Exercise doesn’t have to be complicated. Neither does fueling and refueling your body pre and/or post-workout.

Quick notes:

  • Your body’s needs will determine if you should eat before working out—but you should always eat after.
  • Natural sugars and healthy fats are beneficial to your pre-workout snacks and meals.
  • Proteins and carbohydrates are stellar for recovery from an exercise session.

When it comes to a healthy lifestyle, exercise is only a part of the equation. Your nutritional needs are equally as important as any workout you perform. In fact, your diet and exercise routines should go hand-in-hand, supporting one another as you build a healthy lifestyle. How do you know when you need to eat (before or after a workout)? And what are the best foods to support an effective workout and recovery?

What’s the best time to eat?

Whether you eat before a workout or not is dependant on your body’s needs. Some people choose not to eat beforehand, though this doesn’t mean it’s a bad option. Research indicates that if you are exercising to lose weight, eat after working out rather than before may have its perks. However, this isn’t the sole reason to skip or not skip any pre-workout snacks or meals—and knowing your body is crucial.

For some people, eating beforehand is essential to enjoying an energetic workout. If you are unable to muster the energy to power through a full workout routine due to a lack of nutrition, you likely won’t enjoy the benefits of an effective exercise session. Still, some people find that strenuous exercise can make them nauseous, and pre-workout noshing causes them to feel sick and sluggish.

Here’s the bottom line: knowing your needs is essential to deciding whether or not to eat before a workout.

Eating after a workout is essential

No matter whether or not you choose to eat before exercising, eating after a workout is crucial. Replenishing your body after pushing your muscles and organs through a stressful exercise routine ensures that you reap the full mental and physical benefits of working out. Post-workout meals benefit your metabolism, help with muscle growth, improve your energy, contribute to weight loss, and more. They also improve mental clarity, increase your focus, and prevent the brain-fog that comes with exercise exhaustion.

If you choose not to eat after exercising, the decision may impact your desired outcomes. Eating is essential to aiding your post-workout recovery. If your goal is to build muscle, you will struggle to do so without replenishing your body’s protein. Your glycogen stores also need to be restocked. Mindful consumption is the only way to achieve this. Additionally, eating after a workout can prevent injury and long-term muscle damage as you become a prolific exerciser.

What to eat before/after working out

So, what should you be eating before a workout? Protein, healthy fats, carbs, and natural sugars are all good pre-workout options. These can be found in foods like bananas, almond butter, chicken, vegetables, oatmeal, eggs, avocado, and protein powder/smoothies. Several of these foods are also packed full of vitamins, nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants that help aid in boosting your energy, preventing cellular damage, and prepping you for post-workout recovery ahead of time.

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What about after a workout? Carbs and protein are your friends. Protein is essential to muscular growth and recovery. Carbohydrates help to replenish glycogen stores and, like protein, aid in the recovery of damaged tissue and cells. Although you may crave fatty, oily, or high-sugar foods, avoid giving in to these cravings. Not all calories are built the same. Sticking to healthier sources will provide you with more positive physical and mental outcomes.

You know your body best

At the end of the day, you know your body best. If you feel that eating before a workout will benefit the quality of your exercise, feel free to consume a healthy pre-workout snack or meal. However, whether you eat beforehand or not, it is crucial to your workout recovery to eat afterward. Healthy protein and carb-rich foods will ensure that your workout recovery is nutritionally supported.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

It’s not too late to start an exercise routine | Science101

It’s never too late to kick yourself into gear and begin exercising.

New Research Shows There’s No Such Thing As A ‘Sugar Rush’ | Science101

If you need another reason to avoid sugary foods after working out—they won’t provide you with any energy!