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What to eat before and after a workout

“It’s very important to fuel your body so you can get the most from exercise,” says Shayna Komar, a licensed and registered dietitian at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “A good rule of thumb is to eat one to two hours before a workout so your stomach is not grumbling, but also not full.”

For a pre-workout snack, Komar recommends something higher in carbohydrates, which the body uses as fuel during a workout.

After exercising, refuel your body with a snack that is higher in protein, combined with carbohydrates. If you work out first thing in the morning and don’t have a window of time to let your food digest, it’s okay to wait to eat until after your exercise session is complete.

If you have time to eat before you exercise, try a light snack, like a banana, whole wheat toast and a tablespoon of peanut butter, or ¼ cup of oatmeal. You can also eat a small amount and save the rest for later, Komar suggests.

Pre-workout snacks

Healthy pre-workout options include:

  • ½ cup of steel cut oats with dried fruit and walnuts
  • 1 cup of plain yogurt with ½ cup of berries
  • A slice of whole wheat toast and a hardboiled egg
  • ½ cup of cottage cheese with fresh fruit

Post-workout snacks

Post-exercise, try one of the following snacks to restore glycogen and rebuild your protein supply.

  • Chocolate milk
  • Peanut butter on rice cakes
  • 1 cup of whole grain cereal with ½ cup of milk
  • A pita with hummus
  • Trail mix
  • An apple and a piece of string cheese
  • A peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Protein bars: A good option?

There are many nutritional supplements and protein bars on the shelves at the supermarket and they can seem like a quick, easy choice for a post-workout snack. If you do choose a protein bar, make sure it meets the following criteria. Otherwise, you could be eating a glorified candy bar.

A nutritious protein bar should contain:

  • Fewer calories than the amount you burned during your workout
  • Less than 10 grams of sugar
  • 10 to 30 grams of protein
  • As many whole food ingredients as possible, such as dates or nuts. If the ingredient list is filled with long, unpronounceable words, you may want to find another option. Komar likes Larabars and Kind bars.

Hydrate

Drink two to four cups of water a few hours before physical activity to ensure you are well-hydrated. If you exercise as soon as you wake up in the morning, Komar recommends drinking fluids before bed. For every hour you exercise, you should drink at least eight ounces of water during your workout.

Sports drinks are not necessary, unless you are exercising intensely for more than an hour. If you are going for a long run or playing a sport for a long period of time, you can replenish electrolytes with coconut water, a sports drink or a sports drink mixed with water.

Don’t undo your hard work

While it’s important to fuel your body for exercise, you can quickly undo your sweat session's positive effects by consuming too many calories from your snacks.

“People burn 150 calories while working out, then eat a 300-calorie snack and wonder why they are not losing weight,” Komar notes.

If you are running for an hour, a more substantial snack may be fine, as long as it doesn’t contain more calories than you burned. However, if you are taking a gentle yoga class, you won’t burn as many calories as you would from a run and should stick with a lighter snack.

“The American College of Sports Medicine Guidelines recommends eating 120 to 240 calories from a snack after working out for an hour or more,” she says.

“Food is very important before and after a workout,” says Komar. “You will perform better if you fuel your body first. Your body is like a car – you should put in what it needs to run well.”

For more healthy lifestyle and recipe ideas, visit Recipes.

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