What you eat before and after a workout can be just as important as the workout itself.

Without the proper pre- and post- nutrition, you may be inadvertently sabotaging your fitness efforts by not allowing your body to work to its fullest potential with the proper fuel. So get the most out of your workouts with these tips on when and what to eat.  

What to eat pre-workout

Don’t believe the negative chatter about carbs. The truth is carbs provide the crucial fuel or energy for your muscles before a workout to maximize endurance and performance. Carbohydrates maintain blood glucose levels during exercise and replace muscle glycogen (the main form of carbohydrate stored in muscle tissue to be readily converted to glucose as needed by the body to satisfy energy needs).  A pre-workout meal should consist of a balance of carbohydrates and protein. There may be a bigger emphasis on getting in carbs pre-workout, but also include some protein.

Choose foods relatively high in carbohydrates with moderate protein levels to really maximize blood glucose maintenance and support muscle building. Choose low fat and fiber foods to minimize any GI distress. If you can tolerate fiber before exercise, I do like it for a slow, lasting energy release. Again, listen to your body. Here are some of my go-tos. Maybe one or more of these will work for you:

Overnight oats made with Greek yogurt or milk mixed with some berries and cinnamon, sprinkled with some nuts or chia seeds

  • A peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread
  • Banana with 2 tbsp almond butter
  • 2 tablespoons of raisins with some nuts
  • Baked sweet potato drizzled with olive oil
  • Apple with ¼ cup walnuts

When to eat pre-workout

Some of this depends on you, as you know your body better than anyone. The general rule is to eat one to three hours prior to a workout. I tend to feel at my best for a workout when I eat about an hour prior. You may feel better at two hours. The point is to experiment and decide what works best for you. However, keep in mind that when you eat, your body is trying to digest, so don’t eat too close to a workout, to avoid any stomach discomfort, but to also allow your body to work the muscles without also having to deal with other duties like digestion.

What to eat post-workout

Both carbs and protein are again important players. Eat carbs to replenish the stored glycogen energy your body used during the workout. Since you just worked all or most of your muscles, eat protein. Your muscles desire protein after a workout because it helps repair and rebuild muscle.

For those of you who may be doing intense, prolonged or strenuous exercise on most days, research has shown that low fat chocolate milk is one of the best post-recovery snacks. It has the right balance of carbs to protein (about 4 grams of carbs per 1 gram of protein) to be most beneficial for muscle recovery and rebuilding, to replenish glycogen stores in muscles, and rehydration.

For the less serious athletes, like myself, here are some of my favorite post-workout snacks because they are quick, healthy, and delicious. I do make an effort to get in a good protein post workout.

  • Greek yogurt with blueberries (or any fruit), drizzled with some honey and nuts
  • Tuna packed in water with whole grain bread
  • Boiled egg with a slice of whole wheat toast
  • A smoothie with lower fat milk or Greek yogurt blended with fruit, and any other favorite add-ins

When to eat post-workout

Try to eat within 30 minutes of completing a workout. Research has shown that eating within this time frame helps with muscle recovery and building, so try not to miss this window of opportunity. Then eat your regular meal three to four hours after the workout.

And don’t forget!

Remember to stay hydrated. Drink adequate fluids, preferably water, to rehydrate the body and replace any fluids lost during your workout. Remember to experiment and do what works best for your body. Fueling your body pre- and post- exercise with good nutrition ensures you get the most out of workouts and gain the most body and health results.

Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information