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Fuel Up Before and After Your Workout

Yasi Ansari, MS, RD, CSSD

National Spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

One of the best ways to include physical activity in your busy schedule is to do it in the morning. But before you slip on your gym shoes to start your routine, don’t forget to fuel your body with healthful food.

Before working out

Eating breakfast before exercise provides you with the fuel you’ll need to function at your best. Eat a snack at least one hour before exercising — or a meal two to three hours before — to give your body enough time to process your food. Experiment with different timeframes to see what works best for you.

Your pre-workout food should support your planned physical activity. A high-intensity workout, such as kickboxing or running, will require more fuel than a moderate-intensity activity, such as a brisk walk.

Any pre-exercise breakfast should include at least 16 ounces of water one to two hours before training to hydrate your body. Your meal should be high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and low in fat. Carbohydrates fuel your activity, so the harder and longer you plan to exercise, the more carbs you’ll need before training. During this time, a small portion of protein can help to sustain energy before training. 

Some pre-workout breakfast ideas include a peanut (or almond) butter and jelly sandwich on whole-grain bread, or oatmeal with berries and nuts.

After working out

Within an hour after exercising, if you do not plan to eat a meal within a few hours, eat a snack of carbs and protein to help rebuild and repair your muscles and restore energy. Some snack ideas include a whole-grain turkey wrap with vegetables and a cup of low-fat milk.

If you have just completed a high-intensity workout, your body might need more of a post-workout meal such as a sandwich on whole grain bread. Keep drinking water to hydrate your body before, during, and after exercising.

Most people can get enough protein through food to help the body repair itself after a workout. However, if you are considering using protein powder for its convenience, discuss this with a registered dietitian nutritionist. They will assess your specific nutritional goals and needs to recommend protein supplements with high-quality ingredients that are right for you. Eating nutritious foods and getting enough physical activity can make a significant difference in your health. Visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ online Find an Expert service to find a registered dietitian nutritionist to help you create a personalized eating plan tailored to your lifestyle, food preferences, and physical activity goals. 

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