What to Eat Before and After a Workout?

You've got your workout routine all laid out. You have found the perfect mix of cardio and strength that fits your needs. But the scale is still not moving as much as it should. What could be wrong?

It could very well be your diet. Nutrition and exercise go hand in hand. You can't expect to lose weight if your diet isn’t right.

Many people tend to overeat, most do it without even realizing it. Whether it's another plate of dinner, or it's snacks throughout the day that gets you. We have to become more aware of what we eat and how much.

Others tend to cut back on food while losing weight. Doing this will only hurt your body in the long run. Calories are burned into energy. Your body needs this energy to keep up with the high demands of weight loss.

Figuring out what to eat before and after a workout can make a world of difference on the scale. Eating a well-balanced diet will also provide your body with much-needed energy for working out.

What to Eat Before a Workout?

Getting your body fueled up before a workout is essential. Starting exercise on an empty stomach will leave you feeling tired and fatigued before you know it. 

This doesn’t mean you have to fill yourself up to the max. Consuming something light with lots of beneficial properties is key. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt contains high amounts of protein, which is essential for building muscles and repairing tissue. It also consists of probiotics, which are great for the digestion, and vitamin B12. 

This type of yogurt is an awesome breakfast choice. You will get your day started with some healthy protein that won’t leave you with a heavy feeling. You can always top it up with some berries for extra antioxidants. Or maybe some nuts for healthy fats.

Whole Grain Cereal

Fiber is another thing that’s vital to our health. Fiber will keep you feeling full and happy until your next meal. And that’s not the only thing your body will gain from whole grain. It’s also packed full of vitamins and minerals, protein and antioxidants.

Whole grains are also linked to helping the body get rid of belly fat, and lowering BMI.

Eating a bowl of cereal before a workout is a perfect way of getting fueled up without risking feeling nauseous. Eat it with milk, or maybe mix it with your greek yogurt for extra goodness.

Chicken and Brown Rice With Vegetables

Chicken is a great source of protein. It’s a lean meat with a lot of health benefits, and is also easy on the stomach. 

It won’t take long before it’s fully digested and the body has absorbed all the nutrients it needs. This makes chicken a perfect pre-workout lunch.

Choosing which part of the chicken is important. You want the right nutrients without added fat. The breast is the best cut. Here, the meat is lean, fat-free and bone-free. 

Cook the breast with a small amount of olive oil, or steam it if preferred. Avoid pan frying it with lots of grease. You can also bake or grill the chicken, but this will take longer.

Pair the chicken breast with perfectly cooked brown rice and steamed vegetables. Brown rice is low in calories and high in fiber. It’s also a good source for the essential mineral, manganese. This mineral increases bone quality and boosts the metabolism.

Steamed veggies

Steamed vegetables makes a delicious side dish to any protein. Choose your favorites, but remember to get a good amount of greens. Broccoli, spinach and asparagus are high in both soluble and insoluble fibers.

Soluble fibers turn into a sort of gel when digested. They absorb water which changes the texture. This makes them slower going through the digestive tract. Soluble fibers help to keep blood sugar at a normal level, and they block absorption of cholesterol.

Insoluble fibers help the body soften the stool. This will prevent constipation, which is why I recommend (steamed) veggies like broccoli, spinach and asparagus.

Bananas

If you are looking for a quick pre-workout snack, bananas should be your go-to fruit. They are high in natural sugars to give you energy, and filled with healthy carbohydrates. Bananas also contain potassium

Potassium supports cardiovascular health, along with strengthening bones and muscles. If you have a deficiency you may be feeling weak, fatigued or constipated.

Potassium is quickly absorbed and digested by the body. Therefore, in order to benefit from its nutrients you should consume a banana 30 minutes before a workout.

Fruit Smoothies

This is a favorite pre-workout fuel by many. A fruit smoothie can consist of any fruit you like. Blend it up with with milk and some ice (try to avoid adding sugar), and you are good to go. Maybe fill up your favorite travel mug and have your smoothie on the go.

It’s important to remember that smoothies are high in sugars. They also contain all the nutrients your body needs. It’s better to use smoothies as meal replacements rather than an after-meal snack.

Here are some simple fruit smoothie ideas:

  • An all-time favorite fruit smoothie has to be a strawberry and banana blast. Strawberries are high in iron, bananas are high in potassium and natural sugar. Blend them up with some ice and milk, and enjoy. This will help your body to keep going through a workout.
  • Another great smoothie is a mix of pineapple, pink grapefruit and strawberries. If you like the color pink, this is definitely for you ;)! These three super-fruits are insanely high in vitamin C, which is high in antioxidants. It helps the body absorb iron too, which you’ll also get from this fat-blasting smoothie.
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    Mix up a little energy-blast with orange, lemon and spinach. This smoothie will give you so much energy, you won’t even think about your morning coffee. It’s a blend of orange, lemons, spinach, peaches and carrots. All the ingredients are blended with almond milk for a little extra protein. The fruits in this smoothie are high in natural sugars, vitamin C and fiber. Super good to get the best start you can.

Eggs

Eggs are a very good, inexpensive source of protein. The whites are higher in protein than the yolk. An egg also contains 20% of the daily recommended dose of vitamin B12. 

It will provide your body with iron, zinc and selenium. Selenium boosts the immune system and lowers the risk of heart failure. It’s also a very strong antioxidant.

Eggs are served in a variety of ways. You can boil them, fry them and poach them. But what is best? Eggs are good no matter how they’re cooked. But it’s important to not cook them in too much grease. Plus you should be aware of how much salt you add.

Some people like to add flavoring to their eggs. Although this will give them a good taste, you should try to avoid it since flavorings can be high in sodium.

One of my favorite ways of eating eggs has to be scrambled, on a piece of whole grain bread. Top it with some freshly chopped parsley, fresh onion or capsicum. Whatever suits your taste.

If you want to maximize muscle growth, then I recommend taking a look at this science backed video:

Foods to Avoid Before a Workout

There’s a long list of foods you should not be eating before a workout. Some to avoid are:

Beans

Beans have a certain gassy effect on the body that you’re most likely aware of. This is not something you want happening during your workout. Beans contain carbohydrate raffinose, which is indigestible for the stomach. Food that has slow digestion will make you feel full and tired.

Fried Foods

Fried foods are high in fat and grease. These are also known as empty calories. They are usually high in saturated fats, which are hard for the body to digest and will leave you feeling bloated.

Pure Fruit Juice

Though smoothies may be a nice pre-workout fuel, pure fruit juice should be avoided. Fruit is high in fructose and acid. This can cause stomach cramps during a workout. People with irritable bowel syndrome may find the effects especially uncomfortable. 

Desserts and Sweets

This one should be obvious. Sweets and desserts are always a no when it comes to losing weight. Pastries and cakes are filled with sugar, grease, shortening and cream. These will fill you up and make you tired and bloated.

Carbonated Drinks

Avoiding beverages such as cola or energy drinks is important. Not only before a workout, but these fizzy drinks are not good for our health, in general. They tend to create flatulence and indigestion. This is not something you want while straining your body at the gym.

Why Is It Important to Eat Prior to Working Out?

The biggest lie you will ever hear is: “the less you eat before working out, the more fat you’ll burn”. If anybody tells you this, don’t believe them. 

Eating before exercising is a must! You need fuel. You wouldn’t attempt to drive a car a 100 miles if you knew it only had enough fuel for 60. The same goes with your body.

The body needs blood sugar to be converted into energy. If there is no blood sugar, the body will start to take what it needs from muscle tissue. This will lead to weaker muscles. When we’re training we want to create muscles, not decrease them. 

Therefore, eating a quick snack before working out is key. Consuming a well-balanced, nutrient dense breakfast is important to get a good start to your day. Studies have shown that people who eat a good breakfast are less likely to snack during the day.

How Long Before a Workout Should You Eat?

It’s recommended to eat a pre-workout snack about an hour prior to exercising. This does vary a lot depending on what you eat and how much. 

Small snacks like fruit or nuts can be consumed 30 minutes or less before working out. But heavier meals like chicken and vegetables need at least two to three hours to digest properly. 

What to Eat After a Workout?

Now you have exercised for an hour or two. You’re all sweaty and tired and ready for a shower and something to eat. But what should you eat? 

You may be feeling a few cravings starting to creep up. But hold on, don’t give in. Here are a few tips on what you should reach for after your workout:

Energy Bars

You can find energy bars at any local supermarket nowadays. There are a wide range of brands, all have different nutrients and benefits. So be careful what you choose.

Energy bars are high in protein and carbohydrates. They will provide you with the quick energy that is needed after a long workout session.

An energy bar should also help level out the blood sugar. You may be feeling dizzy or light-headed after exercising. Getting some quick energy can help you get back on your feet.

When buying energy bars it’s important to choose the right one. Look at the label, and read the ingredients. Some energy bars can be filled with sugar, you don’t want this. A good thing to look out for is natural ingredients. 

These bars can also be high in calories. Some are marked as meal replacements, these have enough calories and nutrients for you to skip lunch. So keep that in mind. You don’t want to consume all the calories you just burned off.

One of my favorite bars must be the CLIF BAR. It’s made with only organic ingredients such as brown rice syrup, rolled oats, cocoa butter, sea salt and other delicious nutrients.

Eggs

If you like eggs, don’t be afraid to eat them before and after your workout. Eggs make a great refueling post-workout meal.

You can even take some exotic inspiration from Asia. Cook your favorite omelette, boil up some brown rice, then mix it up and drizzle with a little lemon and soy sauce. 

Oatmeal

Oats are insanely beneficial to our health. They are packed with antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. The benefits of oats are practically limitless. 

These grains are a good source of healthy carbs. Carbs are the body’s main source of fuel and nutrients to your brain, kidneys, heart, muscles and even the central nervous system. 

Oats are rich in antioxidants, one of the most beneficial is the avenanthramides. This form of antioxidant helps the blood vessels expand, making the blood flow easy. This is especially important after an intense workout.

One of the best effects oats have is making you feel full for a long time. This is due to the soluble fiber they contain. This fiber absorbs water and takes time for the gut to break down, leaving you with a satisfied feeling until next meal.

There are a few ways to get your oat-nutrients. One of the most common is porridge, which is boiled oats. You cook them in either milk or water, and they turn into a very sticky, mushy kind of texture. Some people like it, others don’t. 

A popular way to top off your porridge is with sugar and butter. But hold your horses! Instead of adding sugar and butter, try adding berries, yogurt or some natural honey. This will give the bland porridge some flavor.

You can buy instant oats in any grocery store, while these are still great, they are still marked as processed foods. It’s better to just cook the oats the old fashioned way. It actually doesn’t take that long.

Rice Cakes

Rice cakes or crackers are a light, post-workout snack. The crackers you should look for are made out of brown rice. If the packet says white rice, they won’t have as many nutrients.

Brown rice crackers have the same nutrients as you will find in regular brown rice. They are filled with fiber, carbohydrates and phytochemicals. These reduce the risk of certain chronic illnesses.

You can easily eat the rice cakes plain. But if you find that boring you could add a spoon of peanut butter to give a little flavor. Some people like to sprinkle a little salt over the top. See what you like.

Protein Shakes

Some people don’t like to eat after a workout. In this case, protein shakes are a great substitute. As the name implies, they are high in protein. 

Protein is essential for the body to repair cells, tissues and muscles after a workout. Protein shakes also help the body build muscle mass, this will give you a more taut look.

Solid foods take time for the body to digest. Replacing solids with a shake is a quick way of getting that protein fix.

There are a wide range of protein shakes available. You can find some that are made specifically for women, some for men. You can get vegan, and shakes that are for people over a certain age.

If you want to lose weight you'll probably like this video about what to eat before and after your workout to maximize fat loss:

Foods to Avoid After a Workout

You may be thinking that this is going to be the exact same list as the previous one before a workout. Think again. There are actually a few foods you should steer clear of after working out, some might surprise you

Fast Food

Yes, this may be obvious. Fast foods are in general not good for us. But munching on burgers and fries after working out will slow down your digestion. This will leave you even more bloated than you usually feel after eating fast food.

Raw Vegetables

Bet you didn’t see this one coming! Raw vegetables, like carrots, cucumber, celery and capsicums make delicious, quick, and healthy snacks to munch on.

They are not on this list because they are bad, they’re simply not enough. After a hard workout, your body needs energy, protein and other nutrients to help it recover. 

Chewing on a low-calorie carrot won’t do you much good. It might actually trigger your hunger and make you eat something you’ll regret later. However, you can always add veggies to your post-workout meal, as long as it's not the only thing you eat.

Salty Snacks 

A craving you might have after a workout could be something salty like chips or pretzels. Naturally, we sweat a lot when exercising, and a lot of salt escapes our body this way. So the salty craving after a workout is natural. But don’t give in just yet. 

Potato chips can lower the body’s potassium levels. Potassium is essential for the cells to recover.

Why Is It Important to Eat After a Workout?

Exercising puts our body under metabolic stress. While this does help to increase muscle mass, it also tires the body out. So refueling after a workout is vital. 

Eating something that is high in protein and carbohydrates is essential. This is the most effective way of getting fast-acting and long-lasting energy back to your body.

When to Eat After a Workout?

This depends on the intensity of the exercise. You probably feel tired, and maybe a bit lethargic, after an intense workout. So you might want to find something to eat quickly. Experts say, the harder the exercise, the sooner you should have a post-workout snack. 

It’s recommended to eat something 15 minutes to 2 hours after a workout. And remember to start with something light.

Conclusion

What you eat, and how much you eat will affect your workout and your results. Not eating before exercising, or eating the wrong things, will have consequences. 

Our body needs nutrients to work the way we need it to. Without the proper nutrients, the body will start “eating” itself. Meaning it will take whatever it can find to make energy. This often affects the muscles, which is why we feel tired or weak if we haven’t eaten.

Consuming something light but dense in nutrients before a workout is the best way to ensure your body is ready. You should avoid eating anything heavy or greasy. This won’t do you any good. 

Another great tip when losing weight is to drink lots of water. Water is the source of life. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day will help clean your body of toxins, and it will keep your body hydrated. Water will also make your complexion much brighter.

Following some of these tips on what to eat before and after working out will hopefully help you reach your fitness goals. If you have any questions on what to eat before and after working out, please let us know in the comments.

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