1 carb:protien so that it DOES spike the insulin which in turn spikes testosterone and growth hormone. If you have it the other way around with more protien than carbs…you’re not gonna get the optimal insulin spike post workout… I haven’t worked out for the past 12 years without a 2:1 carb to protien pre/post workout meal in the form of a shake or bar. The reason is that it IS processed and gets into the system quickly…the post workout anabolic window is about 2 hrs but the body is most efficient at absorbing nutrients in that first 30 mins as you said…just don’t see how whole food gets there with the right timing?

  28. I’m new to paleo and relatively new to weight training. I’m late to post on this article and obviously don’t know much about computers. Okay, now that you know all that, I need to know what to have in my car to consume at 6:30 a.m. post workout that is dairy free. I’m in week 2 of 30 day starting paleo. I used to have whey isolate pwo and it helped a lot with soreness. Not sure what to do now. I see egg protein is suggested but I will prob want eggs for breakfast. Goal is not weight loss. Goal is to build muscle and strength. 🙂

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