What to Eat Before and After a Workout

Whether you’re working out for overall health and fitness or you’re a high-performance athlete, figuring out what to eat before and after a workout can be a challenge. But giving your body the right fuel can make a huge difference in how you perform and recover, so it’s worth the extra effort.

Your pre-workout snack is crucial for fueling your workout. On the other hand, what you eat after a workout refuels your body and promotes muscle building and repair. Choosing the right nutritious, whole foods plays a major part in achieving your fitness goals.

So, planning out your meals and snacks before and after exercise is a critical part of every training program. Here’s what to eat before and after your workout to help you get the most benefit from all your hard work.

What to Eat Before a Workout

Eating the right foods before you exercise will help you perform at your best during your workout.  If you don’t eat enough, you might become fatigued, nauseated, lightheaded, or even dizzy. Not only will it have a negative impact on your gains, but you’ll also be more likely to injure yourself.

Of course, eating a light meal before a workout isn’t always realistic. Sometimes it’s all you can do to find time to hit the gym on your way home from work. And if you like to work out first thing in the morning, you probably don’t want to scarf down breakfast first.

That’s perfectly ok! You can work out on an empty stomach if the idea of eating early in the morning makes you gag. Or just grab a quick snack like a protein bar or smoothie on your way to the gym. Find what works for you and your body. There’s no one-size-fits-all pre-workout routine that’s best for everyone!

But there is one thing you should never skip, and that’s hydration. Drink some water about half an hour before your workout and have a water bottle nearby to sip on while you exercise. Staying properly hydrated can go a long way toward keeping fatigue and other issues at bay.

Here are some additional tips to keep in mind:

  • Timing Your Pre-Workout Snack

You should time your pre-workout snack somewhere between 30 minutes and two hours before you exercise. You don’t want to be actively digesting food during your workout, but you also don’t want to use up all your calories before you get to the gym either. It will probably take a little experimenting to find the ideal timing for you.

  • Prioritize Carbs and Protein

 Our bodies use carbs for energy. They’re broken down into glucose and routed to our muscle cells to give us vital fuel during exercise. Glucose is stored in the muscles in the form of glycogen, and we utilize these reserves during high-intensity exercise.

Consuming carbohydrates pre-workout ensures that you’ll be able to replenish those glycogen stores after your workout. This will help to keep you from feeling weak and tired throughout the rest of your day. Granola bars, whole-grain crackers or toast, oatmeal, and fruit are all good choices.

A little protein before your workout is also a good idea, especially if you’re doing strength training. This will help you build muscle and repair damage more quickly. Soy protein drinks, Greek yogurt, a hard-boiled egg, or a glass of milk are all good options because they’re easy to digest.

What to Eat After a Workout

Eating after a workout is a must for replacing nutrients and calories burned up by exercise. The right post-workout meal or snack will assist in replenishing glycogen stores, speed muscle recovery, and replace minerals and electrolytes lost when you sweat.

Skipping a post-workout snack can leave you feeling fatigued and dealing with low blood sugar, not to mention hindering your body’s recovery process. If you generally skip a post-workout snack or meal, give it a try. You just might be surprised at how much better you feel.

Here’s what you need to eat after a workout:

  • Replenish Lost Fluids ASAP

Rehydrating as soon as possible is even more important than eating. The amount of water you will need to drink depends on the environmental conditions and the length and intensity of your workout. As a general rule, drink more if it’s hot or your workout was high intensity, but do what feels right for you.

  • Timing is Crucial Post-Workout, Too

Your body is primed to absorb nutrients best within an hour or two of exercise. And if your workout was challenging, you’ve also burned off a lot of energy. At a minimum, have a snack right after your workout and eat a healthy meal within the next couple of hours.

  • Refuel with Protein and Carbohydrates

You’ve burned through your glycogen stores and torn up your muscles during your workout, so refueling with complex carbs and protein is crucial. Complex carbs, like whole grains, also break down slowly, giving you the energy you need to get through the rest of your day.

Healthy proteins for after your workout include fish, chicken, nuts, beans, eggs, and Greek yogurt. Meal replacement shakes are another great choice, especially if you’re on the go and don’t have time for a sit-down meal. 

Keep in mind that if you’re a high-performance athlete or bodybuilder, your post-workout protein needs may be higher than normal. Consider consulting with a trainer or nutritionist to see what’s optimal for you.

The Bottom Line

The most important thing to remember about exercise and nutrition is that everyone’s body is different. What works for your buddy may not work for you. Be prepared to do some experimenting with your pre and post-workout eating plan until you figure out a routine that maximizes your performance and helps you recover quickly.