Food is the fuel that keeps us going, and giving your body the right fuel will help you go further — especially when you’re working out. The right food will help you keep your energy levels up during your workout, but that’s not all — it will also help you recover from your workout faster, essentially giving you more bang for your buck. Plus, eating the right foods at the right time can help you lose weight and build lean muscle.
Skipping food before a workout can be detrimental to your fitness goals and overall body health. Working out on an empty stomach means you won’t be fueled up to handle the intensity of your workout, and you probably won’t go as far and do as much as you would otherwise. You can end up feeling dizzy and lethargic.
Plus, you can cause muscle loss if you don’t fuel up properly before your workout because, without proper fuel, your body will draw protein from your muscles — causing you to lose muscle mass over time ultimately.
There are no strict requirements for what you should and shouldn’t eat before and after a workout, but the guidelines and suggestions below will help you get the most out of your workouts. First of all, learn what you should avoid.
Avoid These Foods Before Your Workout
You’ll notice that some of these foods are healthy, but remember that timing is crucial. Eating some of these foods are great at other times of the day, but consuming them before working out could be detrimental to your goals.
Fiber: The fiber in flaxseed, high-fiber bread, bran, and more can cause bloating or gas while you work out, making it difficult to get a complete workout.
Hummus: While this is an excellent after-workout snack, it won’t do you any favors pre-workout with its indigestible carbohydrates that can cause bloating.
Artificially-flavored drinks: High in sugar, these can slow your workout. Energy drinks should be avoided too.
High-sodium foods: Salted nuts, beef jerky, lunch meat, potato chips and more won’t help your workout (before or after!).
Fried and fatty foods: Put down the pizza! Saturated fats in pizza, burgers, and other fatty foods stick around in your digestive system, making your workout less effective (and more uncomfortable!).
Alcohol: Not only can this impair your physical abilities, but alcohol is also dehydrating. Just say no before a workout.
What to Eat Before a Workout
Ideally you’ll have time to eat a healthy snack or meal two hours before your workout. Begin by drinking water and eating healthy carbohydrates and a protein.
- Whole grain cereals
- Low-fat yogurt
- Brown rice
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole wheat toast with peanut butter and a banana
- Trail mix (in moderation)
- A smoothie made with fruit, Greek yogurt, and granola
- Banana with almond butter
- An apple and a handful of walnuts
A Few Minutes Before
So real life happened, and you didn’t have enough time to fuel up for your workout adequately. Maybe you can only work out at 5:00 in the morning. Maybe your day was so hectic you couldn’t break for lunch. Whatever the case, you’re heading out the door to go to the gym right-this-second, and you haven’t eaten.
Don’t despair! Just grab an apple or another piece of fruit on your way out. While it’s not as ideal as the two-hour scenario, the quick fruit will help you have the energy you need for your immediate workout.
What to Eat After a Workout
You’ll have lost quite a bit of fluid in your workout, so you should concentrate on replenishing those. Give yourself some water, and even take a swig of orange juice for the carbohydrates.
When it comes to those muscles you’ve been working on, they’re going to need their glycogen stores refueled. No surprise here: Protein and carbohydrates fit the bill. 30 minutes to an hour after your workout, build and repair your muscles and keep your metabolism strong with the right fuel.
- Grilled chicken and vegetables
- Veggie omelet
- Tuna sandwich
- Salad with roasted chickpeas
- Multi-grain bread with peanut butter
- A burrito with beans, rice, avocado and salsa
- Chocolate milk
Just remember: Don’t overcompensate. You don’t want to destroy all the hard work you just did at the gym by eating more calories than you burned. A good rule of thumb? Eat 150 calories for a snack and 500 calories for an after-workout meal.
Kathy Gotz is the president of True Body Fitness, and provides her female clients with safe and supportive fitness and nutrition coaching. Kathy is a certified personal trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine, holds a level 1 certificate in exercise nutrition from Precision Nutrition, is a Fitranx certified instructor, and is also a certified cancer exercise specialist.