How to Fuel Before and After Your Workout

by Samantha Thierry, M.Ed, RD, LD

Congrats, you have started to workout or are thinking of working out! I’m sure the idea of physical activity may be enough of a workout already, but there’s more to it than just getting out the door or picking up a set of weights. Whether you are working out in your house, outside, or in the gym, you still need to nourish your body. From endurance running to strenuous weight lifting, your body craves the fuel to keep it going and powering through the workout.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity and two or more of those days should be muscle-strengthening exercises.

Let’s say we break that 150 minutes down into 5 days and that averages a solid 30 minutes of exercise. Great! That’s not too daunting. So, in the midst of planning your workouts and how you want to structure them, think of having a plan for your nutrition as well.

I’m a morning person, but don’t know what to consume before my morning workout.

Regardless of the time of day your workout is, your primary fuel should be carbohydrates. These are going to provide the most readily available energy stores to power your workout. If you aren’t someone that can stomach a meal before your workout, then try some of these snack ideas!

  • Toast with peanut butter
  • Oatmeal
  • Banana with peanut butter
  • Granola bar
  • Piece of fruit
  • Rice cakes
  • Dry cereal

Those are just some quick and simple snack ideas to help add some energy on deck. Then after your workout, make sure you get that breakfast! If you have time to sit and eat a breakfast before your workout, that is great! Make sure to have a mixture of protein and carbohydrates, but still making the carbohydrates the focus. Waffles, pancakes, toast, biscuits, cereal, oatmeal and potato varieties are all great options for breakfast carbohydrates!

Carbohydrates are the focus for pre-workout, so what about post-workout?

A combination of carbohydrates and protein are vital for post workout. You will want to get this combination in as soon as you can within 1 hour finishing your workout. This is the best block of time to get the nutrients in your body that may have been depleted through your workout. The carbohydrates are necessary to replenish your stores and the protein is needed to rebuild and rejuvenate your muscles.

The suggested amount of protein to consume post workout is between 30-40g. If you find yourself as more of a recreational athlete or only completed a light workout, then 20g would be adequate.

If you worked out in the morning, then have that sit-down breakfast. If you worked out later in the day, grab your meal or a carbohydrate + protein snack after. Many will choose protein shakes to get that recovery going ASAP, but it’s not necessary, just convenient. If you can eat food and have the time, then that is preferred.

Carbohydrate and protein combinations perfect to provide that post workout glow

When I say glow, it’s that feeling of accomplishment. Not only have you finished your workout for the day, but you are on your way to recovery with these combinations. Nothing can stop you now from that success you are striving toward!

Pick from these protein sources:Chicken/turkey breast, ground beef, sirloin steak, top or bottom round roast, tuna, salmon, shrimp, turkey bacon, turkey/chicken sausage

Greek yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, string cheese

Eggs, whey protein powder, beans/legumes, canned tuna or chicken, rice protein powder

Pick from these carbohydrate sources:Oatmeal, whole grain cereals, English muffins, waffles, whole grain pancakes, muffins, 100% whole grain bread, bagels, pastas, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, couscous, popcorn

Beans/legumes, fruit, dairy

Starchy vegetables such as corn, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams

Wait, so I can choose my own foods and still succeed?

This is your body and your life, so the customization is up to you. If you aren’t going to eat something recommended, then the benefits are out the window. You should instead choose foods you like and enjoy. This way you can know you are enjoying food and fueling your body for your exercise appropriately. If you would like help customizing your meals and snacks to ensure you are getting the proper fueling or your workouts, then you can check out the HealthSoup Appfor suggestions and help.

Article contributed by Samantha Thierry, M.Ed, RD, LD. See more posts like these

Need Personalized Diet Advice?

Get 1-on-1 coaching with a US Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Achieve health & fitness goals with reliable, science-based diet advice.