A quick search for what to eat before and after a workout can lead to a dizzying amount of information. To help sort through the clutter, we asked our Registered Dietitians (RDs) for their favorite pre- and post-workout meals.
Every single RD we asked addresses hydration in some way. Some go simple by including water with whatever they eat before and after. Some hydrate with water heavy fruits and vegetables. Others include beverages like juice or milk (dairy and non-dairy) as part of a smoothie, bowl of cereal or just on its own. Hydration is critical before, after and during exercise.
The common goal of the pre-workout time for our RDs is quick, easy energy to fuel exercise. Yes, just about all of us are eating bananas before a workout. Other fruit and easy to digest carbs are also favorites including granola bars, cereal and toast. Not everyone is eating something before they workout. Pre-workout meals are best eaten at least an hour before exercise. Those who work out early often just get a quick cup of coffee before exercise. Unless your workout will be long and intense, it may not always be necessary to include something to eat before you start. For Leigh-Anne Wooten, getting the exercise in is the priority – “I like to roll out of bed and hop on my bike first thing in the morning before I can come up with excuses not to!”
While pre-workout is focused on energy, post-workout is focused on muscle recovery – carbohydrates to replenish energy stores and protein and other nutrients to support repair. Michelle Sadlowski likes to shoot for a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein to replenish glycogen and repair muscle. Here are some RD favorite carb/protein combos for after workouts:
Toast topped with:
- peanut butter, honey, and sliced banana
- an egg and 1/4 of an avocado
- kimchi and a fried egg
- fruit, coconut water and oat milk
- unsweetened almond milk, greens (carrot tops, beet greens, turnip greens, spinach, arugula, kale), fresh or frozen fruit or veggies, freshly grated ginger
- vanilla protein powder, a couple tablespoons of PB Fit powder, unsweetened almond milk and some ice cubes
- almond milk, whey protein powder, frozen strawberries
- Greek yogurt and dried fruit
- plain yogurt with honey, fruit and granola
- yogurt with nuts or seeds
Many RDs time their workouts so that a regular meal fills the post-workout need. Lizzy Mueller is a big breakfast fan. She enjoys eggs with cheese and veggies and toast with some almond butter and jam or honey. Megan Dudczak times her evening workouts so she is having dinner shortly after. She combines protein, starch and vegetables like salmon, rice and broccoli or chicken, green beans and quinoa.
When looking for quick and easy recovery options, RDs look to yogurt cups, nut butter bars, granola bars or cheese and fruit. Chocolate milk is also popular. For Deanne Brandstetter, post-workout is the only time she drinks it.
Thank you to all of the RDs who contributed! Vanita Achar, Chelsea Anderson, Danielle Beck, Deanne Brandstetter, Beth Cash, Kerry Cowart, Danielle Cushing, Stephanie Dorfman, Megan Dudczak, Jacqueline Ernst-Smith, Heather Farkas, Staci Gallahue, Joshua Head, S. Patrick James, Sahar Kraydi, Gisele Leger, Elena Mills, Lizzy Mueller, Elaina Munoz, Sarah Ryan, Michelle Sadlowski, Leigh-Anne Wooten, Emily Wunder