Here's Exactly What to Eat Before and After Every Type of Workout
From running to resistance training to yoga, here's what to eat to make sure you’re energized.
It may seem counterintuitive, but eating the right foods before and after exercise is one of the most important parts of having a worthwhile workout. Forget to nosh on something first and you could end up dizzy, drained, and not up to any amount of physical activity. But what you eat on the other end of your workout matters, too: your muscles get depleted of glycogen when exercising; proteins in your muscles get broken down as well.
Tailoring your pre- and post-workout meals to the type of exercise you'll be doing is key, says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition and wellness expert and author of Eating in Color. Here’s what foods she recommends for every type of sweat session (hint: the ideal pre-yoga snack is different from what you should be eating before a run) to give you energy, help you build lean muscle, and speed up your recovery process.
HIIT or Boxing
“It can be tough to strike a good balance between enough fuel to burn, and too much, which can make you nauseous when you’re doing explosive movements like burpees,” explains Largemen-Roth. “I like fueling with a combo of high protein cottage cheese, hydrating grapes and melon and two tablespoons of granola for some crunch.” This will keep you feeling full and energized until you can refuel afterwards.
An hour of HIIT or boxing can blast up to 800 calories, so make sure to recharge with something substantial, like a quinoa grain bowl. Largeman-Roth recommends combining half of an avocado with three ounces of tuna, roasted Brussels sprouts, beets, and a wedge of manchego cheese. This combination provides whole grain carbohydrates, 34 ounces of protein (from the tuna, 3/4 cup of cooked quinoa and an ounce of cheese), heart healthy fat from the avocado, fiber from the quinoa and sprouts and plenty of satisfying flavor. “A savory bowl like this has plenty of sodium to replace what you lost during your sweat session,” she adds. If you feel like you need more, sprinkle a little sea salt over your bowl.
Running creates quite a bit of jostling in your stomach, so many runners (understandably) eat very light before. “I find that a small bowl of oatmeal with a tablespoon of nut butter and half of a banana is enough to keep me energized before a morning run,” Largeman-Roth says. “Also, one of my favorite pre-run snacks is Ultimate Power Bites. Pop a couple of them for a great blast of quick-burning carbs and healthy fats for when you don’t feel like eating, but know you need something.”
And don’t forget: what’s really important is to start hydrating well before your run. Start sipping at least an hour ahead, because a belly full of water isn’t going to feel great. You can also opt to run with a water bottle and take small sips throughout.
Largeman-Roth recommends snacking on a yogurt bowl after a run. It’s easy to put together—just make a base of Greek or other low sugar yogurt and then layer on fresh berries, mango and kiwi, almonds, and a sprinkle of unsweetened coconut flakes. The yogurt provides protein to help repair micro-tears in muscles, plus magnesium in the almonds and potassium in the fruit to stave off muscle cramps. The antioxidants in the colorful fruit also help fight the free radical damage from intense exercise.
Depending on the style and intensity of yoga you practice, you might be doing inversions, twists and binds, which don’t work well if your stomach is too full. At the same time, you don’t want a growling belly to interrupt your practice. “Eating something small, like a Health Warrior Chia Bar (mango is my favorite!) is the perfect option,” says Largeman-Roth. “The chia seeds in the bars help you feel full from their fiber and protein content, and also boost hydration during class because the seeds absorb 10 times their weight in liquid.”
According to Largeman-Roth, the combo of whole grains, fruit, and just a little chocolate in this recipe for Raspberry Hazelnut Overnight Oats add up to the perfect post-yoga fuel. The best part is that it’s already waiting for you in your fridge, so you won’t be putting in overtime after your sweat session.
Lifting weights or doing body weight training like planks and push-ups requires a fully fueled and focused body. Since you’re not jumping around, it’s fine to take on some extra liquid in the form of a smoothie. Try this creamy Avocado Smoothie, which can be made with regular or dairy-free yogurt for a vegan version.
Make sure to take in protein within an hour of working out to help repair microtears in muscles. “I like to scramble up two eggs and have them on a toasted whole wheat English muffin with a base of fresh baby spinach. Sprinkle on some grated Parmesan cheese for a flavor boost,” says Largeman-Roth.