This list of snack and meal ideas will help you fuel and recover properly so you can see the most gains from your workout!
It’s probably the question I get most often– what should I eat before and after a workout?
I love that people are asking this because it means they understand the importance of fueling for a workout. Think of your body as a car. 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 a workout.
There are certain foods that you can include in your pre and post workout meals to boost your performance and help you recover quickly after a workout.
What to eat before a workout
Carbohydrates provide energy for exercise. Think of carbohydrate rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains, as the gas that makes your car go. 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…
When planning your pre-workout meals, what you eat is as important as when you eat. Here are some pointers for what to eat before a workout, based on when you eat.
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.
What to eat 2-3 hours before a workout
This pre-workout meal should be a mixture of carbohydrates and protein with a little bit of fat. The combination of these three nutrients will provide long lasting energy, which will power you through your workout later in the day. Some examples include:
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 both have a mixture of protein and fat–one serving of peanut butter (2 tablespoons) contains 8 grams of protein and one cup of milk has about 7-8 grams of protein. Hot oatmeal is a great pre-workout breakfast in the winter, while overnight oats are fantastic for warmer weather.
If you’re focused on strength training workouts, a high-protein meal before your workout will help to improve muscle recovery and increase lean body mass.
Eggs are a great source of protein, and every large egg has 6 grams. A Egg and Mushroom Breakfast Burrito has a good combination of healthy carbs from the mushrooms and spinach, protein from the eggs and fat from the cheese. This hearty breakfast is a well-balanced serving of carbs, protein and healthy fats to provide long lasting energy.
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.
Okay, so what if you workout immediately after work? Your lunch can serve as fuel for that workout. This chickpea salad sandwich combines chickpeas– which are a mixture of protein and complex carbs– bread and avocado. Once again, it’s the perfect mixture of carbs, protein and fat to keep you full and fueled until your workout.
What to eat 30-60 minutes before a workout
If you only have an hour or even 30 minutes before a workout to put some “gas in the tank”, reach for an easy to digest carb-rich snack, such as
Fruit is mostly carbs, which means it breaks down quickly to provide sugar to the bloodstream. Basically any piece of fruit will help give you energy before a workout, and many athletes opt for bananas, berries or apples.
Many people don’t realize this, but dried dates are full of natural sugar and provide quick-acting fuel for a workout. Eating just 2-3 dates will give you enough energy for a workout lasting less than 60 minutes.
Homemade and Packaged Snacks
If you like making your snacks or are looking for an easy grab-and-go option, I’ve got you covered. Here are some lists of healthy snacks you can buy and make to help you fuel in a hurry.
- 25 No Sugar Added Snacks
- 15 Pre-Workout Snacks You Can Buy At The Supermarket
- Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas
- Pretzel Date Peanut Butter Balls
- Tahini Maple Oat Balls
- Cherry Coconut Frozen Bars
- No Bake Blueberry Granola Bars
What 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, your body needs a mix of carbs and protein.
During a workout, you use up all of your stored carbs (glycogen) to provide energy. 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. To replace those carbs and make tomorrow’s workout easier, it’s important to eat some carbs, like fruits, vegetables or whole grains.
With that, you also need protein to help with muscle repair. Muscles breakdown and tear during a workout, and they need protein to aid in recovery. A mixture of protein and carbs will refuel your muscles and help you feel good after a workout
Eat within 1-2 hours after a workout to reap the most benefits. 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.
Chocolate milk is my go-to post-workout recovery drink because it has beneficial 3:1 carb-to-protein ratio, which helps replace carbohydrate stores and repair worn down muscles.
Plus, it provides key electrolytes for refueling after a workout such as calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium, and research suggests that drinking fat free milk after exercise replenishes lost electrolytes and rehydrates better than a sports drink or water.
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.
Feeling ambitious and want something bigger than a drink? How about a veggie burger? The base of most veggie burgers is beans or soy, which are both great sources of protein, and they usually contain plenty of veggies.
Try either this Tempeh Vegan Burger or Bean Veggie Burger for two protein-packed post-workout meals. Put either on a whole wheat bun for a nice balance of protein and carbs. Soy products actually contain an amino acid called leucine, which increases muscle protein synthesis, resulting in greater muscle strength.