Do you often find yourself losing steam shortly into your workout, or feel like your recovery is completely subpar? What you eat before and after working out can make or break your workout, recovery process, and ultimately, your results. But what should you eat before or after a workout? What are some good preworkout meal and snack options, and when should you have them?
We’ll give you the 411 on all things pre- and post-workout fuel so you can feel your absolute best during every single sweat sesh.
Table of Contents:
- What You Should Eat Before a Workout
- Preworkout Meal Ideas
- Should You Eat Before an Early Morning Workout?
- Should You Eat During Your Workout?
- Best Things to Eat After Your Workout
- Timing Your Post-Workout Fuel
Do you often ask yourself if you should eat before a workout, or are you nervous it may bother your stomach and leave you feeling run down? These are legitimate concerns, but with the right combination of foods, you’ll find yourself fueled rather than feeling sluggish.
What you eat before your workout can mean the difference between an amazing workout and an unnecessarily difficult one. But what you should eat, and how much, can vary depending on if you have 2 hours before your workout, or 1 hour, 30 minutes, or less.
While everyone is a bit different, there are a few general rules you should follow to make sure your pre-workout nutrition meets the mark.
Combining a carbohydrate such as fruit, starchy vegetable, or bread with a protein like peanut butter, egg whites, or Greek yogurt for more sustainable energy.
You may need to adjust what you eat a bit depending on how long it will be until you work out, but the general rule of thumb is to employ a 3:1 carb-to-protein ratio before working out.
Carbs often get a bad rap, but they shouldn’t be feared. In fact, carbs have been shown to not only enhance physical fitness but support workout recovery as well.
Carbs are your body’s preferred source of fuel and provide quick energy to enhance workout performance. If you’re an active person, you need carbs in your life – it’s just about knowing which ones will fuel you best.
Protein is also essential if you’re eating at least an hour before your workout, as it helps stabilize your blood sugar and preserve your energy longer than carbs alone.
Too much fat and fiber before a workout is probably not a good idea. High-fat foods like full-fat dairy, fried foods, oils, and pizza take a long time to digest and can make you feel heavy and bloated during your workout.
High-fiber foods are incredibly healthy but are best to eat after your workout. They also leave you feeling full for a long time or cause gas, which can bleed into your workout time.
Especially if you’re doing cardio or endurance workouts, your digestive system may be particularly sensitive to high-fiber foods. To be safe, limit your intake of broccoli, cauliflower, beans, lentils, and high-fiber cereals within 2-3 hours before your workout.
To provide more guidance on what should you eat before or after a workout, here are some preworkout meal ideas to start with, depending on how long you have before your workout.
If you have more time to spare, you’ll have a bit more options in terms of how much and what to have.
If you’re working out in an hour or less, you’ll want to be more strategic in choosing fast-digesting foods that provide quick energy.
If you have 2 hours or more before your workout, you should have something a little more substantial. It should be higher in carbs, moderate in protein, and low in fat and fiber.
- Whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk (examples – Cheerios, Special K Protein)
- Oatmeal topped with berries and a handful of nuts
- Peanut butter and no-sugar-added jelly on whole-grain bread
- Protein shake with almond milk, one scoop of protein powder, banana, and mixed berries
If you have an hour until your workout, you’ll want to go lighter on the protein, fat, and fiber, and get the majority of your fuel from carbs. You also won’t need as many calories.
- Greek yogurt with fruit
- A handful of nuts and raisins
- Slice of whole-wheat bread with 1 tbsp peanut butter
If you have limited time before your workout, you’ll want to focus mainly on carbs and go light. The goal here is to get a quick energy boost that will not be heavy on the stomach.
- Low-fat chocolate milk
- A piece of fruit such as a small banana, a handful of grapes, or an apple
- A sports drink or pre-workout supplement
- A handful of dry cereal (not the overly sugary kind – Cheerios or Special K are still great options)
- A small granola bar
If you lost track of time and you only have 10-20 minutes before your workout, you can still eat something small if you feel you need it.
- An applesauce pouch
- Half a banana
- A few graham crackers or whole-grain crackers
- An electrolyte drink with carbs or a pre-workout
As you can see, the best preworkout foods will depend on how much time you have before your workout.
What about if you’re working out right when you wake up? Do you have to eat anything beforehand, or is just water enough?
There are conflicting opinions here, but it really depends on the person and what type of workout you’ll be doing. In general, most people will do better when fueled. I always try to have something before my early morning workout, even if it’s just a nourishing pre-workout drink.
If you’re working out for less than an hour and at a lower intensity, such as yoga or walking, you may be okay with not eating before. But if you are breaking more of a sweat, doing heavy lifting, or doing a higher-intensity session, you still need to fuel.
In this case, since you’ll probably be working out shortly after you wake up, the preworkout meal ideas that are quick-digesting will apply here. Think applesauce and fruit pouches, half a banana, or a pre-workout drink.
Powher’s pre-workout powder delivers the morning jolt you need without the jitters. It’s also easy on the stomach to sip on right before your workout.
The moral of the story – 99% of the time, you’ll have better performance if you fuel before your workout – no matter what time it is.
So you’ve fueled before your workout, but sometimes find yourself losing steam as you progress through your workout. What gives, and when should you refuel during your workout?
Here are a few times when you may want to bring fuel with you to replenish:
- You’re working out longer than 60 minutes – If you’re engaging in a longer workout sesh, you’ll need to refuel. Depending on how much fuel you have stored up, your glycogen stores (the storage form of carbs) in the body can become depleted anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes into a workout.
This means at this point you’ll need to replenish your carb stores to prevent becoming fatigued and “hitting the wall,” to keep your energy where it needs to be.
- You’re doing a very intense workout or exercising in hot weather – If your workout is of high intensity such as HIIT workouts or long-distance running, this burns a lot of calories and increases the demand for fuel.
Exercising in hot weather conditions is also more strenuous and may require more frequent fueling to prevent fatigue. If you don’t refuel properly in the heat, it can impact muscle function and lead to fatigue sooner.
You may also need to replenish your electrolytes such as sodium and potassium more often if you’re sweating more, and prioritize hydration.
- You find yourself feeling fatigued at any time (even if you ate before) – Sometimes you may just have days where you don’t feel as energetic as usual. Maybe you didn’t eat enough or hydrate properly beforehand, it’s that time of the month, or you didn’t get enough sleep the night before.
If you’re planning on working out longer than an hour, it’s always best to play it safe and bring something with you in your pocket or fanny pack.
Here are some of the best easy-to-digest, portable options to eat or drink during your longer workouts to refuel:
- Energy bars or gels
- Applesauce pouches
- Fig newtons
- Gummy bears (yes, this works for many people, especially if your gut is very sensitive to other options!)
- Energy drinks containing sugar
- Pre-workout drinks – Powher’s preworkout contains an ingredient called EnXtra that can help extend the energy-boosting effects of caffeine to improve your workout stamina.
Finding the best fuel for you may take a little trial and error, but both fueling and hydrating are key to crushing your workouts.
What you eat after a workout can replenish needed nutrients, help build muscle, and aid in faster muscle recovery. Just like your preworkout meal, you’ll still want a mix of carbs and protein after, but a little heavier on the protein side.
More protein after a workout out will help replenish muscle stores, especially after strength training workouts, and will support recovery.
You’ll still want to pair your protein with a carb source to bring your glycogen (and blood sugar) levels back up again. Since your workout is done, you can allow more flexibility in terms of fat and fiber as well.
- Low-fat chocolate milk and pretzels
- Cottage cheese and fruit
- Chicken breast with a small potato
- Eggs with a slice of whole-wheat bread
- Tuna sandwich
- Protein bar with a banana
When should you eat after your workout, and does timing matter? There is a specified period of time after your workout known as the “anabolic window” or “window of opportunity.” This window is thought to be the ideal time to refuel, as this is when your body needs it the most.
This timeframe has been researched and ranges anywhere between 15-60 minutes after your workout. This is in regard to replenishing your protein and carbohydrate stores within this window of time.
However, much of the newer research has not proven this timing recommendation to be necessary, and instead, the most important thing is that you get in enough protein and carbs throughout the day.
Unless you are working out multiple times a day, the timing is not as important as your overall daily intake.
So if you are a typically active person, aim to meet your daily needs for protein and carbs. If you’re hungry after your workout, it’s totally fine to eat within the 15-60 minute window, but it’s probably not necessary to get results.
The right pre and post-workout fuel are imperative for optimal energy, recovery, and most of all, for giving you the results you’re looking for. When you fuel yourself properly, you’ll notice the difference and will find your workouts so much more enjoyable (and not as much of a struggle).
Learn about Powher’s pre-workout and how it can help you fuel and sustain the tough workouts you live for.
Disclaimer: The information on the Powher blog does not constitute medical advice and should not be used as such. If you would like to learn more about your dietary requirements and related aspects of your health, speak with a registered medical professional.