4 Tips for Pre and Post Workout Nutrition: What to Eat When

The food you eat before and after a workout often determines performance and energy levels during your workout as well as how your body recovers afterward. If you are eating the wrong types of food prior to working out, you might feel sluggish or weak, or you might not have the energy to reach your potential. Also, the amount of food you eat is just as important as the types of foods you eat. Eating too much can make you feel nauseated, and not eating enough can leave you feeling light-headed and physically drained.

Flex wheeler bodybuilding pose - curling biceps

The key is to find a way to eat a small portion of power-packed foods before working out that will help boost your energy and performance then follow-up with a meal that will aid your body’s recovery and enhance muscle growth. Below are a few tips to help you know what to eat and when to eat, so you can maximize your workout and raise your level of fitness.

1) Pre-workout Foods

A pre-exercise “meal” is probably a misnomer. Don’t think about eating before a workout as a meal. It’s more like a snack that will give you energy for your upcoming workout. As such, you should avoid any heavy foods like meats, fried foods, dairy, or foods that are high in fiber. Instead focus on a snack that combines protein and carbohydrates. For example, toast (or whole grain waffle) with peanut butter is a great option. As well, try making your own trail mix with a cup of cereal combined with a couple of tablespoons of nuts and dried fruits.

2) When to Eat Before Your Workout

While the details concerning eating before exercise are something that you’ll want to tailor to your own individual experience, there are some general guidelines that you can follow. You should leave at least 4 hours between a regular-sized meal and your workout. Then, about 1-2 hours before you exercise, eat a snack as suggested above. This will give your body time to process the food in your stomach before working out, so you won’t feel sluggish, but it will give your body the energy it needs to perform well. And as always, stay hydrated throughout the day, no matter when you plan to workout.

3) Post-workout Nutrition

You should eat within an hour of finishing your workout. That first hour, post-workout, is the time when your muscles are most open to receiving protein for rebuilding and repair.

An ideal post-workout meal is comprised of a blend of protein, carbohydrates, and fluids.  The preferred ratio of carbohydrate to protein  is 4:1. This means that you should get 4 grams of carbohydrate for every one gram of protein. Protein shakes are ideal because they combine protein and liquid; combined with a couple of pieces of toast, that’s a great post-workout meal. A lean turkey sandwich and some fresh fruit is also an ideal post-workout meal. Other foods to eat after a workout include yogurt, vegetables, peanut butter, nuts, and bread. Again, stay away from fats and large amounts of sugar.

4) Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is of utmost importance while you’re working out. Your hydration requirements will vary depending on the length of your workout as well as the circumstances.  As well, for those who’re looking to build lean muscle mass, many choose to take branched-chain amino acid supplements during their workouts.

Hydrate immediately after your workout to replace electrolytes lost through your sweat. Protein shakes are helpful, but sports drinks are good too (as long as they don’t have too much sugar). Then, make sure you are hydrated throughout the day. Carry a water bottle with you as your work (or play) and make sure you are sipping regularly all day. If your urine is clear, you know you’re definitely getting enough.

General Guidelines

Keep in mind that what you eat and when you eat will vary depending on your unique needs and preferences. You should consider things like you body size, fitness level, and the length and type of workout you are doing when considering what to eat and when. And because everyone is different, you should experiment with different foods and time tables to find your optimal time to eat before and after a workout. Overall, living a healthy lifestyle, eating a variety of healthy foods, and avoiding fatty, salty, and oily foods, will go a long way to helping you achieve an optimal workout.


James Ged is a writer and runner who likes to stay healthy and eat fresh foods—and is generally skeptical of most cable tv fitness shows.

James Ged

James Ged is a writer and runner who likes to stay healthy and eat fresh foods—and is generally skeptical of most cable tv fitness shows.

One thought on “4 Tips for Pre and Post Workout Nutrition: What to Eat When

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