Wondering What to Eat Before a Workout? These Are the 7 Best Foods, According to Fitness Experts
Whether you like to get your workout in first thing or tend to hit the gym after the day is done, chances are that you’re not thinking too much about pre-workout nutrition. But that’s a mistake, says personal trainer Lisa Reed. If you want your body to perform at its best, it’s going to need fuel (no, not a handful of M&Ms).
Experts recommend eating a meal or snack that’s high in carbs and protein and low in fat roughly three hours before you exercise. Why? Carbohydrates supply your body with the glycogen it needs for a workout, while eating complete proteins like chicken or lean beef before exercise can improve your body’s muscle recovery.
This review of studies from the University of Limerick in Ireland notes that when people exercise longer than one hour, those who ate beforehand reported better performance.
Wondering what to eat before a workout? Here are seven things the pros recommend eating before your sweat sesh.
what to eat before a workout
1. Grapes with Cheese“Fruit contains energy-boosting carbohydrates that are easy to digest and enjoy,” nutritionist Lindsey Joe explains. “They’re also full of satiating fiber and phytochemicals.” (Hey, it’s hard to focus on doing one more lap when your stomach is rumbling like a lawn mower.) Her go-to pre-workout snack is a handful of grapes with some low-fat string cheese, or clementine oranges with a few unsalted nuts.
2. Peanut Butter on Whole Wheat Toast
“Have a slice of whole wheat bread or a banana with a spoonful of peanut or almond butter for an excellent combination of both carbs and protein before your workout,” says sports dietitian Angie Asche. The carbohydrates will give you energy while protein helps muscle growth. Top tip: Go for nut butters that list only “peanuts” or “almonds” on the jar to avoid unnecessary sugars and oils.
3. Protein Shakes
If you find it difficult to eat solids before a workout, try a liquid energy boost instead. Protein shakes offer a good carbs-to-protein ratio and are easy to prep in advance and drink on your way to the gym. Reed’s favorite smoothie requires just three ingredients: ½ cup almond milk, one scoop of protein powder and ½ cup strawberries. Yummy.
“A couple of dates pre-workout offers an excellent source of carbohydrates,” Asche says. These fiber-rich fruits will help keep blood sugar and energy levels stable. “You can eat them on their own or in an energy bar like Lärabar.” (We like the ultra chewy, tastes-like-dessert peanut butter and chocolate chip.)
5. Sweet Potatoes
“Sweet potatoes are rich in potassium, vitamin A and carbohydrates, and make a great source of fuel pre- or post-workout,” Asche says. But they’re also pretty filling, so this one’s best enjoyed one to two hours before a workout. (And you know, maybe save the sour cream and cheese for a post-workout reward.)
“Bananas are loaded with carbohydrates and potassium, and make excellent snacks before a workout,” Asche tells us. Like protein shakes, they're also an excellent way to fuel up on-the-go. Just make sure to eat the banana strings, too.
7. a superfood smoothie
Celebrity trainer Anna Kaiser works with the likes of Shakira, Kelly Ripa and Karlie Kloss. She’s also the founder of AKT, a dance-based cardio fitness and wellness brand. Back in 2019, she explained to us what she eats in the morning before working out: "I’m really into superfood smoothies with adaptogens: plant protein, macadamia milk, ashwaganda, maca, blueberries, monk fruit and alkaline grasses powder mixed with ice. The adaptogens are great for stamina and energy in the morning, and the combo of fiber and protein with the added hydration keeps me full until after I teach my first class."
what to eat after a workout
Here are six of the best foods to munch on right after working out to help your body and muscles recover and repair.
Or cottage cheese. “Both offer an excellent source of protein post-workout,” says sports dietitian Angie Asche. For an extra antioxidant and carbohydrate boost, she recommends adding fresh berries or diced vegetables. Extra bonus? “Calcium and vitamin D-rich foods help strengthen bones and prevent fractures.”
2. Hummus and Whole Grain Crackers
“After a workout, your body likes carbohydrate-containing foods because it's burned through all its energy stores,” nutritionist Lindsey Joe explains. To replenish these stores (aka glycogen), top a couple of whole grain crackers with protein-rich (and totally delicious) hummus.
And not just the whites. “Egg yolks contain several vital nutrients for brain and bone health,” says Asche. She suggests packing a few hard-boiled eggs into your gym bag for a quick and easy source of protein, teamed with a slice of whole wheat toast for additional carbs post-workout.
4. Protein Shakes
Yes, again. “Liquid nutrition is a great choice for a post-workout meal because it absorbs [more easily than solids] and can therefore be used faster by your body,” says Reed.
5. Smoked Salmon
Fatty fish are known for their inflammation busting abilities, and research published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found that omega-3 fatty acids can also help ease delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after exercise. Try spreading a whole-grain wrap with a thin layer of cream cheese and topping it with smoked salmon for a delicious and portable snack.
6. Low-Fat Chocolate Milk
If you find it hard to eat right after exercising, the American Council on Exercise suggests trying liquid foods instead of solids. And chocolate milk is a great choice, thanks to its tasty mix of carbs, protein and water. (Just go easy on the sugar.)
The Bottom Line
We'll note that these foods are just suggestions. Everyone, of course, has different preferences, palates and workout targets, meaning that while you can absolutely fuel up with any of the foods mentioned above, it's important to find what works best for you, your body and your goals.