The Best Pre and Post Workout Foods for Optimal Health

Looking for the best foods to eat both pre and post workout? Your guide to fueling well is here! As a registered dietitian and diabetes educator, one of the most common questions I get asked is, 

“What should I eat before and after a workout?!” 

The Best Pre and Post Workout Foods for Optimal Health

There are so many influencers out there who push so many different ideals when it comes to fueling for fitness. Some say you should fast and not eat anything until after. Some may say, “dump pre-workout powder into your mouth, chug a water and go.” But these are not people who have been through a collective 7 years of nutrition and dietetics education, board certifications, licensure and 8 years of practice (6 of those spent running my own private practice). Nor, have they helped thousands of patients succeed with their own athletic performance improvements using subtle food as medicine upgrades! These are people who are solely trying to push products for commissions that, quite frankly, are a fast-track to lasting metabolic damage.

However, the common saying “abs are made in the kitchen” isn’t far from the truth. Your body’s performance in the gym is largely related to the fuel you provide it with! And yes, you do need to eat before AND after a workout to see optimal results and have lasting change! Let’s dive into how to fuel before and after your workouts for optimal strength and recovery! 

What to eat Pre-Workout

Hot Girls Hydrate! Hydration allows your hunger signals to properly function. You need at least 100oz of water per day if you’re planning to be active.  This is truly the best pre-workout drink. If you’re sweating in warm conditions for more than 90 minutes consider 8 oz of a low-sugar electrolyte repletion; LMNT, Ultima, Nooma or even coconut water with a pinch of salt are all great no-sugar options. 

Eat well! Begin your day with greens and protein; two nutrients you’re less likely to find when deadlines and stress enter the scene. Wait no longer than 4 hours between meals and consume a meal, or snack if necessary, ~2 hours before your scheduled workout. Lay off on heavy fat, fried foods, and sodium (Note these should be limited in your diet anyways!).

woman exercising and sharing pre and post workout food and drinks

Early birds shouldn’t fret! If 6AM workouts fit your schedule, a well balanced protein-rich dinner from the night before and 8 hours of sleep are going to be your best strategy. But a small wake-up snack of carbohydrates may settle your stomach and give you a burst of energy to crush your joyful movement.

I suggest things such as 1/2 banana, 1 halo orange, or 4 strawberries. Avoid goos, gels, peanut butter and the popular pre-workout powdered sugar, laced with caffeine. If you’ve been experiencing insulin resistance, you may be able to rely more on proteins and carbohydrates in the morning, or a mix of both! Personally, I do half a banana and a meat stick. Or, some days if its a less intense, strength-based workout, I’ll just do a meat stick

Less is NOT more…

A big trend in the past has been working out in a fasted state, AKA working out on an empty stomach. But ladies, going more than 14 hours without food is not beneficial if you are a cycling female and want healthy, happy hormones. Breaking that fast with a pre-workout snack, or considering when you’re going to workout around meal times would be optimal for ensuring you’re not spiking cortisol unnecessarily. 

In general, if you avoid high fat food (even the healthy ones!), you’ll be able to access the energy of the foods you eat more efficiently because fats take so long to digest. I would advise avoiding peanut butter, avocado, almonds and olives before you workout because your body wouldn’t have digested them fully by the time you get moving. This could cause stomach upset and GI discomfort. 

The takeaways:

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! 100oz a day for active individuals. You can also use a sugar free electrolyte replenisher to replace what you lost through sweat. 
  • If you’re an early bird – a protein-heavy meal the night before and 8 hours of sleep can be sufficient for an early workout. 
  • If you do need a snack, pick something like ½ banana, 1 halo orange or some strawberries. Focus on easily digestible carbs here, and avoid fats (even the healthy ones) as they can slow digestion. 

What to eat Post-Workout

So you’ve worked hard, lifted heavy weights, gotten that heart rate up…and emptied your nutrient fuel tank. Time to refill it! Those muscles won’t grow themselves, and you won’t recover effectively if you don’t give your body what it needs. 

After a workout longer than 60 minutes, your body is depleted of all the energy and strength you used to burn fat and build muscle. Those energy stores have to be replaced to be utilized in future workouts, and to keep your energy up throughout the rest of your day. Protein, with the assistance of carbohydrates, helps to repair and refuel your muscles. Don’t believe anyone that says ‘carbs are bad for you’. Highly processed carbs are, yes; they should be avoided and if eaten in excess, can cause unneeded inflammation in the body. But nutrient-dense, complex and whole food carbohydrate sources are not only essential to your workout recovery, but to your overall well being. 

15 minutes to 2 hours after your workout, you’ll want to consume protein and carbohydrate as a recovery meal. Liquid absorbs quicker than solids, and the combination of lactose + whey in dairy products make a fruit smoothie with nonfat milk a great option. If you can’t do dairy, a great option would be adding in a non-dairy protein powder such as Orgain or Rowdy. You could also opt for silken tofu!. Also, Fage 0% Greek yogurt with berries or 3 eggs scrambled with half a shredded sweet potato. Just avoid any oils or fat sources here, which can delay absorption.  

If weight loss is your goal, use your recovery as your next meal to avoid additional calories by adding an extra snack. Your body doesn’t need more calories with a daily hour workout, but it does need to be replenished within the hour of physical activity to prevent overeating and dehydration later in the day. 

woman exercising and sharing pre and post workout

The takeaways:

  • Eat a protein and carbohydrate meal within 15 minutes to 2 hours after your workout. 
  • Focus on consuming whole food, complex carbohydrates.
  • Aim for your post-workout meal to be your next planned meal, such as eating your breakfast, lunch or dinner post-workout!

#WhitPicks Favorite Best Pre and Post Workout Foods for Fuel  

Don’t have time to prep anything before you hit the gym? Here is my list of things to keep on hand for those mornings or evenings when you need some quick fuel to get you powered for your workout!


Post-Workout Snack Ideas:

If learning how to fuel your body, maintaining sustainable weight loss and overall wellness are your priorities this year; book a discovery call!I Gain empowerment and education to feel strong on your health journey!

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