Getting the right nutrients before and after your workout can improve performance and keep you healthy. That’s why we spoke with Jennifer Lowrie, RDN, CSSD, LDN, CDE, a board specialist in sports dietetics dietitian at Atrium Health, to get tips that you need to fuel your workout.

Your Health, Nutrition and Fitness | one month ago

The Key to a Great Workout Starts in the Kitchen

Getting the right nutrients before and after your workout can improve performance and keep you healthy. That’s why we spoke with Jennifer Lowrie, RDN, CSSD, LDN, CDE, a board specialist in sports dietetics dietitian at Atrium Health, to get tips that you need to fuel your workout.

Consistent exercise is one of the cornerstones of a healthy lifestyle. But paying attention to what you eat before and after you workout is crucial if you’re looking to exercise effectively and safely.  

With plenty of conflicting information about pre- and post-workout routines, it’s important to cut through the confusion and ask the nutrition experts. We spoke to Jennifer Lowrie, RDN, CSSD, LDN, CDE, a board certified specialist in sports dietetics dietitian at Atrium Health, to get information and tips about fueling your workout with the right food at the right time.

Avoid an empty stomach

“Food equals energy,” reminds Lowrie. If you start your workout on an empty stomach, you run the risk of not having adequate energy to exercise at a high level. When your muscles are not well fueled and well hydrated, your endurance and strength could decreases and risk of injury increases. In short, working out while hungry is not recommended.

What’s the ideal fuel before a workout?

When it comes to pre-workout fuel, it’s hard to beat carbohydrates. “A well-balanced meal 3-4 hours before a workout that includes healthy carbohydrates like whole grain bread/rice with a lean protein like grilled chicken with vegetables would be ideal,” says Lowrie.

Here are a few meal ideas to eat 3-4 hours before exercise:

  • Two pieces of whole grain toast or waffles and 2 eggs with a piece of fruit
  • Deli sandwich (turkey or ham 2-4 ounces) with fruit and low-fat glass of milk
  • 2-3 ounces of grilled chicken, 3/4 brown rice and green beans

 

For a quick energy boost, eat a small carbohydrate snack if it’s been more than 3 hours since your last meal one hour before exercise:

  • Granola bar
  • Fruit like banana, grapes and melon
  • Dry cereal
  • Bagel

Be aware that foods high in fat, protein, and fiber will take longer to digest and can cause gastrointestinal issues while working out, so try to choose easy to digest carbs the closer you get to a workout.

What about after a workout?

“After a workout you should focus on refueling and repairing with a snack containing both a carbohydrate and protein,” says Lowrie. “Consuming your snack as soon as you are finished is ideal but within 45 minutes is your goal.”

Lowrie recommends eating and drinking these recovery snacks within 15-45 minutes after a more intense work out if you don’t plan to eat a meal with in an hour or two of completion of your workout

  • Chocolate milk
  • Fruit and Greek yogurt (can be made into a smoothie as well)
  • Recovery bar (Look for a bar that has 15-25 grams of protein and 15-30 grams of carbohydrates)

Finally, eat a healthy well balanced meal two hours after working out. Lowrie recommends baked chicken, pasta, salad and glass of low-fat milk as a particularly balanced post-workout meal.

How much you need to eat can vary

While we’ve provided you with some nutrient recommendations, note that these vary from person to person. “The amounts of nutrients needed before and after exercise depend on your goals and body composition as well as the type and intensity of exercise performed,” explains Lowrie.


Quick tips

  • Cardio workouts require more energy in the form of carbohydrates like fruits, milk and grains to fuel them. If you’re only doing strength training, you should have a small amount of protein both before and immediately after your workout.
  • Sports drinks, gels, and powders can be useful in certain situations, but food should always be your top choice when fueling or replenishing your body. Gatorade can come in handy if you’re exercising for over 60 minutes and want to replenish your fluids and electrolytes.
  • Supplements can be useful, but getting your nutrients from food is always best. A pre-workout carb-rich snack is usually superior.
  • If you’re following a low-carb diet, you may not be replenishing your glycogen stores throughout the day, which means you will not be able to work out at a desirable intensity.
  • Be sure to include fluids with all meals and snacks. Hydration is key!