Confused about what to eat before and after a workout? You’re not alone! This list of snack and meal ideas will help you fuel and recover properly so you can see the most gains from your workout!
Think of your body as a vehicle, where your muscles are the engine and the food you eat is the fuel. In the same way that you would fill up on gas before a long road trip, you need to give your body the fuel it requires before your workout. There are certain foods that you can include in your pre and post workout meals to help you recover quickly and boost your performance.
Think of carbohydrate rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains, as the gas that makes your car go. Carbs provide energy for exercise, and your body converts the carbs you eat into glucose, which is stored as glycogen in your muscles. When you engage in high-intensity exercise, your muscles use this glycogen as the primary fuel source.
Protein is also important to provide long last energy, and it helps with muscle recovery after a workout. Let’s get a bit more specific…
For more specifics and examples of what to eat before, during and after a workout, check out The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner. W
Foods to eat before a workout
When planning your pre-workout meals, what you eat is as important as when you eat. To maximize the effects of your fitness routine, plan your schedule so that you eat your meal 2-3 hours before you exercise. This pre-workout meal should be a mixture of carbohydrates and protein, such as a Chickpea Salad Sandwich, Lentil Soup or a salad with grilled chicken or salmon.
If you don’t eat a meal before a workout, aim to consume a snack containing easy-to-digest carbohydrates, such as a piece of fruit or a Greek yogurt within 45–60 minutes prior to your workout. Here are some of the best foods to include in a pre-workout meal.
Oats with milk, bananas and peanut butter
Oats and bananas are two easy-to-digest carb-rich foods [Check out this recipe for Banana Walnut Chia Oat Cups]. Just 1 cup of oats contains approximately 32 grams of carbs and 1 medium-sized banana contains 27 grams of carbs. Milk and peanut butter are good sources of protein–one serving of peanut butter (2 tablespoons) contains 8 grams of protein and one cup of milk has about 7-8 grams of protein. Feel free to make a batch of hot oatmeal with milk or overnight oats.
Omelet with whole-grain toast and fruit
A high-protein meal before your workout will help to improve muscle recovery and increase lean body mass. Furthermore, studies show that a high protein diet can help to protect skeletal muscle mass following weight loss.
One large egg provides 6 grams of protein. Use a combo of 2 to 3 eggs with sautéed mushrooms, onions, grated cheese and broccoli to make an omelet. Or try these Green Egg & Quinoa Muffins. Have your omelet with a couple of slices of whole-grain toast and some fruit. This hearty breakfast is a well-balanced serving of carbs, protein and healthy fats to provide long lasting energy.
Beans or Chicken and brown rice with roasted vegetables or a side salad
A meal of beans or chicken and brown rice offers a combination of protein and whole grain carbohydrates, which will fill you up and provide energy without weighing you down. Vegetables, especially salad greens, are rich in micronutrients like iron [read more about non-meat sources of iron], which are essential for endurance activities.
Easy to digest snacks
If you only have an hour before your workout and want to put some “gas in the tank”, reach for an easy to digest snack, such as:
- Any on this list of 25 No Sugar Added Snacks
- Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas
- Pretzel Date Peanut Butter Balls
- Tahini Maple Oat Balls
- Cherry Coconut Frozen Bars
Foods to eat after a workout
What you eat after exercise is as important as what you eat before your workout. To get the most from your fitness routine, carry a snack or meal with you to eat right afterwards. Here are some suggestions:
Sweet potato wedges
The glycogen that your body stored up is usually depleted after a workout. An essential part of recovery is replenishing that glycogen. Studies show that muscle glycogen synthesis is highest when carbs are consumed immediately after a workout and then again at intervals for up to 5 hours.
Sweet potatoes are a healthy source of carbs that will help refill glycogen stores. After a tough workout, you might not be in the mood to eat a large snack, so a small bowl of sweet potato wedges will help refill the gas tank.
And do yourself a favor, and don’t skip your post-workout carbs. Researchers have found that delaying carbohydrate ingestion for several hours can lower muscle glycogen synthesis by up to 50%. This can lower your overall stamina and endurance levels.
A smoothie is a great way to replenish your body with much needed fluids and nutrients after your workout. You can add milk, Green yogurt, nut butters, ricotta, cottage cheese or protein powder to your smoothie to increase your protein intake. Adding proteins to your carb intake will help your muscles make glycogen. Try this Sunshine Smoothie or Tangerine Strawberry Smoothie.
Chicken, salmon or tofu stir-fry
Ideally, you should have a whole food meal within 2 hours of your workout. Just like the pre-workout meal, the post-workout dish should consist of carbs, protein and healthy fats. A simple homemade stir fry with a protein and green veggies will help to boost your energy levels and prevent fatigue during the rest of the day.
If you are vegan, you can use tofu, tempeh or edamame instead of poultry or fish. Poultry, fish, soy and dairy products contain an amino acid called leucine, which increases muscle protein synthesis, resulting in greater muscle strength.
What if I have stomach issues?
Pre and post workout meals are important but if you have a gastrointestinal problem such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ask your physician for a personalized plan for your pre and post workout meals. Vigorous exercise increases gut motility, which is why people with IBS are more likely to experience excess gas, abdominal pain and even diarrhea during or just after a workout.
Also, read my tips on how to avoid stomach issues during a run.