The Best Food to Eat Before and After a Workout

Last updated on June 18th, 2020

Time to Read: 7 minutes

You have your headphones blaring, favorite workout gear on, water bottle filled, and your new gym shoes laced up. Are you forgetting anything? Most likely, you are! How about the best food to eat before and after a workout. It may be something you don’t ever think about. A healthy and energizing snack or pre-workout meal should be on your checklist before you leave the house.

Fueling your body with the correct nutrients before and after a workout is crucial. Your body needs the correct amount of carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fluid to power through your workout to sustain energy levels and burn as many calories as possible.

Guess what else is important? Refueling your body after an intense workout. Your body needs food to rebuild itself after so much exertion. Supercharging and refueling your body before and after workouts equates to stronger muscles, higher energy levels, increased calorie burn, optimum workout performance, and feeling better in your everyday life. These things will better prepare your mind and body for future workouts, thus making each workout more effective. 

Once you’re mindful of what you’re putting into your body, you’ll reach your fitness goals like never before. You’ll crush those workouts and notice the added energy boost immediately. With the correct energy, all your hard work will certainly pay off.

Think of your body like a car. If you fail to maintain fuel levels, your body will feel as if it’s running on fumes. This can lead to exhaustion and poor performance. Your body needs the proper nutrients and fluids to keep your engine running on high for the duration of your workout.

Basically, you don’t want to wait too long to fill your tank up or get down to “E.”

hungry man workout

Why to Eat Before a Workout

Energy

Have you ever skipped a meal or snack? If your answer is yes, then you know the feeling of sluggishness all too well. Riding that 3 o-clock struggle bus is enough to make anyone sleepy, but having a nutritious snack on hand can make all the difference. By munching on some almonds or making a nutritious smoothie, your energy levels immediately rise.

Your body depends on food to carry out all the necessary day-to-day functions it provides for you. Remember, food=energy.

Maximizing Your Results

If you’re already going to the exercising regularly, you may be in a funk and not even realize it. Maybe you’re used to working out on an empty stomach and barely powering through your workouts. You probably even experience dizziness, nausea, or lethargy.

Pay attention to how you feel working out on an empty stomach versus working out after eating a healthy pre-workout snack. You’ll notice a huge difference. Habits take time and willpower to change, but you can maximize your workout time by eating the right foods before you leave your house. 

Faster, stronger, leaner, and explosive workouts are just waiting for you to unleash in yourself. You’ll notice a difference!

What to Eat Before a Workout

Let’s dive a little deeper into the scientific aspects of why you should eat these two specific macro groups.

Carbs

Carbohydrates are the basic fuel for any activity. It’s where the bulk of our energy from food comes from. When we eat carbs, they break down into glucose. From here, they enter our muscle cells which give us the fuel we need to exercise to our full potential.

Eating carbs before you work out ensures that you’ll have plenty of extra glucose handy if your body needs to replenish its glycogen stores. 50-60% of the energy used during moderate to hard levels of workout intensity comes from carbohydrates.

If your body runs out of glucose during a hard workout, you’ll feel tired, weak, ready to pass out in your bed immediately. We want to avoid that! Therefore, before hitting a hard workout, it’s imperative that you eat simple carbohydrates. Since these are digested fast, they’ll provide you with the quick energy your body craves.

Protein

Carbs are higher on the totem pole in the grand scheme of things since they provide quick, long-lasting energy. BUT, protein is a powerhouse as well. It’s a good idea to consume protein if you plan on strength-training that day. Strength-training includes lifting weights or doing any type of bodyweight resistance activity such as calisthenics or yoga (yes, yoga!).

When you do any type of strength training, you are creating small tears in the muscle fibers. Protein helps the body to repair these micro-tears and builds them up to be stronger and bigger than they were before. That’s what will give you those nice toned arms and legs. Easily digestible protein sources are the key to success here.

Hydration

There’s no doubt, exercising while you’re dehydrated will negatively affect your performance. It’s imperative to stay hydrated throughout the day before you even think about stepping foot into your gym shows. You want your urine to resemble the color of lemonade every morning to ensure you’re getting enough water. And paler, as the day goes on, is best.

Aim for 2 cups of water 2-3 hours before exercise, and 1 cup of water 10-20 minutes before exercise. While you’re working out, it’s important to stay hydrated too. Shoot for 1 cup every 15-20 minutes, depending on how intense your workout is and how much you’re sweating. Find a happy balance that works well for you based on your body type (height/weight). After all, no two humans are the same!

When to Eat Before a Workout

Timing is everything. The ideal time to eat is 30 minutes before your workout. This way, your food is partially digested by the time you start your routine, but the calories are also readily available to provide instant energy.

Quick Snacks That Won’t Weigh You Down

  • natural energy bar (Lara or Kind are good brands)
  • banana, apple or orange
  • oatmeal
  • Greek yogurt
  • dried fruit
  • rice cake with peanut butter
  • a handful of almonds
  • crackers
  • a piece of toast
  • 1/2 protein smoothie
  • a slice of turkey
almonds banana protein

Working Out On An Empty Stomach

Your lifestyle might offer no other options, but it’s generally advised not to exercise on an empty stomach. You can do so and reap benefits, but you’ll find your workouts more effective with some fuel in your belly. A lack of readily available fuel in your bloodstream or glycogen stores could force your body to obtain extra energy by breaking down muscle proteins in addition to your fat stores. You don’t want your hard-earned muscles breaking down and being used as fuel! This can all be avoided by grabbing a quick snack at least 30 minutes before you kick into high gear.

Why to Eat After a Workout

Now that you know all about what to eat beforehand, here’s the 4-1-1 on afterward.

Kick-starting your recovery is crucial to rebuild your energy levels. It’s best to eat a healthy snack 30 minutes after a workout to get your energy stores back up and in tip-top shape again.

Try to incorporate both protein and carbohydrates such as cottage cheese on rice cakes, banana with peanut butter, or fruit and yogurt. By eating a snack after a workout, it’ll prevent you from overeating at your next meal or binge on unhealthy snacks such as chips or cookies due to hunger. Exercise can induce hunger later in the day. To curb this, consume a balanced post-workout snack, and your next large meal should be 2-3 hours later.

Remember, after a tough workout, you’ve depleted through your glycogen stores and torn up your muscles. So a healthy post-workout meal should be high in complex carbohydrates and healthy proteins. Complex carbs take longer to break down, and should, therefore, be eaten afterward. Eat simple carbs beforehand since they break down in a shorter amount of time.

After workout complex carb options

  • quinoa
  • brown rice
  • nuts
  • whole wheat bread

After workout protein options

  • tofu
  • beans
  • fish
  • chicken breast

What you want to do with these options is to pair one complex carb with one protein, along with a green vegetable such as broccoli or spinach for a perfect post-workout recovery meal.

In Closing

healthy food before and after a workout

Remember to keep gas in your tank to keep your engine running. Those who eat before a workout will reap better rewards and are less likely to overeat after a workout. This is because they won’t be in “savage mode” after burning through so many calories. You’re not going to walk straight to the pantry after your workout is over. This is important if you’re looking to shed pounds or trim fat, as your diet is the biggest factor in body weight and composition.

If you want results from your workout, what you put in your mouth plays a huge factor in getting those results. By eating a quick pre-workout snack, it decreases the urge to eat more later on in the day. Keeping hunger at bay is what you should aim for every day.