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What to Eat Before and After a Workout?

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

As you progress with your workout regime, you’ll realize that your body is an incredible machine. The more you throw at it – the better it becomes. Still, like any machine, it requires quality fuel to operate at peak performance. Therefore, when you eat before and after a workout, you’re ensuring your body can reach maximum potential. However, the choice of food matters as much as the exercise regime. Sometimes – even more. That’s why professional fitness trainers recommend you eat before and after a workout. So, let’s see which foods will allow you to maximize gains and minimize the downsides of great training.

Bowl of  fruits

Why is it important to eat before and after a workout?

Eating before working out has many benefits, but the most notable ones are:

● You’ll increase workout performance, thus ensuring better results in the long run, and;

● It allows you to exercise at a higher intensity or for a more extended period (depending on which workout regime you choose).

Therefore, “fueling” yourself up before a workout gives you a chance and a possibility to make the most of your training session.

Strong man doing cleans

On the flip side, having a healthy and hearty meal after working out will:

● Help your body recover faster;

Boost your mood and make you more motivated;

● Get you prepped and ready for the next challenge.

Is it OK to work out on an empty stomach?

This is a common conundrum that we and our colleagues from often encounter. Especially from beginners and people intent on losing weight the right way. Now, it is true that exercising without food can help burn more fat. However, working out while fasting has negative sides:

It can cause dizziness, nausea, or make you feel sluggish and languid. Needless to say, this can cause more than discomfort. It impacts your performance in the long run and can even lead to injuries;

You’ll burn muscle, along with fat. Again, this will impact your results in the long run. As your weight loss and muscle build-up slow to a crawl, you may become discouraged and frustrated. Precisely the opposite of what you intend to achieve.

● Lastly, not eating before an exercise will make your body burn out its fat reserves. This wouldn’t be so bad – if it wouldn’t work overtime afterward to restore them all. So, your body will actually start storing more fat than it uses.

Therefore, although you can work out without a proper meal, it’s definitely not something you should do.

What to eat before exercising

To fuel your body in the best way possible, you’ll need a balanced diet of three main macronutrients. These are:

Carbohydrates (“Carbs”);

Protein and;


To get the most out of your workout, your primary focus should be on the first two. So, let’s break them down and see why it is so.

The bread and butter of the body’s energy

Carbs are what give your body the energy it needs. As such, they are an essential ingredient of the food you eat before and after the exercise. There are two types of carbs, and each one is useful in its own way:

Simple carbs give your body a short-term energy boost. Therefore, you should use them only as a snack before a workout;

Complex carbs are a longer-lasting energy source. They will help you push through the entire exercise routine.

The main takeaway here is: don’t forgo one in favor of another. Your body needs both simple and complex carbs to function properly.

Caption: It’s a common misconception that healthy food tastes awful. It’s quite the other way around!

Woman cutting fruits

Foods that are excellent sources of carbs are:

Whole grains: Oats, brown rice, wheat, quinoa, corn, etc. Even popcorn counts!

Vegetables: All of them!

Whole fruits: Bananas, apples, pears, oranges, tomatoes, etc.

Nuts: Peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, etc.

Seeds: Pumpkin, sunflower, chia, etc.

Tubers: Potatoes, yam, sweet potatoes, etc.

Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils, etc.

These ingredients are enough, all by themselves. But, to complete your pre/post-workout menu, it’s best to combine them with protein.

No protein, no muscle gain

That about sums it up. Protein is essential for maintaining existing and building new muscle mass. And, given how tasty it is, it’s certainly a welcome addition to every meal.

Here are some of the best protein sources:

Fish: tuna, trout, salmon, etc.

Seafood: lobster, oysters, mussels, crab, scallop, etc.

Poultry: Chicken, duck, goose, etc.

Eggs: pretty self-explanatory.

Dairy products: milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.

Nuts, seeds, legumes, and beans: already mentioned in the “Carbs” section.

And, now, to top it all off, we have fats.

You don’t have to get rid of ALL the fats

There’s also a third type of macronutrient you should include in your diet. Fats are essential for your body, too. They provide energy, albeit less than carbs. But, they also support cell growth! However, it’s best to include them as a way to “round up” your healthy diet. Be mindful, though, that not all fats are good. Saturated and trans fats can hurt your health and overall performance. So, to be on the safe side, you should opt for unsaturated or “healthy” fats that you can find in avocados or nuts, for instance.

Balance is crucial for a healthy diet and great workout results

As you can see, when you combine macronutrients, you get a whole world of tasty options! However, it’s crucial to balance it all out to get the desired effect. Good rules to follow are:

● 2 – 3 hours before a workout: A meal that’s high carbs, high protein, low fat;

● 1h – 30 min before a workout: A snack that’s high carbs, medium protein, low fat.

By doing this, you ensure you always have enough energy and get a much-needed boost immediately before the workout.

What to eat after a workout?

The answer to this question is quite simple: The same things you eat before the workout! Macronutrients we mentioned are not only a fantastic pre-workout energy source. They also help your body recover afterward:

Carbs will help you replenish energy supplies you burned during exercise;

Protein is crucial for rebuilding muscle fibers you tore and, therefore, relieve muscle soreness;

Lastly – fats. Although they slow down the absorption of nutrients from the other two types of food, they don’t have adverse effects, per se. So, you can include low-to-medium amounts in your post-workout meals. After all, they do taste too good to pass them on.

Trainer teaching client what not to eat

Weed out the bad habits

Diet is an essential part of a workout regime. Especially if you’re just starting but also if you’re well into the program and realize something’s just not “clicking”. The latter can be really frustrating, as people sometimes don’t realize they’re making some common diet mistakes. Fortunately, though, these are easy to correct. And, yes – it can be challenging, at first. But continuing to make bad food choices will only do you more harm in the long run. Therefore, it’s best to “suffer” for a week or two until you get into proper diet routine than to jeopardize your progress.

A healthy diet makes for a tasty workout

Or, the other way around. The thing is – both work! Especially now that you know what to eat before and after a workout and how tasty it can be. So, here’s our last piece of advice: don’t be afraid to experiment. Find recipes that will suit your exercise needs and your taste buds. Once you find that sweet spot, you’ll look to each training session with newfound inspiration and drive.



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