What To Eat Before, During, and After Every Kind of Workout

Confusion cleared: Here's what to snack on to get the most out of your sweat session.

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Whether eating for endurance or snacking for strength training, it's not always clear what will power your body the best.

Different forms of exercise need different kinds of fuel. Getting the right nutrition can give you an edge, whether competing with others or just with yourself.

Follow these expert guidelines on choosing and timing your snacks to power through your workouts with high-octane energy.


If you're tackling aerobic exercise, like hiking, biking, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), when you eat is just as key as what you eat.

Also, don't forget to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your workout. Fluids help regulate body temperature and blood pressure and transport carbohydrates, protein, and fats, which your body uses as energy.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, drink the following amount of fluids before, during, and after exercising:

  • Before: Drink two to four milliliters per pound of your body weight before working out.
  • During: Take small sips during your exercise to replenish fluids. In total, aim for 0.3 to 2.4 liters for every hour of exercise.
  • After: You'll want to hydrate enough to replenish any body weight that you lost while exercising. To know how much bodyweight you lose, weigh yourself before and after your workout. 

Fuel Up

Choose a pre-workout meal high in carbohydrates with some protein, like a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Carbohydrates fuel your exercise, while proteins help prepare your muscles for working out.

Research has found that eating at least four hours before exercise allows your body time to absorb the nutrients that supply energy during your workout.

According to one study published in 2020 in Nutrients, there were no key differences in workout performance when people consumed their pre-workout meals 15–75 minutes or 30–90 minutes before exercise.

However, if you're working out first thing in the morning, the American Heart Association recommends eating fruit, like an apple or a banana, about five to 10 minutes beforehand.

Working out with a full stomach can make you feel sluggish and uncomfortable, hindering your goals. If your cardio session lasts less than an hour, you likely won't need to snack again until after.

Recover From It

It's important to replenish your muscles soon after a workout so your body maintains its energy supply. Therefore, you should prioritize carbohydrates and protein, Leah Kaufman, RDN, New York-based nutritionist, told Health.

Your muscles store carbohydrates and protein to use as energy, aiding with recovery, in the first hour following your workout.

"A snack with this combination will aid muscle recovery and reduce soreness," said Kaufman. Opt for something small, like a cup of chocolate milk.

A review published in 2019 in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that trained athletes, such as cyclists and runners, tire out slowly, have low heart rates, and exert less energy when they drink chocolate milk during or after training than when they had a plain beverage. The researchers found that the effects of chocolate milk are similar to those of sports drinks.

After your workout, you'll also want to hydrate and replenish lost electrolytes. By hydrating and balancing electrolytes, you can avoid muscle cramps and fatigue. For instance, your body cannot properly transport energy without a balance of fluids and sodium.

Strength Training

Carbohydrates and protein are helpful for strength training.

Carbohydrates helps prevent muscle breakdown and fatigue. At the same time, protein helps regulate growth and repair, Marie Spano, RDN, former sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Hawks, told Health.

Also, as with cardio, don't forget to drink plenty of liquids before, during, and after your workout.

Fuel Up

According to one study published in 2022 in Nutrients, there's insuffient research to support guidance on meal timing for strength training.

Still, eating 15 grams of carbohydrates and 0.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight no longer than three hours before your workout may have benefits.

Recover From It

Protein holds the healing power your body needs. When you strength train, you cause tiny tears in your muscles. Your body needs protein to repair those tears and strengthen your muscle fiber, helping your muscles adapt and grow.

Consume a post-workout meal with about 20 grams of protein immediately after working out. For example, whey- or plant-based protein shakes and bar are good choices.

However, check the nutrition label to ensure you get at least 20 grams of protein. Also, keep in mind that some bars contain a lot of sugar and carbohydrates.

Prepping For a Race

Are you training for a 5K, 10K, or marathon? If so, practice your race menu. 

"Eating exactly what you plan to have on the day of the race will be beneficial in seeing how it affects your energy and stomach," explained Kaufman.

Fuel Up

The night before race day or a hard run, try a low-fiber, low-fat meal high in carbohydrates. So, yes, pasta works. However, research is unclear on whether carbo-loading the night before a big race, especially in women, is effective.

On the morning of your race, have a small, carbohydrate-filled breakfast. Try toast or a fruit smoothie.

If your race time is under one hour, don't worry about having a drink on hand while running. Still, depending on the climate and your activity level, you may sip on water during your race.

In contrast, for long events, you'll want to hydrate during your race. Also, aim to consume 30–90 grams of carbohydrates every hour, depending on your race length. Energy gels are a convenient on-the-go option.

Recover From It

As with other types of exercise, you'll want to hydrate enough to replenish any body weight that you lost while exercising. Also, as with other types of exercise make sure you're replacing lost electrolytes to fight muscle fatigue.

A good way to make sure you're hydrated is by monitoring your urine color. Dark-colored urine means you may be dehydrated and need more fluids. In contrast, light-colored urine means you're hydrated.

For intense weeks of training, drink tart cherry juice twice per day. A review published in 2017 in Current Sports Medicine Reports found that tart cherry juice reduces inflammation and muscle soreness in trained athletes. Also, the researchers found that the juice promotes muscle recovery. 

However, there's no consensus on what dose of tart cherry juice might be helpful. Still, the researchers found that a standard regimen for the athletes in the study was eight to 12 ounces, or 1 ounce of concentrate, twice daily. The athletes drank the juice for four to five days before their events and two to three days after for recovery.

A Quick Review

What you eat and drink before, during, and after a workout is key to getting the best results. Some pursuits, like weightlifting, require more protein than others. In contrast, you need more carbohydrates to fuel other activities, like endurance events. 

Choosing the right snack based on your activity and how long you'll be doing it is key. Also, make sure to drink enough water and replace lost electrolytes to fight muscle fatigue, especially for doing hard, long efforts or being in hot, humid conditions.

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16 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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