Effective Eating: Maximising Your Workouts - Matt McIlwrick

23 March 2023

Matt Mcilwrick

Contributor - High Performance Coach / ex-NRL Player

The link between exercise and good nutrition is very important when it comes to performing and recovering at your best.

As a professional Rugby League player over the last decade, I have learnt a lot when it comes to eating for performance. Whether it is before or after a training session or on the morning of a big game, fuelling my body to perform at its best was of utmost importance. When it comes to nutrition and weight training performance, these are some of the best ways I found have helped me to be able to prepare physically, mentally and recover the best I possibly could.


Eating before a workout can fuel your body and prepare you to perform at your best.

Getting enough nutrition in before exercise will not only help you maximise performance, but will also minimise muscle damage.

There are a number of factors to consider when it comes to eating before training - for example, the type of training, the intensity and the time at which you will train.

As a rule of thumb, the types of food I always consumed before a workout consisted of higher carbohydrate foods combined with protein, such as peanut butter on toast, protein smoothies, oats/porridge, fruit, chicken and veggies.

Eating protein (alone or with carbs) prior to exercise has been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis.

In this way my muscles were always full of glycogen (energy) and this allowed me to always train at my full potential. I generally tried to avoid high fat meals, as these tended to sit on my stomach and felt uncomfortable during high intensity training sessions.

My Muscle Chef has a range of tasty nutritionally optimised snacks designed to meet your post workout protein and micronutrient needs.


Eating the right foods post workout can help shorten your recovery time, refuel your energy reserves, and aid in repairing your muscles. Eating protein rich foods combined with Carbohydrates will give your body and muscles the best opportunity to recover, restore and get the most out of your workout and workouts to follow.

A few examples of nutrient dense post workout meals include My Muscle Chef’s Crumbed Chicken and Roast Potatoes, Satay Chicken or Grilled Cottage Cheese with Stewed Lentils.

Otherwise you could always go for an egg omelette on toast, tuna salad on whole grain bread or greek yogurt with berries and muesli.

For convenience and those on the go a protein shake and banana was often my go to food source.


During a workout your muscles use glycogen stores for fuel. After your workout your body then tries to restore and replenish these reserves. Consuming the right foods and nutrients will help speed up this process and help stimulate growth of new muscle (protein synthesis).

If we do not eat after a workout, this recovery process is slowed, and this can lead to increased muscle soreness, general tiredness, and can potentially affect your next training session.

Not having recovered optimally, and depending on the intensity and frequency of your training, these effects can snowball and can potentially lead to fatigue and possible overuse injuries (injuries that happen through training errors, such as poor form in the gym).

Eating and recovering correctly after a weight session is always extremely important to me, as my training sessions throughout my career were very frequent and very intense - so eating correctly for longevity was key in maintaining my effort levels.


Protein is very important to eat post workout to help your muscles repair and rebuild. It is particularly important after a strength session if you are looking to build muscle.

To gain muscle, your body must synthesise more muscle protein than it breaks down. So people looking to build muscle should eat a greater amount of protein for strength and muscle development.

Protein can be consumed in a number of ways post workout through eating lean meats, dairy products, seeds and nuts.Protein powders, balls and bars or smoothies are other convenient easy to consume options. My Muscle Chef has a range of tasty high protein snacks designed to meet your post workout protein and micronutrient needs.

Another factor to consider is the importance of not only consuming protein but carbohydrates as well. Depending on the intensity of the workout, carbohydrates are burned rapidly - so consuming carbs as well as protein post workout can help to replenish the body and help with optimal recovery.


When to eat before a meal can vary from individual to individual, many find they can exercise and feel better in a fasted state (empty stomach) but recovery can be hindered if a nutritious meal is not consumed within a number of hours afterwards. Post workout eating then is key to recovery.

A general rule of thumb that people have found effective is to try and get in a full meal 2-3 hour prior to working out, but I suggest finding the timing and strategy that works for you and helps you feel at your best during your training session.

In regards to eating after a workout, from experience, try eating as soon as you feel comfortable. After an intense training session sometimes the last thing you want to think about is eating but to optimise recovery, the sooner you eat the better - but eating within an hour is fine.

I personally find eating a small meal or having a protein shake within 30 minutes of finishing training has helped me be at my best. If you train at night after dinner you might want to have a protein shake after your session before bed.

Alternatively, a high protein meal with some carbs like fish, roast potatoes and salad is great.


To replace fluids lost during exercise and throughout the day, it’s important to remember to drink plenty of water. This will aid in maintaining normal muscle function, and prevent performance decreases through dehydration.

I suggest contacting an accredited nutritionist or dietitian for specific meal plans and sizes to mirror what your intended outcome or goal is in the weights room, whether it be muscle growth, to lose fat or just to maintain and enjoy your training.

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