Pre & Post-workout Nutrition: Fueling Your Fitness Program

One common question I receive from clients is “what do I eat around exercise time?” This is such a great topic to discuss and today I’m going to break down optimal nutrition around your workout, i.e. pre-workout foods, during, and post-workout foods.

First and foremost, this information needs to be applied in general terms as we all have completely different genetic makeups, fitness goals, workouts, lifestyles, and metabolisms. This guide isn’t meant to be “cookie cutter” plan, but more like a starting point for you to branch off of, listen to your body, and of course take your results into consideration.

Fueling Your Fitness

To start, ask yourself some helpful questions around your workouts such as:

How is my energy level before a workout?

  • If it’s low, try adding in a bit of carbohydrate like a fruit
  • If you feel great, it’s likely whatever you ate earlier in the day is still digesting and providing enough “fuel” for your workout

Do I feel lethargic or sleepy during my workout after I’ve eaten?

  • You may have eaten too much or too large of portion of fat with the meal. Fat takes the longest for our bodies to digest and if you’re feeling a bit sluggish, try replacing the fat with carbohydrates and protein only.

What time of day do I typically workout and when was my last meal?

  • If you’re a morning exerciser, try keeping it simple with a piece of fruit and a couple nuts or hard boiled egg
  • If you’re an afternoon or evening exerciser and recently ate within the hour of working out, chances are you may not need a pre-workout. If you’re an athlete or involved in heavy training, add in a carbohydrate prior.

Do I feel like I can push harder and be more intense during my workout after eating this [fill in the blank] food?

  • If yes, then awesome! Sounds like you landed the right amount of food with carbohydrates, protein, and fat to give you energy.
  • If no, possibly adding a bit more carbohydrate may do the trick
Fueling Your Fitness

There’s a saying I enjoy “eat for tomorrow”, use this motto as a way to think about certain foods you may be eating and time them around your workout program (for example, higher carbohydrate days before or the day of a workout).

Depending on your workout routine, the pre-workout may or may not be needed. For example, if your exercise consists of walking, using the elliptical, or biking at a low-moderate pace for under 30 minutes, you most likely will not need any form of pre-workout. On the other hand, if you engage in heavy weight lifting, circuit training, HIIT, or a combination of the above, having a pre-workout will provide great energy to burst through your workout.

Fueling Your Fitness

Pre-workout foods:

  • Carbohydrates mainly + a bit of protein are best before a workout
  • Fruits (bananas, berries, apple, pears, etc.)
  • Dried fruits (dates, apricots, cherries, etc.)
  • A light meal rich in carbohydrates and protein, keep the fat at a minimum
  • If you’ve eaten a more substantial meal only an hour before your workout, chances are you can get away without a pre-workout snack

Post-workout nutrition depends on your goals; whether it’s fat loss, muscle building, or weight maintenance. In general here are some ideas for what a post-workout meal or snack could be like:

Post-workout foods:

  • Carbohydrates + protein + moderate/low amount of fat
  • A whole food meal would be perfect and ideal, for example a protein of your choice with a sweet potato, salad, and a bit of avocado or olive oil for dressing.
  • On-the-go? Try a banana + protein shake (quality brands only!), or a piece of toast and hard boiled eggs (mostly egg whites), or oatmeal with Greek yogurt, or green smoothie with added protein powder or other protein source, etc.

What are some of your favorite workout foods? Share below!

Eat well, live well, Be well,

McKel Hill, MS, RD, LDN
Nutrition Stripped