What to Eat Before and After Working Out

By Tracy Hampton, PhD
BIDMC Correspondent
Getting the most out of exercise involves not only being committed to getting ample physical activity, but also making good choices about what to eat before and after working out.
“It’s important to be nourished and well-hydrated when exercising on a regular basis,” says Elisabeth Moore, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Moore says that people have different preferences and levels of comfort regarding pre-workout eating. For someone who exercises first thing in the morning, she says it’s most important to be hydrated and to drink water before and during the workout. Eating something small ahead of time is also helpful.
“When choosing something before exercise, choose something that has carbohydrates in it to give you a quick energy boost. A banana with a little peanut butter provides carbohydrates and a little protein,” Moore says.
If you exercise later in the day, Moore recommends experimenting with what works best, but try to eat something in the few hours leading up to exercise, whether it be a meal or snack.
“Do not exercise if you haven’t eaten in a long time — for example, make sure to eat a snack if you ate lunch at 12 p.m. and are going to the gym at 5 p.m.”
After working out, it’s best to try to eat as soon as possible and to combine carbohydrates with protein to best replenish your body.
“Yogurt and a piece of fruit, a peanut butter sandwich or oatmeal with a hard boiled egg would be appropriate,” Moore offers.
While protein is important, you don’t need to overdo it if you’re exercising moderately. Also, someone who is exercising for 40 minutes at low-medium intensity may not need as much to eat before and after as someone who is training to run a marathon or who is exercising vigorously.
Certain foods — such as high-fat desserts and fried foods — don’t pair well with exercise, of course.
“Also, anything that doesn’t agree with you or causes excessive burping or gas may be best to avoid before exercise,” says Moore.
In terms of beverages, electrolyte drinks like Gatorade or Powerade are typically not needed for an average person exercising, but they can provide benefits during intense workouts and/or when exercising in extreme heat.
“Water will usually do the trick,” says Moore. “Drink throughout the day before your workout, during your workout, and after your workout,” she recommends.
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.