food before working out
Expert Advice, Healthy Eating

Is it Best to Eat Before or After a Workout?

June 2, 2021

Food is fuel! We need it to get through the day since it gives us the energy necessary to perform nearly every physical activity, including exercise.

There’s a reason many athletes carbo-load before a big game; they know it will give them the energy needed to perform. But is it best for you to eat before or after a workout? First things first – assuming you’re not a professional athlete, it’s more important to focus on what you eat over the course of the day rather than simply focusing on the pre-and-post workout. Depending on when you workout and the type of activity you’re doing, you may find that you need both a pre and a post-workout snack, or you might find that you don’t need either one. For example, if you work out within a couple of hours of breakfast or lunch, you’ll typically have all the glycogen (stored energy!) you need to carry you through your workout. 

What you can eat before and after your workout

There’s a lot of emphasis on eating a meal high in carbs and protein and low in fat before working out. While this can be a good rule of thumb, some people (especially those following a low carb or keto diet) feel better eating some fat before a workout, since it provides steadier energy that’s slower to burn out when compared to carbs.  Carbohydrates are often recommended pre- and post-workout because they give your body the energy it needs to move and replenish (plus a healthy dose of fiber and plenty of nutrients).

Depending on your goals, eating the right nutrients after you exercise may be even more important than fueling your body before. After a workout, your body is working to rebuild its glycogen stores that your workout just depleted. A post-workout snack or meal will help repair and regrow your muscles. When you have foods high in protein and carbs soon after your workout, it can help your body complete this process faster.

Tips for Fueling Your Workouts

While eating before and after your workouts sounds simple enough, timing is everything to make sure your body can fully absorb the right amount of nutrients. It’s recommended to eat a meal high in carbs and protein from 30 minutes to three hours before your exercise. This is enough time for your body to get the nutrients it needs for peak performance. While it may be tempting to carbo-load right before a workout, this can make you feel worse (no one wants to run with a stomach full of pasta). Given that time frame, many people find that if they exercise 2-3 hours after a meal, that’s fuel enough to support their workout. 

When it comes to a post-workout snack or meal, it’s important to load up on high-quality protein and carbohydrates (think sweet potatoes, rice, or plantains) ideally within 45-minutes to an hour after finishing up your workout. But keep in mind that it’s more important to eat enough food (particularly protein!) over the course of the day than it is to just focus on the post-workout meal. Also, remember to stay hydrated before, during, and after your workout. You will lose a lot of fluid as your exercise, and drinking plenty of water helps replenish it and maintain your performance level. It’s good to aim for half your body weight in ounces or more, each day. And if you exercise outside or sweat a lot, supplementing with electrolytes can be helpful. 

Pre- and Post-Workout Snacks

Need some inspiration for your workout snacks? Here are some pre-workout snacks that can help fuel your exercise routine:

  • Smoothies (ideally made with vegetables and protein)
  • Apple with nut butter
  • Greek yogurt and granola
  • Oatmeal with fruit
  • Rice cakes or whole-grain bread with nut butter

Again, keep in mind that what you’ll eat before a workout depends on timing. If you ate a meal recently, there’s no need for a pre-workout snack. 

And here are some easy and tasty post-workout snacks that can help replenish your body:

  • Chicken and sweet potatoes
  • Ground beef and plantains
  • Gluten-free protein bar
  • Cottage cheese
  • While fruit can be a source of post-workout carbs in a pinch, it preferentially replenishes liver glycogen (rather than muscle glycogen, which has just been depleted during your workout). 

Of course, these are just a few quick bites that can give your body the immediate boost it needs. If you plan your workout around meals, you can get your nutrients from a hearty breakfast, lunch, or dinner instead.

Our high-protein meals at Snap contain 35g of protein or more per meal. Check out options from our high-protein menu that are perfect for your pre or post-workout feast:

  • Chicken Chile Enchiladas
  • Naked Beef
  • Bison Quinoa Bowl
  • Naked Chicken
  • Cacio e Pepe with Rosemary Chicken
  • And more!

Our Whole30 menu is also chock full of meals that are balanced in veggies, protein, and healthy fats — the trifecta that you need for a good workout, like:

  • Cajun Salmon
  • Turkey Meatloaf
  • Romesco Chicken
  • Za’atar Chicken
  • Cod Piccata

The best part about all of these meals? All you need to do is heat them up and enjoy a perfectly balanced, nutrient-dense lunch or dinner that tastes gourmet with a fraction of the work. Then, when you come home wiped out from an intense workout, you don’t have to worry about cooking or cleaning to enjoy a delicious meal!

Learn more about the foods you can eat for optimal athletic performance and more on the Snap Kitchen blog.

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