What to Eat Before and After a Workout, According to a Registered Dietitian

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Figuring out what to eat before and after a workout can be such a struggle but it’s worth it. When it comes to a pre-workout snack, what you choose to put in your mouth is important. If you’re going to put the machine that is your body through the paces you want to fuel it first with proper nutrition. And no, I’m not talking about pre-workout supplements. I’m talking about real, delicious meals and snacks. The kind of foods you would enjoy anyway—and will enjoy even more when you know they’re helping you reach your fitness goals.

Of course what you eat after a workout is really important too. Indeed refueling after exercise gives your body what it needs to recover from the exertion and helps you build bigger, stronger muscles.

That means being thoughtful about what you eat before and after exercising will help you maximize the benefits of all your hard work at the gym. So what’s the best pre-workout snack? And what’s best to eat after a workout? As a registered dietitian, I recommend the meals and snacks below. Consider them a critical part of your training plan.

What to eat before a workout:

I counsel my patients to eat before exercise because I think it will give them the best chance to get the most out of their workouts. Not eating enough before a workout can make you dizzy, lightheaded, nauseated, or lethargic. It can also make you more likely to injure yourself. And even if none of these things happen, skipping food can negatively impact your performance and reduce your gains.

But I know that realistically you won’t always have the time (or desire) to eat before a workout. On nights when you’re scrambling to get from the office to your favorite studio for that 6:00 p.m. class it might feel impossible to squeeze in a snack on the way. And what do you do if you’re a morning workout person who doesn’t like to eat breakfast? (Psst: It’s fine not to eat breakfast despite all that most-important-meal-of-the-day talk.)

The truth is that for most people it’s OK to work out on an empty stomach (though I would not recommend doing so if you have blood sugar issues). So if you can’t even grab a protein bar or the idea of forcing down a bite makes you want to gag, that’s all right. But ideally you should fuel up before you work up a sweat—and definitely, definitely drink water before, during, and after. Here’s how and what to eat before a workout.

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