All of Nutrition

What to Eat Before and After a Workout

By Marysa Cardwell

Figuring out what to eat before and after workouts can be tricky. You want to fill your tank (stomach) to keep your engine (body) running smoothly both during and after your workout.  Planning makes the whole process easier. You don’t want to be figuring out what to eat after you are starving. A meal can always count as a pre- or post-workout fuel. For example, if you work out early, you may have a light snack before your workout and then come home and have a replenishing breakfast. If you are working out mid-morning, you can eat a hearty breakfast and then have a small snack after your workout and before lunch. Get the gist?

We recommend that you try to eat 30-60 minutes before you hit the gym which will give your body some time to digest your food. If you have only 10-15 minutes before your workout, grab something that is easy to digest. If you work out early, this might mean grabbing an apple or banana with some peanut butter.

Is there an ideal food to eat before and after you exercise? Yes and no. You want to eat something that is low in fat, has carbohydrates and protein, is low in fiber, has fluids, and is something that you can tolerate well. An easy way to meet your needs is to follow One-Two Punch and pair a fist of carbohydrates with a fist of protein. We have included a list of examples below. If you aren’t hungry enough for an entire fist and fist, you can always pair a half fist carb with half fist protein. Everyone tolerates pre-workout foods differently. The key is to experiment until you find some good combinations and to stick to those tried and true foods before any important workouts or races.

Staying hydrated is also important for a good workout. We recommend that you calculate your water needs by taking your weight in pounds and dividing by two to get the number of ounces of water you need to drink as a baseline. Also, you need roughly 18 ounces (500 ml) of water for every hour that you exercise. This is just a general guideline and you might need more or less depending on your weight, height, and the intensity of your workouts.  Try to drink enough water before, during, and after your workout but not too much that it sloshes around in your stomach.

Now that you have had a good workout, what do you refuel? We recommend that you get some protein after a workout. This will help your muscles recover and get stronger (which is what we want right?). Try to get in between 10-20 grams of protein within 20-60 minutes after your workout. Getting some carbohydrates after a workout is also helpful. The timing is important because that is when your muscles are hungry for carbs (glycogen). If you eat carbohydrates within this window, your muscles will take in more of that glycogen, and you will recover more quickly.

Try some of these foods before or after your next workout: 

  • Bananas or apples with peanut or almond butter
  • Oatmeal with slivered almonds
  • Caffeine via coffee (if you need it and if caffeine sits well with you) like a blended iced coffee and one scoop chocolate whey protein. You can enjoy this with a piece of fruit.
  • Quarter cup dried fruit with quarter cup almonds
  • Whole wheat toast with peanut butter
  • Peanut butter and jelly on a whole wheat English muffin
  • Cottage cheese and melon
  • Homemade trail mix with dried fruit, nuts, and dark chocolate chips or with nuts, dried coconut, dark chocolate chips and banana chips.
  • Yogurt parfait with Greek yogurt (If it is high sugar- the yogurt will count as a carb and protein), whole grain cereal and fresh berries (small portion of each), and some slivered almonds.
  • Any protein shake with some ice and some fruit blended in. I recommend that you find a protein that you enjoy but also has more than 10 grams of protein and less than 4 grams of sugar per serving.
  • Hard-boiled eggs with a slice of whole wheat bread.
  • Fruit leather and nuts
  • Energy bar (less than 4 grams of sugar per bar is ideal). Most sports bars have about equal amounts of protein and carbohydrates and can be categorized as a mixed food.
  • Peanut butter flavored oatmeal. You can cook half a cup of oatmeal and then add some peanut butter and honey to it.
  • Veggie omelet with egg whites and lots of veggies and a piece of toast.
  • 1/2 cup cooked rice with ½ cup milk, almonds, and cinnamon.
  • Green salad with hardboiled egg and low-fat dressing with a piece of toast or fruit.
  • Eggs (scrambled, poached, hard-boiled) with toast, crackers, or fruit.
  • Milk (milk is a mixed food)
  • Grilled chicken, quinoa, and mixed veggies
  • Salmon or grilled chicken and sweet potato
  • Three egg omelet with sautéed spinach, tomatoes, avocado, and mushrooms (or whatever you feel like), cheese, and some beans. Have a side of fruit with it.
  • Tuna sandwich on whole wheat bread
  • Tofu and veggie stir-fry with rice or quinoa.
  • Low carb pancakes with protein. There are a lot of recipes for these, but you blend one banana, two organic eggs, some vanilla, and cinnamon in the blender and then cooking them up like pancakes. They are delicious. The recipes with bananas, almond butter, and eggs are great too!
  • Chocolate shake with chocolate milk, ice, banana, and a scoop of peanut butter.
  • Greens drink
  • Roast beef and butternut squash
  • Tuna salad with some whole grain crackers.
  • Rice cake with some peanut butter and raisins
  • Whole grain cereal with low-fat milk and slivered almonds.
  • Apple and string cheese
  • Whole wheat English muffin or bagel with a fried egg, fresh spinach, low-fat cheese slice, and one slice Canadian bacon.
  • Hummus and veggies
  • ½ cup cottage cheese with ½ cup fruit of choice.
  • Beef or turkey jerky and piece of fruit
  • -Almonds, pistachios, or mixed nuts with dried fruit
  • -Sunflower or pumpkin seeds with dried fruit
  • Overnight oats with ½ cup oats, 1 cup milk, and a scoop of protein powder with some frozen fruit and nuts.

If you are pairing a fist of carbohydrates with a fist of protein, you should be meeting all of your pre- and post-workout nutrition needs. There are probably a thousand other great before and after workout foods to eat. You may have some good ones that have worked for you that aren’t on the list. We would love to hear your favorite pre- and post-workout snacks!

Comments Off on What to Eat Before and After a Workout