Nutrition can already be confusing, so imagine trying to figure out what to eat before and after workouts?! There are so many articles that say to eat this and not that, and then articles that contradict the first article – so you may end up feeling frustrated all while still not knowing what the heck to actually eat. So I’m hoping to shed some guidance on nutrition confusion by sharing exactly what I eat to help provide sustainable energy to power through a workout, and what I eat to help me recover after a workout. I hope these give you inspiration to create your own healthy pre and post workout snacks!
I know that there are a lot of different methodologies that people use when it comes to nutrition and working out. Some morning fitness fanatics choose to not eat at all before a workout to help inspire more fat loss. This may work for some, and not for others. We are all different and unique – and all of our nutritional and fitness needs are unique. So If you love working out on an empty stomach in the morning and you feel great, continue to do so and simply use some of the post workout snack ideas. There is a never a one size fits all nutrition plan or diet, which is why I LOVE following an intuitive diet (meaning I don’t put labels on my eating habits, I simply listen to my body and make sure I’m eating a majority of plant-based foods, and focusing on whole, organic nutrient dense ingredients with clean sources of proteins *both plant-based and animal sources* !).
I personally work out on an empty stomach if I am doing a morning workout. I still have energy and feel great, and I fuel up on a good recovery meal after my workout is complete. If I’m doing an after work routine though, I’ll make sure to have a snack before then because I’ll need an extra boost of energy from nutrients to help me power through. There are so many factors that make pre and post workout nutrition different for everyone!
Here’s my favorite snacks to eat before and after workouts, and why I think these nutrients are important to include:
What I eat before workouts
I’ll typically eat my pre-workout meal between an hour to an hour and a half before my workout. The nutritional focus here should be “what can I eat that will give me energy to power through a workout”. I usually eat an hour to an hour and a half before my workout so that I give myself enough time to digest my meal so that it can begin the process of being converted into energy. The appropriate amount of time I create between when I eat and when I work out may not be good for you, so make sure you test it out for yourself in case you need a longer window of time between your snack and your workout.
I also want to emphasize that you just need a SNACK. Here’s the type of nutrients I focus on:
Carbohydrates: When a lot of us hear the word “carbs” we think PASTA! But carbohydrates are also in fruits and veggies. I’ll consume some carbs before my workout so that I can get that extra boost of energy – but it’s still important to make sure you are sourcing the right types of complex carbs. You want to make sure that you are eating something that will be fast digesting so that you don’t feel weighed down during your workout. Once consumed, carbs turn into glucose which gives our muscles fuel to power through a fitness routine. When you are utilizing your muscles, you are using up glycogen (which is the stored version of glucose), so you want to make sure that you have enough from a carby snack if you are doing an intense routine.
Protein: A wonderful mix of nutrients that will give you fast acting energy all while helping you build muscle, is a blend of carbs and protein. Obvi you need protein in order to create muscle mass. When you eat a protein source before your workout, you are giving yourself the building blocks to create muscle mass, and prevent your muscles from breaking down (especially if you’re lifting weights). Find protein sources that are easily digestible (so you don’t feel bogged down before your workout), and don’t eat a HUGE meal either since this can give you indigestion mid workout.
When it comes to fat, you don’t need that much before your workout. Because fats take longer to digest, they could make you feel sluggish throughout your workout.
You also want to make sure that you’re drinking water before your workout so that you’re well hydrated. Here’s some pre-workout snack ideas:
- A small smoothie with spinach, banana, and clean protein powder.
- A small parfait with coconut or Greek yogurt, raw almonds and berries
- A grain free granola bar
- 1 cup of rolled oats with clean protein powder.
- 1-2 eggs with whole grain or flax-seed toast
- 1 banana if you are on a time crunch and only have about 30 minutes for a snack before your workout. Bananas digest fairly quickly and are a great source of fast acting carbohydrate energy!
- 1 apple and 1 tbsp peanut butter
Again, if you feel your best when you work out on an empty stomach – keep it up! Everything comes down to following your own intuition and what your own body wants/needs.
What I eat after workouts
I know some folks want to work out and then think that since they burned a ton of calories, they should be watching what they eat for the remainder of the day AKA not eating enough! It’s important that you replenish your glycogen levels that were used up throughout your workout and to again, add protein post workout so that you can help foster recovery. The focus here is “replenish and recover”. It’s a good idea to eat shortly after your workout about 30 minutes afterwards so that you can replenish the energy stores that were depleted. OR if you’re truly not hungry, have a small snack and then a regular meal around 3 hours post workout.
Carbs and protein: Just as you needed carbs and protein to help you power through an exercise, you need carbs and protein to help replenish and recover. You will help restore glycogen levels, and restore your muscles. This time though, you don’t necessarily need fast acting or quickly digestible carb sources. If you did some heavy lifting you may need extra protein than someone who did a lighter exercise on the elliptical.
Here are some snack ideas for after your workout:
- A 3 egg veggie omelet
- Grilled veggie wrap with chickpeas or hummus
- Protein shake with peanut butter and bananna
- Grilled chicken breast with broccoli
- Baked sweet potato slices
- A bowl of soup with ground turkey and leafy greens
Foods with electrolytes: If you were sweating a lot, you may also want to replenish your electrolyte levels. You can do this by consuming coconut water, or fruits and veggies that contain electrolytes.
Things to remember:
The type of workout you are going to do also dictates your nutritional needs. If you are going to be doing an intense HIIT workout, your needs will be different vs. if you’re going into a yoga class. The same goes for long distance endurance workouts. You should start off by experimenting with certain good groups to see what works best for you! Try tuning into your body an hour or so before your workout to see how you feel, and that can help you dictate your pre-workout snack.