What to Eat Before & After a Workout

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You just got out of work and you’re headed to the gym. But wait — you’re starving! Lunch was 5 hours ago and you were so busy in the afternoon you forgot to have a snack. What should you do now?

Fueling your body before and after a workout isn’t a precise science, because everyone’s calorie needs and metabolism are different. But it does take effort and planning for optimum results. If you exercise on an empty stomach, you won’t be at the top of your performance; but eat too much and you could feel sick or even throw up.

Read on to learn when, how much and what to eat before and after a workout. Then listen to your body and adjust as needed.

Fill Up Your Tank Before You Exercise

Just as a car can’t run without gas, your body won’t handle a workout well without fuel. However, when and what you eat are just as important.

Give yourself about two hours between your last meal and your workout.

If you have less time or you exercise first thing in the morning, eat a small snack such as fruit or vegetables, a yogurt, or a small serving of whole-grain carbs. Ultimately, everyone’s body is different. It may take a bit of trial and error, but eventually you’ll figure out the pre-workout snacks that make you feel best and how much time to give yourself between eating and working out.

Avoid slow-to-digest foods.

Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps made headlines for his 12,000-calorie-a-day diet, heavy on carbohydrates such as pasta and bread. While the average person doesn’t need nearly that many calories for exercise, you should fuel your body with healthy carbs before a workout. Choose brown rice instead of white, and look for whole-grain options for bread, pasta and other typical carbs. Fatty and protein-rich foods are slower to digest, which diverts oxygen and blood from your muscles, where they’re needed, to your stomach.

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Drink water.

Our bodies are more than 50% water, and they need to be hydrated before a workout. It takes 45 minutes for the water you drink to affect your hydration, according to a recent study.You should drink water about an hour before your workout, but you don’t need to obsess over how much you drink all day long. The important thing to remember is guzzling a bottle of water right before you hit the gym won’t help you, and all that fluid sloshing around your stomach might make you feel sick. So don’t wait until the last minute to hydrate; space it out all day long. Here are some ideas for drinking more water without even trying.

Coffee’s okay, too.

Yes, caffeine is a diuretic, but current research demonstrates several benefits to drinking a cup of java before a workout. Just don’t over-do it. Stick to 1 or 2 cups — 16 oz. is the optimum amount for most people — and skip the unhealthy additions. Use low-fat milk or soy creamer instead of cream, and try a natural sweetener such as Stevia instead of sugar. Of course, drinking it black is great, too.

Replenish After a Workout

The best foods to eat after you exercise are similar to what you ate to fuel your workout.


Drink water after you exercise. Try combining regular water with 100% fruit juice or drinking something with electrolytes such as coconut water. Just make sure your beverage of choice isn’t dripping with calories.

Eat more carbs.

Carbohydrates feed your muscles during a workout, so be sure to consume them afterward, especially within the first hour. Just as you did beforehand, stick to whole-grain foods.

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Now’s the time for protein.

You avoided it before your workout, but afterward is the perfect time to eat protein-rich foods. They will aid your muscles in repairing and growing after exercise. Even vegetarians can get a quick dose of protein from a smoothie containing protein powder.

Mind your portions.

Some people use exercise as an excuse to eat whatever they want and however much they want afterward. However, we often overestimate how many calories we actually burned during a workout. Don’t fall into the trap of consuming what you just burned or worse — consuming more than you burned. Focus on maintaining a healthy diet every day, whether you worked out or not. Sensible eating and regular exercise are perfect partners in keeping your body healthy.

Now that you know how to fill up your body with the fuel it needs before and after a workout, you should feel better than ever. Remember, it may take some experimenting before you figure out the perfect formula for your body, but don’t get frustrated. You’re already well on your way to better health.

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