“What should I eat before and after my workout to get the best results?” Health and fitness experts hear this question all the time. Fueling your body the right way after a workout will make sure you maximize all of that hard work to get the best possible results. This means being intentional about your nutrition. So, let’s get right into it! I’m going to break it down into three easy steps:
1. When and What to Eat Before Your Workout
As a general rule, that means eating between 2 to 3 hours before your workout. However, if your workouts take place early in the morning, you probably don’t have that long of a window. If at all possible, eat a small snack 45-60 minutes before your workout.
TIP 1: The shorter the window of time before your workout, the smaller your meal should be. This will help avoid upsetting your stomach.
TIP 2: Liquid foods, like a shake or smoothie, have a faster transit time through your stomach, so they can be a good choice.
TIP 3: In a pinch, make sure to have at least 15 g carbohydrates within minimal fat, protein and fiber 15-30 minutes before you workout.
Bonus FAQ: What about fasted workouts first thing in the morning? It’s true, some studies show you can burn more fat if you work out on an empty stomach. However, studies looking into whether that translates into actual weight loss show mixed results. If your goal is to 1) add muscle or 2) train for peak performance, then eating ahead of time can help you get the most out of your workout.
Generally speaking, choose a balanced meal or snack with carbs, protein, and a small amount of fat, but this may vary depending on the type of workout you have planned that day. See why below:
CARBS: Your muscles run on glycogen, which is the way your body stores and processes the glucose (sugar) it gets from carbs. When you do shorter or more intense workouts, the glycogen stored in your body is usually enough to fuel your workouts. But if you’re doing long or low-moderate intensity workouts, your stored glycogen can run out.
PROTEIN: Studies have shown that eating protein before a workout can boost things like performance, muscle growth, recovery, and strength.
FAT: There aren’t a lot of studies on the immediate impact of eating fat before your workout. That being said, fat is your body’s preferred source of fuel for long and/or low to moderate-intensity exercise. One downside of eating fat right before you exercise is that it can give you a stomachache since it takes longer to digest.
Here are some pre-workout meal/snack ideas for you:
½ banana + ½ cup of nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1 apple (or a handful of grapes) + 1 hard-boiled egg
Protein shake with almond milk, ½ cup berries, and ½ scoop protein powder
Handful of raisins and nuts (2 parts raisins to 1 part nuts)
Oatmeal with almond milk and fruit
2. When and What to Eat After Your Workout
As a general rule, you should plan to eat within 45 minutes after your workout for the ultimate benefit. If that’s not possible, don’t go longer than 2 hours post-workout before refueling.
As mentioned above, your muscles can run low on glycogen (fuel) and will need to be refueled. Plus, some of the proteins in your muscles can get damaged or broken down, but your food choices can help speed up both the refueling and repair processes.
Eating the right combo of protein and carbs can help with things like reducing the breakdown of muscle proteins, increasing growth of muscle proteins, restoring glycogen (fuel) to your muscles, and improving your recovery. How much you need of each (especially carbs) depends on what kind of workout you did.
Let’s start with the protein: some studies have shown that eating 20 to 40 grams of protein after your workout can help you recover faster (this recommendation also varies based on individual size). From there, you can figure out how many carbs to add – usually between 2 to 3 times as many grams of carbs as protein.
For example, if you did an endurance-oriented workout (like cycling, running, or a cardio class), your muscles might be more depleted of their fuel than they’d be if you were lifting weights. That means eating on the higher side of the carb ratio.
But it doesn’t have to be quite that technical! Here are some ideas:
Oatmeal with 1 scoop protein powder + ½ banana
Cottage cheese with fruit
Protein shake with berries or banana
Chicken or salmon with sweet potato
Whole grain toast with almond butter
3. Listen to Your Body
The most important thing is that you find a formula that works for you. This will depend on a variety of factors like:
Your goals (physical performance vs. fat loss, for example),
When you work out (morning vs. evening), and
Any health issues you might have.
If you do have health issues, you definitely want to check with your healthcare provider or registered dietitian for their input and advice.