Looking to get more out of your sweat sessions? Feeling fatigued and simply going through the motions when you exercise? Your diet may be partly to blame, as you might be exercising on empty and need to fuel up. Or you may need to replace nutrients and fluids more regularly after hitting the gym. Dietitians recommend healthy pre- and post-workout snacks for workouts more than 60 minutes in order to stabilize blood sugar, maximize energy and optimize recovery and future performance.
Before you raid the kitchen, note that it isn’t mandatory that you eat prior to exercise, but it is good if you are feeling tired or it has been many hours since you last ate. Most experts recommend that you do NOT eat immediately before an exercise session, because this can cause stomach distress and creates competing demands on the body to digest while simultaneously demanding muscle performance.
The general suggestion is to eat a snack 30 minutes to 3 hours prior to a workout, but you can experiment with different timing to see what works best for you. If the reality is that you must consume a quick energy bar on your way to the health club, and that doesn’t seem to hinder workouts, then go for it.
Early-morning exercisers differ in their preferences. Some can’t stomach the thought of eating at 4:30 a.m., while others feel that the calories boost their energy and fend off sluggishness. While a big meal isn’t necessary, a banana or some yogurt can jump-start your engine after you’ve been fasting while asleep the past several hours.
So what to eat? Remember, this is not a meal, but simply a small snack around 100-300 calories. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics calls for carbohydrates to fuel muscles and protein to help access amino acids for muscle needs. Here are some tasty choices:
- A peanut butter and banana or PBJ sandwich
- Greek yogurt with berries
- Oatmeal with low-fat milk and fruit
- Apple with peanut or almond butter
- Handful of raisins and nuts (two parts raisins: one part nuts)
- Energy bar with 25-40 grams of carbohydrates and 10 grams of protein
- Hummus and cut-up veggies
- Slice of turkey on whole grain bread
- Hard-boiled egg with whole grain crackers
- Protein smoothie
- 1-3 cups of water
The body uses glycogen, or stored energy, during exercise, and a post-workout snack can help replace this energy, along with providing protein and amino acids to repair and rebuild muscles. And the key here is timing – with recommendations to eat 15-20 minutes after your session. That might make for a quick shower! Remember to keep the portions small (150-300 calories), and skip altogether if you’re eating a full meal soon.
Similar to pre-exercise food, carbs and protein, along with water, are on the menu for post-workout snacks:
- Smoothie with low-fat/skim milk and fruit
- Low-fat/skim chocolate milk
- Turkey on a whole-grain wrap with veggies
- Yogurt with berries
- Graham crackers with peanut butter
- Avocado-tuna salad on toast
- Rice cake with nut butter
- Apple slices with cheese on crackers
- Spinach and egg white omelet
- Quinoa with cooked veggies and chicken
- Salmon with ½ sweet potato
- Cottage cheese with ½ a blueberry bagel
- Simple trail mix with nuts and dried fruit
- Popcorn with a sprinkle of protein whey powder
- 1-3 cups of water
Pre- and post-workout snacks can help you to feel stronger and power through workouts, taking on more intense challenges and benefitting from better results. Use these suggestions as a guideline, and don’t force yourself to eat if doing so makes you feel worse or impairs your performance.