Nutrition

What to Eat Before and After a Workout For Optimal Results

written by MORGAN TARMANN, MS, RD, LDN
what to eat before a workout"
what to eat before a workout
Source: @sakaralife
Source: @sakaralife

When it comes to transforming your body, there are many factors that play a role. It’s no secret that good nutrition is key for overall health, so making it a priority before, during, and after workouts should be a no-brainer. Regardless of what level of fitness you’re at, fueling for exercise can provide many benefits, such as sustaining energy during a workout, preventing injuries, aiding in muscle recovery, and seeing results in our strength and endurance. If you’re not sure where to start with sports nutrition, keep reading for tips on what to eat before a workout and what to eat after a workout for optimal results.

 

What to eat pre-workout

To get the most out of your workout, when you eat prior to it is essential. Having a balanced meal that includes whole grains, protein, carbs, and a healthy fat 3-4 hours before a workout will give you the sustained energy you need to meet your goals. As you get closer to a workout (think: within 1-2 hours), opting for a lighter snack is key to avoid cramping or feeling sluggish. When it comes to choosing what foods to eat before a workout, aim to include produce (for vitamins, minerals, and carbs to fuel cells) and a protein source (for muscle health). Some snack ideas include:

  • Apple and string cheese
  • Banana and peanut butter
  • Cherry tomatoes and hummus
  • Berries and yogurt
  • Carrots and natural jerky

If you don’t like eating before a workout, it’s OK to skip a snack as long as you are well hydrated and are not feeling low energy or weak.

 

What to eat post-workout

The goal of a post-workout meal or snack is to refuel and flood nutrients to depleted cells. Ideally, you should aim to include a carbohydrate to give energy back to your body, a protein to help repair muscle tissue, and produce and healthy fats to help protect cells. If you’re not able to get a meal in after a workout, opt for a quick snack like a tuna/chicken pouch, dry roasted edamame, hardboiled eggs, yogurt, or string cheese. Some post-workout recovery meal ideas include:

  • Smoothie with berries, protein powder, chia seeds, and leafy greens
  • Oatmeal with nut butter and banana slices
  • Whole wheat tortilla with avocado, shredded chicken, and bell peppers
  • Brown rice, lean protein (i.e. chicken, fish, or tofu), and stir-fry veggies
  • Baked sweet potato, leafy greens, black beans, and avocado cilantro dressing
  • Whole wheat crackers and tuna salad with olive oil mayo and grapes

 

The importance of hydration

You’ve heard it time and time again, so while it’s nothing new, I’m here to confirm that staying hydrated is key to optimal workouts. I mean, if Taylor Swift drinks 10 bottles of water a day, shouldn’t we all? While drinking water won’t make you a global pop star, it will help prevent muscle cramps and injuries. A good rule to follow is to aim for nine glasses (72 fluid ounces) of water per day. Physical activity increases your hydration needs, so keep this in mind while working out. On extra sweaty days, replenishing with electrolytes can aid in hydration. You can try using electrolyte drink mixes or drinking coconut water with a pinch of sea salt. And for a fun post-workout hydration booster, try watermelon pops.

 

Natural supplements to aid in workouts

Sometimes you need a little extra energy boost before or after a workout. Here are some natural supplements you can turn to for enhanced performance and a speedier recovery:

 

Caffeine 

Choosing caffeinated beverages before workouts may enhance your athletic performance and rev up your metabolism. If coffee isn’t your thing, try sipping on matcha for an energy boost and additional antioxidants.

 

Quick-digesting carbs

When you have less than an hour before a workout and you need fast, sustained energy, opting for quick-digesting carbs is where it’s at. Try opting for foods such as bananas, applesauce, or canned fruit in water. 

 

Turmeric and ginger 

Turmeric and ginger are natural anti-inflammatory foods, which can help prevent muscle soreness. Try adding them to smoothies and lattes, or season your eggs, cooked veggies, or pasta dishes with turmeric (and black pepper for better absorption!).