Whether you’re running, lifting weights, or taking a yoga class, fueling your workout before and after is just as important as the workout itself. By giving your body the right foods and staying properly hydrated, you’ll enhance your workout session and get the most out of it. Here, we’re sharing what to eat before and after a workout, including when to eat, what to eat depending on your workout, and providing delicious meal and snack ideas to satisfy your tastebuds.
How Food Fuels Your Workout
To get the most out of your workout, food is necessary. Food is fuel; and when your body is burning calories and building muscle, it needs that fuel in order to keep going.
Eating before your workout provides you with the energy you need to get through the workout without feeling tired or weak. When you finish your workout, food is needed to aid in recovery. When lifting weights, for example, it’s vital to provide your body with protein in order to build and sustain muscle growth. Without protein, your body simply cannot repair your tissues like it should, which prevents your muscles from being able to grow.
What to Eat Before a Workout
If you’re serious about building muscle and burning fat, you need to focus on macronutrients – or a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. You need a mix of all three in order to maximize the effectiveness of your workouts. And, depending on the type of physical activity you’re doing, you may need to focus on one specific macronutrient.
Carbs are Crucial
First, let’s take a look at carbohydrates. When the goal is to lose weight, we’re often told to limit the amount of carbs we consume. However, the body needs carbs for energy. If you’re focusing on cardio during your workout, carbs are going to be what power you through. Carbohydrates are not bad – it’s the type of carbohydrate that makes a difference.
There are two types of carbohydrates – simple and complex. Simple carbs are made of simple sugars and are what you’ll find in donuts, muffins, and white breads. They are easy to digest and easy to break down. Complex carbs, on the other hand, take longer to digest and provide you with longer-lasting energy. Complex carbs are what you want to focus on when working out, as they keep you fuller longer and prevent you from crashing. Examples include whole wheat breads, oats, whole grain pasta, and brown rice.
Hydration is essential when it comes to exercising. Staying hydrated helps your body regulate its temperature, lubricate your joints, and perform at its peak. It’s important to drink plenty of water before and during a workout, as well as after you’re done. Make sure to sip on fluids throughout the day, especially if you’re going for a long or intense workout session.
For those who exercise in hot climates or in places with high humidity, electrolyte drinks can help replace the minerals lost in sweat while providing an added boost of energy. Aim to drink at least 16-20 ounces of water two hours before a workout and then sip on fluids every 15 minutes during exercise.
Protein is an important part of any well-rounded diet, but it's especially important for athletes who engage in weight lifting. Protein helps build and repair muscle tissue and can provide the energy needed to get through a tough workout. Before a workout, easy-to-digest proteins, such as whey protein or plant proteins, are a great option for providing energy without feeling weighed down. Foods like yogurt, cottage cheese, nuts, fish, and eggs are also easily digested and contain lots of protein.
Pre-Workout Meal and Snack Ideas
Pre-workout meals and snacks provide the energy your body needs to get through a workout. Eating something that is nutrient-dense and contains both carbohydrates and protein is key. Some great pre-workout meal and snack ideas include:
- Oatmeal with nuts
- Yogurt with fresh fruit
- A banana with peanut butter
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Energy bars
- Trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit
All of these options provide a balance of carbs and protein to give your body the fuel it needs to power through any workout!
Do Pre-Workout Supplements Count?
Many athletes turn to pre-workout supplements to help them power through their workouts. While they may work for some, they aren’t for everyone and they are not necessary to drink prior to exercising. Pre-workout supplements typically come in powder form and are mixed with water. Ingredients may include amino acids, caffeine, creatine, artificial sweeteners, nitric oxide, and beta-alanine. Too much caffeine may make you feel jittery, and beta-alanine can cause a tingling sensation.
Pre-workout supplements have not been found to be more effective in fueling the body than whole foods. Before working out, you should make it a priority to consume an actual meal or snack. If taking a pre-workout supplement works for you and you find it gives you more energy, you can take that in addition to a nutritious, protein-packed snack.
What About Refueling During a Workout?
Refueling during a longer workout, one that is more than 60-90 minutes, is essential for maintaining energy levels and helping your body to perform at its best. The best way to refuel during a workout is to go for something that's light and easy to digest, such as energy gels or chews. These are designed specifically for athletes and provide a quick burst of carbohydrates and electrolytes that will help you power through your workout.
Another great option is to take sips of sports drinks throughout your workout. This will help replenish lost electrolytes, as well as provide an extra boost of energy when needed. If you're looking for more substantial options, try snacking on bananas, trail mix, or nut butter packets. All of these options can give you the fuel you need to keep going!
What to Eat After a Workout
Eating after your workout is just as important as eating beforehand. Your body has used fuel and burned energy, and now it’s time to replenish what you have used. If you’ve engaged in strength training, protein is a must. Your muscles need to rebuild, and they do this by using protein to repair the damage that was done. If you’ve gone on a long run or done any sort of high-intensity cardio, your body needs a combination of carbohydrates and protein to replenish itself. It’s best to eat 30-45 minutes after you finish your workout.
Rehydration is a key part of any workout. When you’re exercising, your body loses fluids and electrolytes through sweat, which can lead to dehydration if not replenished. To stay hydrated during and after your workout, it’s important to drink plenty of water or a sports drink, as they contain electrolytes that help replace the ones you lose when sweating.
Also, it’s important to remember to listen to your body. If you feel thirsty or lightheaded during exercise, take a break and have a sip of water! Taking care of yourself by staying hydrated will ensure that you get the most out of your workouts and feel energized throughout the day.
Take Complex Carbs
Complex carbohydrates provide long-lasting energy, but they also help to keep your blood sugar levels steady. When you’re done exercising, complex carbs will help to fuel your muscles by helping them build and repair, and they’ll also give you a boost of energy so that you can make the most out of the rest of your day.
During a rigorous workout, your body uses your stores of glycogen. These glycogen stores need to be replaced, and the best way to do that is by eating complex carbs within one hour of finishing your workout.
Post-Workout Meal and Snack Ideas
A combination of protein and complex carbohydrates should be consumed after you finish exercising. Eating the right foods after a workout can help your body recover, replenish energy stores, and build muscle. Here are some great post-workout meal and snack ideas that you can try:
- A smoothie made with a banana, protein powder, almond or coconut milk, and frozen berries is a perfect post-workout treat. The combination of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats will help your body refuel after exercise. If you don’t have time to make a smoothie, a premade protein shake works well, too!
- Greek yogurt with some fresh fruit and nuts is another great option for a post-workout snack. This snack will provide your body with ample amounts of both carbohydrates and protein to help you recover quickly from exercise.
- A simple sandwich made with whole wheat bread, lean turkey or chicken breast, lettuce, and tomato is also an excellent post-workout meal choice. The combination of carbohydrates from the bread and protein from the meat will ensure that you get all the nutrients your body needs to repair itself after exercise.
- For those who don't have time to make a full meal after their workout, hard-boiled eggs are always a great option for a quick snack on the go! Eggs contain essential amino acids which are important for muscle growth and recovery after intense physical activity. Combine with some fresh berries, cottage cheese, or a serving of Greek yogurt and you’re good to go!
No matter what type of post-workout meal or snack you choose to enjoy, remember that it’s important to nourish your body properly in order to maximize its potential during future workouts!
What About Morning Workouts?
Working out first thing in the morning is a great way to start your day. Morning workouts boost your metabolism, increase the amount of fat burned, help you sleep better, and provide mental health benefits throughout the day, as well.
Eating before an early morning workout can be tricky, but it is recommended to have something small in order to maximize your workout performance. Ideally, you should wait one hour after eating to engage in exercise, but this oftentimes is not possible when you’re up early. If not, it’s best to have something small, such as a banana, a protein bar, or a small bowl of Greek yogurt.
We also recommend practicing mindful eating, which is a tool used to regain control of your eating habits. If you personally find it’s best to not eat first thing in the morning prior to a workout, for example, it’s OK to listen to your body and wait until you’ve finished exercising. Only you know what’s best for your body, and it’s always best to listen to what your body is telling you.
Timing is Important
What you eat before and after a workout is just as important as when you eat it. It’s best to eat 1-3 hours prior to working out, but if you’re working out early in the morning, that may not be possible. Do your best to eat something small before engaging in exercise, though.
When you’re finished working out, aim to eat a good source of protein and complex carbohydrates within one hour. Protein is necessary to repair and rebuild muscles, and complex carbs are necessary in restoring glycogen. By eating the right foods at the right times, you’ll both maximize your workouts and have sustained energy throughout the rest of your day!
Working out has so many health benefits, both physical and mental. But you can’t expect to work out and get the results you’re looking for if you don’t properly fuel your body. Foods rich in protein and complex carbs are going to give you the much-needed energy to lift heavier, run faster, and last longer. Overall, making sure to eat the right foods at the right time is essential for getting the most out of your workouts!