An NBA Coach on the Best Meal Before and After Your Workout

Kenneth Faried
Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets | Shutterstock
Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets | Shutterstock
Editor's note: This article has been republished from a 2016 interview. Steve Hess left his position as the Denver Nuggets' strength and conditioning coach in 2017. 

Food is fuel, but if you're an athlete or exercise junkie, you're going to need GOOD fuel for your body -- kind of like the way cars require gas to run but fancy BMWs demand that premium petroleum.

According to Steve Hess, the strength and conditioning coach of the Denver Nuggets (who's worked with the NBA team for 20 years), the power of nutritious food is real; it's the determining factor between an active person achieving #workoutgains or feeling like crap. "Practicing balanced and healthy nutritional habits -- both pre- and post-workouts -- will improve an athlete's performance, enhance recovery, and facilitate rebuilding," says Hess.

You may not exactly be a lottery pick in this year's NBA draft, but that doesn't mean you can't eat like one. Hess offers up pro tips and suggestions for smart, nutritious nomz to eat both before and after a workout... as well as what to stay away from.


Goal: Yes, putting on your game face and loading up your iPod with Lemonade are pre-workout musts. But from a more scientific standpoint, eat foods that deliver adequate energy, boost hydration, and reduce gastric stress.

Eat this: A skinless, boneless chicken breast grilled up, with sides of brown rice and mixed fruit. Chicken provides lean protein to keep you sustained, but not too much that will give you a stomachache mid-set; brown rice is a complex carb with a low glycemic index and a primary source of energy that will break down slowly over the course of your workout (you'll need that for those deadlifts); fruit is super-hydrating and delivers some pre-workout sugar (plus vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals, so don't think you can just substitute a soda) for a burst of energy without that subsequent sugar crash.

For days you're on-the-go, a PB&J is an ideal pre-training power food to give you that carb-protein-fruit trifecta. But even if you're rushing to the gym and need something in a jiffy(!), don't skimp on high-quality ingredients -- opt for whole-grain bread (nutritious carbohydrates for long-term energy), almond butter (adequate protein to crush hunger with less saturated fat as compared to peanut butter), and organic fruit-based jam with no added sugar.

Avoid this: "Stay away from the classic locker room order of chicken tenders, fries, or hamburgers," says Hess. "Fried foods cause poor digestion, gastric distress, decreased readiness, and also promote inflammation."


Goal: After you've gotten your swole on, your body is depleted of energy and needs to be kicked into recovery mode. Hess explains that you'll want to refuel it with sustenance that does the following: promotes all-around rebuilding, reduces soft-tissue breakdown, and diminishes total-body inflammation. This will allow your newly chiseled bod to heal properly and reap the most benefits from your sweat sesh. Also, aim to replenish within the first half-hour after cooldown to effectively refill muscle stores with amino acids and keep your metabolism revved up longer.

Eat this: Salmon (grilled, not fried in Crisco and breadcrumbs, of course) paired with dark green veggies. "Salmon is an epic source of protein that fuels the body with necessary fats for optimum recovery after training," says Hess. Epic, he says! Dark green veggies (like broccoli, kale, bok choy, spinach) are superfoods bursting with vitamins, calcium, beta-carotene, iron, potassium, and protein -- all of which enable ideal bodily restoration and rebuilding. Eat 'em raw in a salad, or if you're feeling frisky, steam or sauté them with a touch of extra-virgin olive oil.

You could also grab a protein shake if you prefer to sip your post-training fuel -- Hess suggests MET-Rx Engineered Nutrition in chocolate, which provides 38 grams of protein and 20 grams of necessary carbohydrates (plus it tastes like a chocolate milkshake, so everybody wins). As you slurp down your shake and watch it bring all the boys and/or girls to the yard, enjoy it with a banana, which is high in potassium and will help prevent muscle cramps.

Avoid this: Once again, stay far away from pizza, chicken wings, and all-things greasy. It doesn't matter if papa's in the house or not, he's not thinking of your recovery! Desserts and processed sugars should also be sidestepped -- they may generate a quick burst of energy, but they won't keep you sustained, so you'll eventually crash hard. Assuming you don't want to annihilate all your hard work on the StairMaster while simultaneously giving yourself a headache, paws off the Ring Dings.

Also, sorry: but a weight room beast session doesn't preemptively "cancel out" the effects of booze. In fact, it does the opposite, since alcohol is seriously bad news for your post-workout reboot. Explains Hess, "Binge drinking after training results in not only impaired sleep quality, but decreased muscle re-synthesis and increased total body inflammation."

So for recovery's sake, don't go on a post-workout bender. Rewarding yourself is one thing, but it's kind of pointless if you're damaging your body in the process.

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Brooke Sager is a contributing writer for Thrillist who exercises daily mainly so her post-workout meal can consist solely of Pretzel M&Ms. Stay in the loop on her other questionable life decisions and follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @HIHEELZbrooke