Pre and Post Workout: What to Eat and Drink

What should I eat before I exercise?
Exercising is a very important way to make sure our bodies are healthy. However, we cannot engage in adequate physical activity without proper nutrition. It is often thought that all you need before a workout is protein. However, incorporating carbohydrates with protein can help increase your energy. 

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, and adding them to your pre-workout routine can help give you more energy. It is recommended to eat a snack rich in easily digestible carbohydrates, such as fruit, about 1-4 hours before exercising. The time you eat a snack before exercise is dependent upon how your body tolerates it. Eating right before physical activity may cause stomach discomfort, such as nausea.

What should I drink before I exercise and how does it help?
When deciding what to drink before a workout, water is the purest choice. Before working out, eating fruits or vegetables high in water content can also provide some needed pre-workout carbohydrates while helping you hydrate. Cucumber, strawberries, zucchini, celery, cantaloupe, and tomatoes are all more than 90% water. 

Hydration affects the performance of your workouts by helping the heart pump blood through the vessels to the muscles, which gives the muscles the nutrients they need. Proper hydration also regulates body temperature. Alternatively, dehydration during workouts can lead to headaches, swollen feet, heat exhaustion. Other symptoms of dehydration include, such as salt buildup on rims of hats or clothing, dark yellow urine, muscle cramps, and confusion.  If you want to know exactly how much fluid you need, you can weigh yourself before and after exercise, to see how much you’ve lost through perspiration. Sports drinks with electrolytes may be useful for people doing a high intensity or vigorous exercise or if exercising in very hot weather. Keep in mind that sports drinks tend to be high in added sugars and calories, so always opt for water first.

Snacks to eat before exercise
Below are some examples of easy and quick snacks that can help fuel your workout. Each snack contains carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein. 

  • Cheese with fruit
  • Peanut butter sandwich 
  • Apple with peanut butter
  • Hummus with crackers and cut veggies
  • Nuts with dried fruit
  • Oatmeal with fruit and low-fat milk
  • Greek yogurt with granola and fruit
  • Whole wheat toast with peanut butter and fruit

What should I eat after I exercise?
After exercising, your body needs to replenish the nutrients it lost during your workout. Your muscles used up stored energy, and it is important for these energy stores to be replaced in order to repair and rebuild your muscles. To ensure maximum recovery, you should aim to eat something within 30 minutes to an hour post-exercise. Pairing a carbohydrate with a protein after working out is the perfect combination for a recovery snack or meal. The carbohydrates will assist in replenishing your body’s energy stores while the protein will allow for muscle repair and growth.

For some people, lack of hunger is experienced directly after working out. Liquid recovery options such as a fruit smoothie with protein powder can be a great choice for those who do not wish to eat solid food after exercise. Additionally, high quantities of fiber or fat directly following exercise may slow the recovery process, so it is best to select post-workout foods that are mainly carbohydrates and protein.

Snacks to eat after exercise
Below are some examples of snacks that can help you adequately recover from your workout and begin to rebuild muscle and replenish energy stores. Each snack contains carbohydrates and a high-quality protein. 

  • Smoothie made with low-fat milk, fruit, and nut butter 
  • Low-fat milk plus half a bagel with jelly
  • Turkey on a whole-grain wrap with vegetables
  • Low-fat chocolate milk with a piece of fruit
  • Low-fat Greek yogurt with berries
  • Recovery shake plus a slice of bread with jelly

written by Athena Braio, Brittany Bogusz and Deja Ivy