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Friday, November 10, 2017

Pre-workout and Post- workout Nutrient Timing

     Nutrient timing is very important for overall health, body composition, and athletic performance. Consuming the needed amount of calories, with the correct macronutrient ratio, at the proper time can provide the athlete with optimal results. There are three primary nutrient timing windows. These nutrient timing windows include pre-workout, post- workout, and the period of time until the next pre-workout window. Nutrient timing windows are also known as the energy phase, the anabolic phase, and the growth phase. These three phases essentially cover the twenty four hours of the day. The athlete has the additional challenge of mastering these nutrient timing windows. It is the nutrition plan that makes all of the athlete’s hard work pay off, in the gym, and on the playing field (McArdle, Katch, & Katch, 2016).

     The pre-workout or energy phase is a critical window concerning nutrient timing. This is the phase that provides the athlete with optimal fuel for performance, during a game or training session. It is recommended that the energy phase meal be consumed immediately before and during training. This timing is commonly referred to as pre-workout and intra-workout. There are numerous research studies that have shown the positive benefits of this nutrient timing window. In addition to enhancing performance, the energy phase also limits the catabolic effects of intense physical exertion (Brown, Imthurn, & Ramsay, 2015).

     While many studies show the positive effects of a variety of pre-workout nutrients, there is a common thread that appears to hold true. The main nutrients that make up the energy phase requirements are carbohydrates and proteins. The pre-workout and intra-workout meals should contain twenty to twenty six grams of high glycemic carbohydrates. There should also be five to six grams of whey protein. Additional recommended nutrients include magnesium, sodium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin E, and leucine. For ease of consumption, most athletes make this meal in liquid form, as a drink or shake (Brown, Imthurn, & Ramsay, 2015).

     The anabolic phase or post-workout window is the forty five minute time period immediately following training. This phase is also very important for the athlete. Hard, intense training leads to catabolic effects which can break down lean body mass, and increase fat storage. No athlete can afford to let this happen, if they want to be successful. Proper nutrition at this stage can reverse these catabolic effects, and turn it into an anabolic period of muscle sparing and protein synthesis (Sharp et al., 2017).

     The nutrition profile for the post- workout meal contains forty to fifty grams of high glycemic carbohydrates, and thirteen to fifteen grams of whey protein. This is also normally consumed in liquid form. Recommended additional nutrients include vitamin C, vitamin E, leucine, and glutamine. High glycemic carbohydrates and whey protein are used, because they digest and metabolize faster than other forms (Sharp et al., 2017).

     After the anabolic phase, the growth phase continues until the next energy phase. The goals of the growth phase are to build muscle, replenish glycogen stores, and to promote recovery. The growth phase is broken down into two sub-phases. The first sub-phase is the rapid segment, which lasts for the first several hours. The goal of this phase is to replenish glycogen stores. This is done by maximizing glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity. This phase also initiates recovery and muscle growth (Helms, Aragon, & Fitschen, 2014).

     The next sub-phase is the sustained segment. This period lasts for approximately sixteen to eighteen hours following the rapid segment. The goal with this period of time is to increase muscle building with a positive nitrogen balance. The growth phase nutrition profile includes fourteen grams of faster digesting whey protein, two grams of slower digesting casein protein, and two to four grams of high glycemic carbohydrates. It is also recommended to include leucine, and glutamine to aid in recovery and muscle building. By following a disciplined nutrition window timing program, athletes can receive the proper nutrition necessary for optimal performance, muscle building, and recovery (Helms, Aragon, & Fitschen, 2014).


Brown, K, Imthurn, K., & Ramsay, S. (2015). Nutritional needs and attitudes towards having a training table: Insight from players from a division 1 football team. Enliven: Journal of Dietetics Research and Nutrition. Retrieved from

Helms, E., Aragon, A., & Fitschen, P. (2014). Evidence based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: Nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Retrieved from

McArdle, W.D., Katch, F.I., & Katch, V.L. (2016). Essentials of exercise physiology (5th ed.). Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.

Sharp, M., Lowery, R., Shields, K., Lane, J., Gray, J., Partl, J., … Wilson, J. (2017). The effects of beef, chicken, or whey protein post-workout on body composition and muscle performance. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Retrieved from,_Chicken,_or_Whey_Protein.96027.aspx

Eric Dempsey
MS, NASM Fitness Nutrition Specialist

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