Pre and Post Boot Camp Workout Nutrition Tips

I’ve been asked by both Campbell boot camp and San Jose boot camp customers what to eat before boot camp workouts (or any workout, for that matter). Not many people ask me what they should be eating after exercise—but it’s also an important topic. So in this post, we’ll look at not only pre-workout nutrition, but also post-workout nutrition.

Pre Workout Nutrition

Some folks don’t like to eat before working out. If you absolutely can’t tolerate a small snack before working out, don’t force yourself. However, if you can handle a little food an hour before a workout, it’s a good idea to eat. Some recreational exercisers feel they will get nauseous if they eat before exercise. If food is properly selected and intake is properly timed, this shouldn’t be an issue. For those of you who do the San Jose/Almaden boot camp and exercise first thing in the morning, you haven’t had food for probably 8-10 hours. That’s almost a fast! Fasting is detrimental to performance, because our glycogen reserves aren’t at an optimal level.

Here are some reasons to consider eating a small snack before a workout:

• To provide “fuel” for the exercise and replenish glycogen stores (glycogen is the storage form of sugar in your muscles and liver)

• To prevent low blood sugar during exercise

• To settle your stomach, absorb gastric juices and prevent hunger

Most experts agree that the pre-exercise meal should consist primarily of high carbohydrate, low fat foods for easy and fast digestion.  This is especially true if the exercise is within 1 hour of eating. Avoid eating highly sugared foods however (candy bars, sugary cereals, etc.) as these may cause an insulin spike followed by a drop in blood sugar around the time you’re exercising (not to mention the fact that those foods offer you no nutrition!).

Here are some suggestions for a light, carbohydrate rich snack to eat before an exercise session:

• 1 slice whole wheat toast

• 1 small banana (or other piece of fruit)

• ½ of an energy bar (such as a Power Bar)

• ½ c. cooked oatmeal (easy on the sugar!)

Campbell boot camp participants, I realize you’re coming from work, and some of these items aren’t available to you at work.  The oatmeal and the toast ideas will work better for the Almaden boot camp participants who work out in the early morning.

Morning campers, if you’re trying to lose body fat, remember that you don’t want to eat all of your breakfast calories before your workout. Split them up. Eat 1/4 to 1/3 of your breakfast calories before your workout, and the remainder after.

Post Workout Nutrition

When and what you eat after a workout can have a serious effect on your recovery. The first 2-3 hours after exercise are critical for you; don’t wait to eat. Be selective in what you eat after exercise. Wise choices will help you recover quickly and enable your muscles to work better the next time around. Inadequate recovery can lead to chronic fatigue and a gradual decline in your performance.

Although post exercise nutrition research is aimed at competitive athletes performing exhaustive exercise, there are lessons in the research for the recreational exerciser. For the fitness enthusiast whose workouts generally last less than 90 minutes, your main concern is to re-fuel with a well-balanced meal that provides not only carbohydrates to replenish your glycogen stores, but also protein to help re-build muscle. Some protein/carb post-workout meals might be:

• Two poached eggs with whole wheat toast

• Yogurt and high fiber cereal with low or non-fat milk

• Whole wheat bagel w/peanut butter

* String cheese and whole wheat crackers

For the Campbell boot camp crew who gets home from a workout around dinner time, here are some dinner ideas:

* Steamed vegetables and lean protein (chicken, fish, pork tenderloin or lean cuts of beef)

* Dark leafy green salad with lean protein in it

* Whole wheat tortilla with rotisserie chicken pieces inside

Please make sure you get some protein after a hard workout! Time and again, studies show that a combination of protein and carbohydrate replenishes muscle glycogen more rapidly than does carbohydrate alone. If you don’t “re-fuel” your muscles, they won’t work for you well the next time you exercise.

If you need to rush to work after boot camp, consider a post-workout drink with a 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. You can drink these drinks right in the car! It may not be enough calories to qualify as a “meal”, but it will start the repair/recovery process until you can get to “real” food. If you need a suggestion for a post-workout drink, I recommend “Workout” by Prograde nutrition:


I trust their products, and they create their product formulations based on current research in sports nutrition. One word of caution: As  many of you know, I’m not a fan of “drinking” your calories if you’re trying to lose weight.  For some folks, though, a post workout shake makes sense.  Just remember to log the calories you drink!

One final word about pre- and post-workout nutrition: Don’t forget the water! It may not be “food”, but hydration is important so we should address it. Many of us are slightly dehydrated and don’t even know it. Mild dehydration can cause headaches, fatigue, constipation, and other not-so-fun things.

Drink water before, during and after exercise. For workouts lasting less than 60 minutes, sports drinks aren’t really necessary. However, if you prefer the taste of sports drinks over water, I see no problem with using them in moderation during exercise lasting less than an hour. Just don’t forget to log the calories!

What do YOU eat for your pre or post workout meals??  Leave a comment here to give your fellow campers more ideas for good nutrition.

Committed to your success,