Would you be more motivated to go to the gym if you got a little snack before? What about a snack after? What if I told you, ideally, you should be doing both? Exercise has all kinds of benefits, from increasing our energy levels to helping us sleep better. But if you're not going in properly fueled and refueling soon after, you might not be working as hard as you could—or getting all the benefits of your hard work.
Dylan Murphy, RD, LDN, says that eating before and after your workout is important. But timing, as well as what you eat, matters. Here are her tips on what to eat before and after exercise.
Before Your Workout
"Prior to a workout, it's important to consume a meal or snack with carbohydrates present to ensure your body has ample energy throughout," says Murphy. That's because carbohydrates are a rich source of glucose, which our body uses for fuel. You should also look for food with protein since that can help better prepare your muscles for working out as well. Eating a protein-rich snack also helps with muscle protein synthesis during exercise, which is a fancy way of saying the process of building more muscle mass. There are some delicious ways to eat protein- and carbohydrate-rich snacks that won't weigh you down pre-workout, too. While Murphy also says the best time window varies, a good rule is somewhere between 30 minutes to three hours before. These are Murphy's favorites:
Apple and Peanut Butter
Apples and peanut butter don't just taste great together; they're a great pre-workout team. The apple is your source of glucose, and the peanut butter brings the protein. If you need a more to-go version, consider making apple sandwiches.
Not all trail mixes are the same, but you can look for one with a mix of nuts and dried fruits for a quick pre-workout snack. Because it keeps well in an airtight container, you can keep it stocked at your desk if you plan to hit the gym after work.
This is another good mix of protein (yogurt) and carbs (grains in the granola). You can find premade granola parfaits at most grocery stores. However, if you want to save money, you can also buy granola in bulk with a tub of your favorite yogurt and pack them in containers with a tray for toppings.
Another easy to-go snack, protein bars can be stashed in a desk, gym bag, or car so you’re never caught unprepared. There’s no shortage of delicious protein bars on the market these days—Kind Bars offer many of the same benefits of trail mix since they're primarily nuts and seeds, and RX bars are sweetened with dates, giving you a bit of much-needed glucose as well. Just check the labels for added sugars since some might contain high levels.
Much of what you needed pre-workout is also important post-workout. "Following a workout, our glycogen stores have been utilized and the proteins in our muscles have been broken down," she says. "It's important to refuel glycogen stores and rebuild and repair muscles after a workout." Eating carbohydrates after a cardio workout, like running or swimming, is especially important. Your window is also narrower for when you should eat: Ideally, you should have a snack or meal within an hour of ending your workout. Here are Murphy's five favorite post-workout snacks:
Yes, this one again. There's a reason you so often see smoothie places next to gyms. And don't worry; you don't need to choke down scoops of protein powder with your smoothie. Greek yogurt or a scoop of nut butter is fine.
You can get creative with toppings or fruit-on-the-bottom cups, or just have some yogurt and a banana—it's up to you. But again, when you put them together, you're making a great combo of protein and glucose.
Yep, you read that right. Some studies actually show chocolate milk is better for exercise recovery than sports drinks. The beverage has a mix of proteins, carbs, and electrolytes perfect for muscle recovery.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions. See our full health disclaimer here.