What to Eat Before Working Out (and After!)

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition
dumbbell and measuring tape with fresh fruits and vegetables

Want to make working out work even better for you? It all comes down to fueling right, before and after exercise. Now this may seem a little intimidating at first, but don’t sweat it! We’ve got your definitive guide to pre- and post-workout nutrition right here. Read on to find out what to eat before working out… and what you should chow down on post-sweat session.

Why Do We Need to Fuel Exercise?

What you eat before and after a workout is important, and can help you get better results from your hard work. Fueling up with the proper nutrients is like getting the right gear for your favorite activity—you can make do without it, but when you have the right stuff, you’re going to be able to perform more efficiently and feel better!

Where to Start

The two macronutrients to focus on for fueling your workouts are carbohydrates and protein (aka SmartCarbs and PowerFuels on the Nutrisystem program). They both play an integral role in fueling your body for specific situations.

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Pre-Workout: Carbs = Energy

When it comes to pre-workout, consider carbs your BFF. They’re easily digested and converted quickly into glucose, aka energy to fuel your workout. In other words, they fuel us so that we can exercise at maximum capacity. In fact, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 50 to 60 percent of energy used during the first one to four hours of exercise comes from carbohydrates.

Getting a mix of simple and complex carbohydrates before a workout will ensure a steady energy release. Simple carbs like fruit, break down more rapidly into glucose and give you a quick boost of energy for a strong start. Complex carbs like whole grains, sweet potato and oatmeal break down slowly into glucose, providing a slow release of energy throughout your workout.

Pre-Workout Snack Ideas:

Focus on complex and simple carbs, with a little protein.

  • 1/2 slice multigrain toast topped with 1/2 banana, sliced, and 1 tablespoon almond butter (counts as: 1 SmartCarb + 1 PowerFuel on Nutrisystem)
  • 1/4 cup dry oatmeal prepared with 1/2 cup skim milk and topped with 1/2 cup blueberries (counts as: 1 SmartCarb + 1/2 PowerFuel on Nutrisystem)
  • 1/4 cup cooked quinoa mixed with 2 tablespoons dried cranberries, 1 tablespoon slivered almonds, fresh herbs, lemon juice, salt and pepper (counts as: 1 SmartCarb + 1/2 PowerFuel on Nutrisystem)

Timing for Pre-Workout Snacks:

You’ll need to experiment with what works best for your body and the type of workouts you’re doing, but a good rule of thumb is to eat a snack somewhere between one to three hours before hitting the gym.

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Post-Workout: Protein = Recovery

As soon as possible after your workout, have a snack that’s focused on lean protein with some carbs to replenish the nutrients your body just used. When we exercise, we create small tears in our muscle fibers. Protein helps those muscles heal and grow stronger, which is ultimately the goal. And the faster this happens, the faster you recover—especially after weight training. Meanwhile, carbs will help restore the glycogen in your muscles that was depleted during training.

Post-workout snack ideas:

Focus on lean protein, with a little carbohydrate.

  • 1 Nutrisystem Protein Shake or a serving of your favorite protein shake mix blended with 1 cup unsweetened almond milk and 1 banana (1 PowerFuel + 1 SmartCarb + 1 Extra on Nutrisystem)
  • 1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt topped with 1/2 cup fresh berries (counts as: 1 PowerFuel + 1/2 SmartCarb on Nutrisystem)
  • 2 ounces sliced turkey and 1/4 cup hummus in romaine lettuce wraps (1 PowerFuel + 1 SmartCarb on Nutrisystem)

Timing for post-workout snacks:

The sooner, the better for post-workout fuel. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends eating a small snack 15 to 20 minutes after a workout, and your next regular meal three to four hours later.

With these guidelines in hand, we encourage you experiment and find the foods and timing that work best for you, so you can fuel up and hit the gym for some amazing results. Just don’t forget to pack that post-workout snack!