What to eat before and after a workout to feel and perform your best.
Nutrition can be a confusing aspect of exercise. Figuring out what to eat before a workout, what to eat after a workout, when to eat, and how to align your nutrition plan with your fitness goals is a complicated and often highly individualized business. Some people want to bulk up, others want to lose weight, others aim to strengthen and tone, and others exercise for health benefits. Everyone's nutrition needs in relation to exercise, based on the type, duration, and intensity of their workouts, are different. Additionally, personal taste, food tolerances, and rate of digestion play a role in determining the best foods for you.
There are basic guidelines for pre-workout meals and snacks, and for post-workout food, which apply to anyone interested in fueling well for energy during exercise and optimal recovery afterward. Use these tips as a starting point, plus do some trial and error testing to learn what works for you. You may also want to consult a nutritionist to identify your exact calorie needs and an appropriate balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat to sustain your activity level and satisfy your appetite.
What to Eat Before a Workout
First and foremost, if you plan to workout hard tomorrow, don't skip dinner tonight. It's important to feed your body a nutrient-rich meal so that it can function properly and have plenty of energy. Skipping meals may leave you feeling light-headed or you may experience low blood sugar when you exercise. If you feel full or slow moving in the morning, try an earlier dinnertime or a smaller portion but don't miss your meal altogether.
If you workout in the morning, stick with a light and easily-digestible breakfast or snack, and allow about 30 minutes between eating and starting exercise. If your workout comes later in the day, allow three to four hours between a main meal and exercise, and then top off your energy stores with a light snack 30 minutes in advance.
Keep in mind that the type of exercise you do will influence the content and size of your pre-workout snack. If you run, jump rope, or do an intense abdominal workout, a large or slow-digesting snack will probably trouble your stomach. If you lift weights or cycle, a heavier snack won't necessarily cause stomach discomfort or cramping, but it may make you feel sluggish. Gauge what you eat by what you plan to do and how quickly you tend to digest certain foods, as everyone's body is different.
Ideally, choose a pre-workout snack with a roughly 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. Carbs convert to glycogen in your body, which in turn converts to glucose, which is the primary fuel for your activities. Carbs are critical for both immediate and sustained energy throughout your workout. If you exercise for more than 45-60 minutes, you may also want to refuel with carbs during your workout to keep your energy level up and avoid "hitting the wall."
While protein is widely considered ideal for a post-workout snack, a small amount of protein in your pre-workout food may help reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and therefore enhance your recovery.
Try these nutritious pre-workout meals and snacks:
- Banana (alone, mixed with yogurt, or topped with nut butter)
- Toast or rice cake with honey, jam, or nut butter
- Oatmeal (add berries, banana, or a spoonful of nut butter)
- Pita with hard boiled egg
- Granola with milk or almond milk
- Protein shake with banana (the 20-oz. BlenderBottle SportMixer is a perfect size for your pre-workout snack)
- Fruit smoothie
- Apple or pear with nut butter
- Handful of trail mix
- Energy bar
Note: With any nuts or nut butter, don't go overboard, as the fat in nuts is healthy but can be slow to digest.
What to Eat During a Workout
Again, if your workout is longer than 45-60 minutes, you'll probably want a pick-me-up partway through. Try these simple and easy solutions to boost your energy:
- Energy gel
- Energy bar
- Gummi bears (or other gummi candy)
- Carb-containing sports drink
Regardless of the length of your workout, it's always good to stay hydrated by sipping a sports drink (instead of plain water) throughout the session to replace the electrolytes that you lose through sweat.
What to Eat After a Workout
Your muscles are more receptive to protein synthesis in the period directly following hard training, which is why you've probably heard of the "magic window." This is the golden rule of nutrition that most athletes live by, consuming a post-workout snack or meal of quality protein within a 30-minute window immediately after exercise. Some stretch that window up to 45-60 minutes, and in fact, although the peak time for protein consumption is within the immediate post-workout timeframe, your muscles stay receptive to protein synthesis for several hours. Therefore try to get your protein in straight away, but don't stress if your post-workout food is slightly delayed.
Try these high-protein post-workout meals and snacks:
- Protein shake (pack your BlenderBottle ProStak shaker and ready-to-mix protein will always be within reach)
- Acai bowl with added protein powder
- Oatmeal with added protein powder
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Hard-boiled egg
- Hummus and pita
- Black bean dip and rice chips
- Turkey, cheese, and apple slices
- Turkey or chicken sandwich
- Breakfast burrito
You'll notice that some of our post-workout snack recommendations are similar to our pre-workout snack recommendations. Keep in mind that before exercise, you'll want to focus on a higher volume of carbs, while afterward, protein intake should increase, so adjust the ratio in your snacks accordingly.
What's your favorite way to fuel up before or after a workout? Share your snack tips or your favorite protein shake recipe in the comments below, and take a look at all the other recipes we have!