What to Eat Before and After a Workout to Maximize Results, and Feel Amazing

Making the right nutrition choices before and after your workout can feel a little daunting. You want to have enough energy for a workout, but you don't want to be weighed down.
Post workout you want to be sure that your choices aren’t sabotaging the hard work you’ve just put in.  

I often ask my clients what they've eaten that day when we train - especially if it's later in the day. It's not that there's a right or wrong answer, but what you've fueled your body with can definitely effect the workout - positively or negatively. When I used to work with a lot of teenage athletes hearing that they just had a Unicorn Frappucino from Starbucks on the way in was not uncommon...

Other past clients who are at a desk all day have confessed to not eating most of the day and come in for a late afternoon workout with zero energy. I'm never judging these situations (though the Frappucinos made me cringe a bit.)

It can be tricky to figure out what's best to eat surrounding any workout.

While there are some variations based on an individuals goals (fat loss, increased muscle mass etc) here’s the scoop on smart general guidelines to follow when choosing your pre and post workout eats.

Pre Workout 

Proper nourishment will help you perform your best, and feel good while you're working out.  I can always tell when a client is starving during a training session – their energy dips easily, their form may be off, and they aren’t able to get the most out of the workout. 

You can avoid that hangry-I-could-eat-my-arm, and I’m imagining my trainer or pilates instructors head is a giant cookie feeling with a little planning ahead.

Generally one to three hours before your workout you’ll want to eat something that’ll help fuel your training. One exception would be if you're working out in the morning, and you aren't hungry enough to eat before. There are definite benefits to fasted cardio like helping your body more efficiently burn fat for fuel- especially for veterans. (This is not something I recommend to newbie exercisers.)

However, studies show that the difference is not incredibly substantial and if you're ignoring hunger cues you won't be working to full potential.

So what do you want out of a pre workout snack or meal? Food that will give you a slow and steady release of energy throughout your workout. This is why a sugary treat like a pastry, donut, or sugary cereal– which spikes your blood sugar and then causes it to crash- isn't the best call.

What should you eat 1-3 hours before a workout? If you are eating a meal a few hours pre workout go for a balance of smart carbs, a little protein, and healthy fats.  

Some good options include: 

  • Whole wheat toast with a tablespoon nut butter and banana slices 
  • Greek or cashew yogurt ( I like the Forager brand) and a handful of trail mix 
  • A balanced smoothie like my Strawberry Collagen Beauty Smoothie
  • Oatmeal with fresh fruit 
  • Apple slices and 1 tablespoon nut butter
  • Minimally processed cereal like Barbara's brand
  • An open faced turkey or tuna sandwich with 1/4 avocado

What should I eat if I only have 30 minutes before a workout? In this case keep it simple. I find myself in this situation often -especially when I'm squeezing in a lunch time or evening workout.

Fruit is one of my favorite choices - especially on an empty or near-empty stomach which makes it easier to digest.

Some good options include:

  • A banana or whatever fruit I have on hand with the exception of pears or plums - they can be tougher to digest.
  • Half an ezekial english muffin or toast with a little nut butter or ghee
  • A handful of cashews (lower in fiber than almonds - and easier on the stomach pre workout)
  • A That's It bar
  • A fresh juice or small smoothie. *These are a better choice pre strength training or a lower intensity workout like pilates or barre versus high intensity cardio where all the liquid may slosh around uncomfortably in your stomach!

Post Workout

So you've workout out, endorphins are flowing , you want to maximize results. Now what?

Well, recovery via nutrition is key.  Your body just used glycogen (stored energy) and you’ll want to replenish that energy. Again you'll want a combination of smart carbs, protein, and healthy fat. But protein becomes a little more important post workout- especially if you've been strength training.

When you lift you create tiny muscle tears, and protein will help repair them. Ultimately this helps you get that toned, leaned look ;)

Obviously whether you go for a snack or a meal will depend on the time of day, and your lifestyle. I'm not one of those trainers that believes you need to eat IMMEDIATELY - scarfing something down mindlessly in a locker room. But you shouldn't delay by much more than 30-60 minutes or so.

Some good options post workout include:

Felling STRESSED? Here's 5 snacks that will help.

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