Self Care & Wellness Ideas

What to Eat Before and After a Workout, According to Nutritionists

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We all know that working out is important to keep our bodies strong, but exercising regularly can also benefit your mental health, energy levels and even your skin. To get the best results, regular exercise is important, but you also want to pay attention to what you put into your body pre- and post-workout. Certain foods can help maximize your performance, but other foods can slow you down and hinder your results.

“Just like how cars can’t run without proper fuel, neither can our bodies,” says Lindsey Joe, RDN, LDN. “Adequate nutrition before and after a workout can give your body the energy it needs to perform at its peak and support your fitness goals, whether it’s to tone up, strengthen or get some booty gains,” notes Joe.

To help you make the most out of your trip to the gym, you’ll want to pay attention to these best foods to eat before and after a workout, according to nutritionists.

Before a Workout

Before a workout, it’s best to keep it simple and whole. “Timing is important as it’s best to not have your body digesting while working out,” says holistic nutritionist Shauna Faulisi. “This will rob you of energy you could have spent on your workout,” she adds.


  • Carbohydrates: For the best boost in energy before a hard workout, carbohydrates are easier and faster to digest than foods high in protein and fat. “The best time to eat ranges from one hour to four hours before working out, depending on the size of the snack or meal,” says Megan Casper, MS, RDN. Rather than opting for a big bowl of white pasta—as delicious as that may be—you’ll want to stick to complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and brown rice, which are the longest lasting and will give you the most energy. “If you’re noshing right before or during a workout, or feel a bit queasy after a whole grain snack, simple carbohydrates like those found in rice cakes, raisins, or applesauce will digest more quickly,” she notes.
  • Fruit: Fruits are a great way to get your carbohydrates in without feeling weighed down. “Fruit contains energy-boosting carbohydrates—not to mention satiating fiber and phytochemicals—that are easy to digest and enjoy,” says Joe. Consider something like a banana, raisins, grapes, or oranges.
  • Nuts: It’s useful to add in a little bit of healthy fats before your workout, which makes nuts a great option. “Try some clementine oranges with a few unsalted nuts,” says Joe. The combination of healthy fats and carbohydrates will help keep you fueled without weighing you down.


  • Sugary Foods: You’ll want to steer clear of any sugar-rich energy bars or sports drinks. “All types of sugar should be avoided,” says Faulisi. “This includes chemical-rich energy drinks, conventional electrolyte drinks and the like,” she explains.
  • Heavy Foods: Avoid heavy foods, such as high-fat or fried foods, spicy foods or anything too fiber-heavy. “Anything heavy is likely going to slow you down come your sweat session,” says Joe. “These exact foods differ from person to person so it’s important to listen to your body and how it reacts to various pre-workout foods to avoid feeling bloated, cramped or even nauseous,” adds Joe.

After a Workout:

Make sure you eat 15 minutes to an hour after your workout—when your body is primed to receive fuel and start the recovery process. “If we wait too long to eat after a workout, our energy drops, and our cortisol spikes,” says Faulisi. “Cortisol stores fat and will prevent your muscles from recovering properly,” she explains.


  • Protein: Eating a high-quality protein post-workout is essential for muscle development and recovery. “Stick to a high-quality protein source like grass-fed collagen, plant-based hemp protein, organic meats and organic pastured eggs,” says Faulisi. If you like to load up on intense protein shakes, you might want to think again. “Keep in mind that too much protein can be problematic due an excess of amino acids that convert to glucose in the body,” she says. “Too much glucose increases insulin and stores fat in the body,” she adds.
  • Healthy Fats: “Fat will help lessen the glucose load and without it, our hormones cannot function properly,” says Faulisi. In addition to your protein, add high-quality extra virgin olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, grass-fed butter or raw nuts—all of which are anti-inflammatory and good sources of fat.
  • Leafy Vegetables: “Incorporating above-ground leafy vegetables after a workout will help neutralize the acid that’s released,” says Faulisi. “We want to keep our bodies in a state of alkalinity, otherwise the body will leach calcium from the bones to neutralize,” she notes.


  • Dessert: It’s tempting to reach for a treat to reward yourself after a workout, but just as sugar should be avoided before, it should also be avoided after. “It’s common to crave sugar after a workout because [your body] needs replenishing and sugar temporarily makes us feel great,” says Faulisi. “Avoid it at all costs. Keep your body feeling great long-term by nourishing it with water, minerals, protein, fat and phytonutrients,” she recommends.
  • Alcohol or Caffeine: A cocktail or a cup of coffee might sound like the best way to unwind after a full-body exercise, but you’re better off steering clear of drinks with alcohol or caffeine. “Avoid alcohol and caffeine due to their diuretic effects,” says Joe. “They dehydrate you and you want to rehydrate post sweat session,” she explains.

Freelance Writer

Carina Wolff

Carina Wolff is a health and wellness writer based out of Los Angeles. She graduated from New York University with a degree in journalism and psychology. When she’s not writing, doing yoga or exploring mountains and beaches, she spends her time cooking for her healthy food blog, Kale Me Maybe.