Before you lace up your sneakers or update your workout playlist, you may want to stop for a moment and consider your pre- and post-workout eating options. Breakfast isn’t the only important meal of the day — what you put into your body on either side of your workout can enhance results.
For registered dietitian and nutritionist Christine Rosenbloom, balance is key. You can’t run on empty during your workout, and you can’t constantly seek the “reward” of a high-fat or high-calorie food and expect to reap results. A pre-workout meal or snack revs up your body for exercise, and it is best to opt for something that will sit well in your stomach.
A post-workout meal or snack is equally crucial because it helps to reboot the body’s fuel sources and restore drained muscles. Carbohydrates that are easily digested are the best option, clinical nutritionist Parachi Baxi explains, because they fill up empty muscle glycogen stores, and then good proteins can help build lean muscle mass. The Mayo Clinic recommends pairing carbohydrates and protein for a post-workout meal or snack within two hours of exercising to maximize benefits.
Here’s a list of five foods to eat before and the five to choose after your workout to maximize your health.
1. Pre-workout: Greek yogurt and trail mix
Kati Mora, a registered dietitian, says this is a great combination, especially before going on a run. The Greek yogurt is easy to digest, and a nut, seed, and dried fruit trail mix offers energy to sustain the body at the start of the workout while protecting insulin from dropping in the middle. She cautions against overdoing the portion, though. Eating too many high fat-content seeds and nuts may have you prodding along in the middle of your fitness routine as your body works to digest.
2. Pre-workout: bananas and nut butter
Nutritionist Lara Dalch lists this as pre-workout snack because the combination provides protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Mora also likes bananas in a pre-workout mix because they can assist with potassium levels that can plummet when you sweat. Mora recommends placing the combo on whole wheat bread for the addition of both complex and simple carbohydrates.
3. Pre-workout: bagels and jam
If bananas aren’t your thing, registered dietitian Manuel Villacorta offers another option to get both complex and simple carbohydrates into your body by bringing together bagels and jam. ”Simple carbs burn quickly, like paper, while complex carbs burn like wood and take a little longer to provide energy,” he says, which is why Villacorta finds them essential for pre-workout eating.
4. Pre-workout: oatmeal
Associate professor of nutrition at the University of Utah Katherine Beals favors slow-cooked oatmeal, not the pre-packaged kind. A low-sugar carb, oatmeal energizes the body for the quick muscle contractions of working out. To keep your stomach settled while working out, Beals cautions to ”[a]void adding any granola, though — it’s heavy and can clog your digestive tract. Similarly, protein and fat combos are more difficult to digest and can cause bloating, cramping, and stomachaches.” Oatmeal and fruit is a better pairing, according to Beals.
5. Pre-workout: oranges
Pamela Nisevich Bede, a registered dietitian, puts oranges on her list of go-to foods when your workout is right around the corner. An orange has plenty of sugars to energize your activity and more than your daily needs for vitamin C. Bede says that vitamin C ”helps prevent muscle injuries and replaces collagen in muscle fibers that break down during exercise.” Her praise does not extend to orange juice, though, which is concentrated and gives you too many carbohydrates at once.
1. Post-workout: sandwich wraps
Dr. Louise Burke, head of Sports Nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport, finds sandwich wraps to be a great option for nutrition and portability. If you work out during your lunch break, Burke says, wraps are a portable way to take your meal to the office. “Wholegrain wraps are loaded with wholesome carbohydrates,” and Burke says to add chicken or turkey to incorporate protein.
2. Post-workout: salmon, vegetables, and rice
This one comes from registered dietitian Dana Angelo White, who says it is a great post-workout meal especially if you are working out after work but before dinner. The salmon is full of heart-healthy, omega-3 fats, in addition to being an ideal protein source for recovery. The brown rice and vegetables are a source for needed grains and vitamins, making this meal a one-stop shop for post-workout needs.
3. Post-workout: chocolate milk
For long workout sessions — those lasting more than an hour — chocolate milk is a sweet sipping option, according to registered dietitian Tristaca Caldwell. “Chocolate milk has a really good ratio of protein and carbohydrates — about one gram of protein for every three to four grams of carbs, the ideal ratio for a recovery food,” says Caldwell. It works no matter what kind of milk you drink — almond, soy, or dairy.
4. Post-workout: omelet with vegetables and avocado
Calling eggs “[t]he best protein source ever,” clinical nutritionist Baxi even includes the yolk in her praise. By making an omelet instead of scrambled eggs, vegetables can be added to the protein source. Mora likes avocados because they help the body absorb vitamins and have fiber plus good, monosaturated fats.
5. Post-workout: string cheese and crackers
If your after-workout meal will be delayed several hours, Rosenbloom says string cheese and crackers are the way to go. They provide needed nutrients — like carbohydrates and protein — to help your body repair after working out and can satisfy hunger until a full meal can be eaten. The Mayo Clinic also lists this combination as a snack for fulfilling nutrients and replenishing glycogen stores.