Whether your goal is weight loss or muscle gain, the right nutrition makes a big difference in your workout. Choosing healthy carbohydrates, protein, and fats ensures you have the energy you need to both power through and recover from your exercise routine.
Think about food like the gas in your car—you’re not going to get very far without it! And working out on an empty stomach (like an empty tank of gas!) could actually hurt instead of help your weight loss goals.
Learn more about the right nutrition to both fuel your workout and refuel your resources:
Before You Workout: Carbohydrates
Exercise uses up a lot of energy, especially high-intensity exercises like cardio. That’s why 1-3 hours before exercising, you want to load up on healthy complex carbohydrates. (1)
Carbohydrates break down to glucose—your body’s preferred source of energy. Without enough glucose, your body starts breaking down the amino acids in your muscles. (2)
In other words, your body needs to get energy from somewhere. And if you’re not providing it through its preferred source, it’ll turn elsewhere. And “elsewhere” is usually not fat but muscle tissue. (Unless you’re following a strict keto diet!)
This means that if you’re frequently exercising on zero fuel this could result in a loss of muscle mass, lower bone density, hormonal issues, and many other possible health concerns. (1)
You’re also going to feel exhausted! You’re asking your body to perform a high-demanding activity on a low tank of gas. This decreases the effectiveness of your workout and increases your risk of injury and illness. Your body is simply not equipped to perform the task you’re asking it to do.
But What if I’m Trying to Lose Weight?
We’re often told that carbs are the enemy of weight loss goals. But that’s a dieting myth! Your body needs carbs to stay healthy and happy. And when you enjoy healthy carbs pre-workout, your body will burn calories instead of valuable muscle mass.
It’s also important to keep in mind that carbs represent a very broad category that includes everything from cookies to vegetables. So it’s not about cutting out carbs, but about being intentional about the types of carbs you’re putting in your body. Aim for complex carbs, which includes foods like fruit, whole grains, legumes, beans, and vegetables. (3)
Delicious & Healthy Pre-Workout Snack Ideas
Now that you know why complex carbs are so important, let’s take a look at some wholesome pre-workout snack ideas to nourish and motivate you!
You don’t need a big meal before you workout! A healthy snack enjoyed 1-3 hours before exercise is enough to help maintain your glucose levels so you’re energized and ready to go. (4)
You’ll want to aim for high-carb and moderately low protein and fat food sources. It’s not that protein and fat aren’t great for your workout, but they don’t digest as quickly as carbs. So depending on how much time you have between snacking and exercising, high-fat and protein foods could cause bloating or cramping. Or make you feel slow or sluggish. (4,5)
Here are some great healthy high-carb snack options to try before your next workout: (2,5)
- Low-sugar Greek yogurt with fruit and granola
- Banana or whole-wheat toast with peanut butter
- Oatmeal topped with berries, nuts, and seeds
- Veggies or whole-grain crackers with hummus
- Whole-grain cereal with skim milk
- A smoothie or diet shake loaded with fruits and veggies
- Orange or apple slices (perfect if you don’t have a lot of time, like our early-morning workout fans!)
After You Workout: Protein and Carbs
Immediately after finishing your workout, you’ll want to load up on high-quality protein (and more carbs!) to support your body’s recovery. Studies vary on exactly when is the best time to consume protein post-workout. But generally, it’s best to enjoy a high-protein and carb snack within 30 minutes to an hour of finishing your workout.
Why Protein and Carbs?
Now that you’ve used up a ton of energy, it’s time to replace that energy with more healthy, complex carbohydrates. And you’ll also want to load up on protein to help build and repair your muscle tissue. Both carbs and protein support your body’s recovery process. They help your energy levels and muscles safely and quickly bounce back from your workout. (1,5)
And don’t forget healthy fats! It’s also important to get enough healthy fats throughout your day, including after your workout. High-fat foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, or fatty fish help give your body a much-needed post-workout energy boost from absorbing key vitamins and nutrients. (1)
Delicious & Healthy Post-Workout Snack Ideas
While you can feel free to load up with a full meal post-workout, you can also try some healthy post-workout snacks that offer a great mix of high protein and carbs. (3,5) Here are some fantastic suggestions:
- Low-fat chocolate milk
- Cheese and whole-wheat crackers
- Greek yogurt with nuts, seeds, and fruit
- Peanut butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread
- Tuna or deli meat slices
- Veggies and hummus
- Hard-boiled egg
- Roasted chickpeas
- Bean dip with whole-wheat crackers or veggies
- A healthy mix of nuts and seeds
- A delicious protein or diet shake!
Protein Shake Powders: The Perfect Post-Workout Snack
A protein shake is a great post-workout snack! It offers a quick and easy burst of protein to help your body recover and grow back stronger. Plus you can take them on-the-go, so even if you’re running from one thing to the next you’re still replenishing the nutrients your body needs.
But not all protein and diet shakes are the same. To optimize your workout recovery and health there are a few things you’ll want to look out for when choosing the right protein powder for you:
- 15-20g of quality protein (like pea or brown rice protein!)
- 2-5g of dietary fiber
- 0g of sugar (learn about the health benefits of cutting out added sugar!)
- Essential vitamins & minerals
Then blend your protein powder with some complex carbs to help replenish your body’s glycogen stores and support better energy and digestion post-workout. Need more shake suggestions? Head to our blog for tips on how to make the perfect post-workout protein shake.
Ready to pick out the best protein shake powder for you? Check out our in-depth reviews of the top diet shakes right now—including our #1-rated powder, 310 Shake. This plant-based shake offers clean ingredients, 15g of protein, 5g of dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, adaptogens, superfoods, and more.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein for a sedentary lifestyle is 0.36 grams per pound (0.8g/kg) of body weight. But this is the bare minimum you need to avoid a protein deficiency. If you live a more active lifestyle, or your goals include weight loss or muscle building, you’ll want to consume more. (6)
The right amount for you depends on your personal needs, activity levels, and goals. But in general, you’ll want to aim for 10-35% of your daily calories to come from high-quality protein sources like fish, low-fat meat, or plant-based protein. So if you’re eating 2,000 calories a day, that would be around 200 to 700 calories of protein. (6)
And the more active you are, the more calories (and protein!) you need. Head to this helpful calorie calculator for a ballpark estimate based on your gender, weight, height, and activity levels. Or connect with your primary care doctor or a dietitian for more personalized protein recommendations.
Don’t Forget to Stay Hydrated!
And last but certainly not least is H2O! Your body needs plenty of water before, during, and after your workout. Water helps keep things moving in your body—supporting your digestive system, immune health, and more.
It’s also super important for your workout! As you’re exercising it helps replace the water you’re sweating out, regulates your body temperature, flushes out toxins, and helps deliver nutrients and oxygen to hard-working muscles. And some studies say that the more hydrated you are, the easier your workout feels. (3) Giving you yet another reason to keep a water bottle handy as you’re exercising!
The recommended daily intake of water is 13 cups for adult men and 9 cups for adult women. To ensure optimal hydration and exercise performance, drink 2 to 3 cups about 2 to 3 hours before your workout. And then another 2 to 3 cups once you finish! (5)
And opt for water over sports drinks unless you’re exercising for longer than 60 minutes. (5) While sports drinks provide extra electrolytes, they also tend to be incredibly high in sugar. It’s not worth the calories unless you’re doing a lot of sweating.
P.S. If you think water is boring, check out our blog on innovative ways to stay hydrated in the heat!
Listen to Your Body
The above tips offer helpful guidance on what to snack on pre and post-workout. But you know your body best. Listen to the signs your body is giving you and do what feels right for you.
At the end of the day, it’s about powering your workout, supporting your recovery, and making progress toward your biggest health and wellness goals. And that journey looks different for everyone!
Head to our blog for more tips and suggestions for your health journey. And check out our in-depth reviews of the top diet shakes that’ll help complement your workout routine (while supporting your weight loss goals!).