What Should You Eat Before and After a Workout?

Saad Rana Jul 20 2014

An effective workout depends on many factors – the most important being your diet. What you eat before a workout prepares your body for the stress it will undergo and what you eat after promotes muscle building and body repair. Your pre-workout meal is the last meal you eat before you begin your exercise. Aptly referred to as the energy portion, the purpose of the pre-workout meal is to ensure optimal performance during your workout. It effectively cuts down on muscle glycogen depletion, muscle protein breakdown, and post workout cortisol (stress hormone) levels. To fulfill all of these challenges, the pre-workout meal must be brimming with carbs and protein.

The post-workout meal is the meal you eat right after exercise. It is referred to as the anabolic portion, as anabolism refers to the building or rebuilding of something. Repair, replenish, recover and adapt are the primary goals of this meal, given the training stimulus that you have just provided to the body during your workout. The goal of a post-workout meal is to replenish muscle glycogen that was depleted during the workout, reduce muscle protein breakdown that occurred during the physical activity,  increase muscle protein synthesis, reduce muscle soreness and fatigue, enhance overall recovery, and reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels.

The Best Pre-workout Foods

Let’s take a look at some of the snacks that you should be eating before engaging in your regular exercise plan.

Whole wheat toast with sliced banana and cinnamon

When it comes to gearing up for exercise, carbs are your best friend. The key is to consume a mix of complex carbs and simple carbs so that energy release during your workout is slow and steady throughout your routine. Whole wheat toast with fruits gives you both types of carbs with the bonus of being super easy to digest. Complex carbs will keep your engine running while the fruit adds a kick of energy. For those following intense cardio exercise plans, bananas are an excellent way to replenish potassium within the body. For an added bonus, add cinnamon. The spice has been linked to stabilizing blood sugar levels and increasing brain function.

Greek yoghurt and Trail Mix

Yoghurt is easy on your stomach and when paired with trail mix, can give you the little rev you need. Just make sure you choose a mix that mostly consists of nuts and dried fruit. The healthy sugars from dried fruit provide a quick energy boost while seeds and nuts will keep insulin levels from dropping while you work out. Just make sure you don’t eat too many seeds and nuts as they are high in fat, and eating too much can make you slow down during your workout.


The perfect recipe for a delicious and healthy smoothie is as follows: use your favorite sliced fruit, add Greek yoghurt and granola for a thicker consistency, and finally include half a scoop of whey protein powder. The resulting drink will be replete with energy and wholesome goodness.

Oatmeal with fresh fruit

Oats are full of fiber and facilitate the gradual dissemination of carbohydrates within the body, keeping your energy levels constant during the workout.

Apple wedges with almond butter

Opt for an apple before your workout, simply because it will enable you to stock up on energy, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Take it up a notch by spreading a tablespoon of almond butter on apple wedges. It squashes hunger and increases energy.

Post workout

At this stage your body needs food that will not only replenish energy levels, but will also help the body to recover after the bout of physical exertion. The following post-workout foods are designed to meet this dual challenge.

Grilled chicken and mixed vegetables

Your body is in recovery mode so a nutrient dense dish is a must. The lean protein and carbohydrates inherent in chicken will fill you up without making you feel overly bloated. Add some veggies in olive oil to the mix for a helping of wholesome nutrients and essential minerals.

Veggie omelet and avocado

Eggs are a great source of protein and help aid in muscle recovery and growth. Switch it up from the usual scramble and make a veggie packed omelet. Garnish with a few slices of avocado to get a good helping of fiber and monounsaturated fats. Similar to olive oil, avocados can help your body absorb fat nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, E and K, more effectively.

Salmon with sweet potato

Aside from the usual protein perks, salmon has bioactive peptides which are small protein molecules that play a role in inflammation reduction, helping to regulate insulin levels and give you joint support. Sweet potatoes pack in those complex carbs, as well as help to restore glycogen levels.

Whole wheat tuna fish, hummus and spinach sandwich

Tuna is low in calories but high in protein and carbs. Hummus is a better spread to use than mayonnaise or mustard as it is rich in fiber. Spinach is a powerhouse, curbing your appetite and boosting complexion and lowering blood pressure and inflammation. Put these three exceptional foods together and you have yourself a lethal post-workout combo!

Chocolate milk

Chocolate milk has everything you need in one glass: carbs and protein for muscle recovery, water content to replace the fluids lost as sweat and calcium, and adequate amounts of sodium and sugar. All with the added benefit of great taste!

The Way Forward

Of course these meal suggestions are not the be all and end all of pre and post workout meals. Your personal trainer may suggest other options based on the intensity of your training schedule and your unique body type. What matters is that you take care of your body before and after exercise in order to prevent any subsequent health concerns.

Saad Rana

Saad Rana:

As a current dental student at Ziauddin University, Saad takes an interest in health, fitness and nutrition. He writes articles based on research through on-line publications as well as consulting various doctors and nutrition and fitness experts. When he's not writing for Health TV, you can find him studying, exercising or watching some of his favourite TV shows.