The Rungry Health Coach

How to Fuel Before and After a Workout

Pre- and post-workout nutrition can be really confusing.

There are many, many, many, many tips, suggestions, recipes, blogs on the topic...and you've probably read most of them. And yet, you still have some confusion. 

"Do I need a full meal before I workout in the morning?"
"Does that 30-minute feeding window really exist after a workout?"
"Wait! I can't even get home from the gym in 30 minutes!"
"I ran five miles today...GIVE ME ALL THE FOOD!"

This is just a small sampling of the inner monologue you're probably having.

But pre- and post-workout nutrition doesn't have to be overly complicated. Ultimately, put emphasis on real, unprocessed foods like oats, eggs, veggies, nuts, fruits and lean meats. Also, when fueling, consider your current activity levels and current goals. Someone training for a marathon is going to fuel differently after a run than someone who just finished a 30-minute weight workout at the gym, and they both are going to fuel differently than someone who is looking to lose weight. 

Fruits Veggies On Cutting Board

Pre-Workout Nutrition

There are two schools of thought on this...and neither are wrong. 

Pre-workout nutrition often depends on when the workout is. For those who enjoy to workout first-thing in the morning, many can workout on an empty stomach. When the body has not been fed, it's in a fasted state. And it is in this state, where the body can burn fat as fuel. Once the body eats, it switches to burning carbs as fuel. Some people don't like working on a full stomach--it feels heavy and sloshy. But, some people really do feel better with a little something. A small snack like half a protein bar or banana may do the trick. If you're going to eat before a workout, stick to something like fruit, juice or a whole-food protein bar that can be used as quick energy.

But others just feel they perform their best after a meal. In that case, you may want to wait at least an hour for the food to properly digest before getting into your workout. (When you eat right before a workout, your body is competing to both digest food and help you workout.) For the meal, stick to real foods, and a good combination of protein, complex carbs and fats. Oatmeal with berries, Greek yogurt with berries, peanut butter and apples, or chicken with sweet potatoes are all great options. 

Ideally, listen to your body. If you're hungry first thing in the morning, then have a little something. If you're ravenous and have the time, then treat yourself to a full meal.

If you're working out later in the day, like after work, you may need a little something to tide you over as you workout...especially if you didn't have a snack in between lunch and getting home. 

(Some companies do sell drink mixes that are used for pre-workout energy. Me personally, I do not think they are needed. If you want to try one out, read the ingredients and make sure they are all real ingredients that you feel good about ingesting.)

Your activity level and the extent and intensity of your workout all play a role in this. 

Couple Running_copy

Post-Workout Nutrition

Just like pre-workout nutrition, there are different ways to fuel after a workout. 

The post-workout snack or meal should contain protein and carbohydrates. Protein is needed to repair muscles and help them recover. When your body is working out, you're burning energy. Carbs are needed to help replenish your body's energy stores, which were depleted during exercise. You can either have a snack, or slide right into a meal like breakfast. 

Ideally, you'll refuel within 30 to 60 minutes after a workout. That's the body's sweet spot when it needs replenishing and can really utilize those nutrients. Oatmeal with peanut butter, homemade protein bar, eggs and whole-grain toast, turkey meat on a whole-grain wrap, or smoothies made with a healthy mix of fruits and veggies, are all great options. Smoothies are an ideal snack because they are easy to digest and can pack a nutritional punch. 

Some people just aren't hungry after a workout, or aren't very hungry. In that case, honor your hunger cues and either have maybe a small smoothie, half a protein bar or something with a little protein and carbs.

(When someone workouts in a fasted state, and does not immediately refuels afterwards, but instead waits hours for a snack or meal, that is called intermittent fasting. It's not for everyone.) 


Have more questions on fueling? Drop me a note!