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.

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.

Cardio

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. And don't forget to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout.

Fuel Up

Choose a pre-workout meal low in fat and sugar, moderate in protein, and high in carbohydrates, like a smoothie made with almond milk, banana, and berries. 

Have your pre-workout meal 60–90 minutes before your workout. That time allows your body to digest your food and fuel your muscles.

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.

"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.

Within an hour, you'll want protein and electrolytes. So, try a protein smoothie made with coconut water.

Strength Training

Eat a balanced meal with carbohydrates and protein about an hour or two before you hit the weights. Also, don't forget to drink plenty of liquids during your workout.

Carbohydrates help 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.

Fuel Up

Stick to water for strength training sessions under one hour. If you're lifting longer than that, choose a sports drink. The carbohydrates in the sports drink will give you extra energy and aid recovery.

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.

Sip a water- or almond-milk-based whey protein shake containing 20–25 grams within one hour of working out. If you prefer a solid fuel source, have a protein bar. However, check the nutrition label to ensure you get all the protein you want. 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, you don't have to carbo-load with a vat of spaghetti.

On the morning of your race, have a small, carbohydrate-filled breakfast. Try a white bagel with almond butter and a banana. 

If your race time is under one hour, don't worry about having a drink on hand while running. In contrast, for long events, drink three to six ounces of fluid every 20 minutes and consume 30–60 grams of carbs every hour. Energy gels are convenient on the go.

Recover From It

Drink 16 ounces of fluid for every pound you sweat off during your run. You can tell by weighing yourself right before and after.

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.

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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.
  1. Beck KL, Thomson JS, Swift RJ, von Hurst PR. Role of nutrition in performance enhancement and postexercise recoveryOpen Access J Sports Med. 2015;6:259-267. doi:10.2147/OAJSM.S33605

  2. Amiri M, Ghiasvand R, Kaviani M, Forbes SC, Salehi-Abargouei A. Chocolate milk for recovery from exercise: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled clinical trialsEur J Clin Nutr. 2019;73(6):835-849. doi:10.1038/s41430-018-0187-x

  3. Stokes T, Hector AJ, Morton RW, McGlory C, Phillips SM. Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Exercise TrainingNutrients. 2018;10(2):180. doi:10.3390/nu10020180

  4. Vitale KC, Hueglin S, Broad E. Tart Cherry Juice in Athletes: A Literature Review and CommentaryCurr Sports Med Rep. 2017;16(4):230-239. doi:10.1249/JSR.0000000000000385

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