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Food for Exercise - What to Eat Before, During and After Workout

Updated on April 11, 2020
greatstuff profile image

Mazlan didn't think much about fitness and health before, but as age crept up on him he realized the importance of staying fit and healthy.

How To Eat Right for Your Health Fitness Goals

If you know how to eat right and follow a well-planned fitness program, you will burn fat, build muscles and improve your cardiovascular health.

Eating the right food for exercise depends on your health fitness goals. Is it to lose weight, to lower cholesterol level, to build muscle and strength, or just want to improve your general well-being?

The intensity of your exercise and the time you spent exercising will also decide on how often you should eat and drink. Some exercise needs more energy, like cross-country cycling.

Fitness Goal & The Right Food For Exercise

Irrespective of your goal, the following guidelines will meet most of your health fitness goals. Follow them, and you will benefit greatly.

1. Set Fitness Goals

Setting your fitness goal is the most important step to a healthier lifestyle. Decide if you want to lose body fat, lower your high blood pressure or to build muscle and endurance.

2. Importance Of Staying Hydrated

Water helps to regulate the body temperature and when you exercise, it helps to cushion joints. This is important as you lose water through sweating when you exercise. So, drink lots of water before, during and after your exercise.

Drink only plain water or mineral water as it has no calories. But with mineral water, it helps replaces sodium and potassium that you lose through sweating.

Some people prefer to take a sports drink. This is high in calories and some brands have high levels of sodium, so choose wisely.

Energy drink is not a healthy drink either as it has a high level of caffeine and other stimulants. Your body doesn't need them, so it's wise not to take an energy drink. If you need that 'pick me up' drink, a sports drink is a better choice.

If you are a coffee or tea drinker, try green tea instead. Catechins, an ingredient that is present in green tea are powerful antioxidants that are known to increase your metabolic rate. This is good to burn off those excess fats!

You can check if you are properly hydrated from the color of your urine, which should be pale yellow.

NOTE: Difference Between Sports Drink And Energy Drink

Energy drink contains stimulants, caffeine, and sugar to give a temporary boost to performance. Sports drink contain no stimulants, only carbohydrate, and salts to replace what was lost in sweat. Examples of energy drinks are Red Bull, Rockstar, and Mountain Dew. Examples of sports drinks are Accelerade, Gatorade, and 100plus.

Important to stay hydrated so drink water before, during and after your exercise
Important to stay hydrated so drink water before, during and after your exercise | Source

3. Food For Exercise

What To Eat BEFORE Exercise

If you exercise in the morning, good breakfast in a hurry will be two slices of whole-grain bread with peanut butter or raw almonds or bananas.

You need energy for exercise so it is important that you eat something. It will prevent a drop in blood sugar levels, which can make you feel listless or giddy when you work out.

The following type of food to eat before exercise is easy on your digestive system and hence, will reserve some energies for your workout:

  • Juiced or Blended Foods - These are 'pre-digested food' so less effort is required during digestion.
  • Food With Easy-to-Digest Carbohydrates - These include sweet potatoes, yam, white potatoes, taro and rice
  • Proteins That Are Easy to Digest - Eggs, steaks, cheese, and bacon take a longer time for the digestive system to work on. Instead, drink hydrolyzed whey protein.
  • Fats That Are Easy to Digest - Example is the MTC oil that bypasses the digestive process and gets absorbed directly into the liver to produce a quick source of energy (e.g. coconut oil and palm oil)
  • Less Caffeine Intake - Although caffeine is good to boost your workout, too much caffeine will put extra stress on the adrenal glands. This can lead to fatigue, weight gain, insomnia, and even depression. As a guide, a small cup of strong coffee is more than sufficient to increase endurance and improve your workout performance.

When To Eat Before Exercise

Eat one hour before exercise for a small snack. For small meals, eat two to three hours before you exercise, and for large meals, exercise only after three to four hours of eating.

What To Eat DURING Exercise

If you do more than one hour of exercise and need to take snacks in between, raw almonds or bananas are the best choices as both contain protein and carbohydrates. These are essential for muscle building, and energy. Or you can have other fruits such as raspberries that are rich in iron and vitamins. Energy bars are loaded with high fructose corn syrup and the protein is of lower quality. It is not a good choice but if you insist then get an energy bar with whey protein.

Check if Coffee is Good for Workout.

Include fruits and raw foods as part of your food for exercise
Include fruits and raw foods as part of your food for exercise | Source

Do You Work Out On an Empty Stomach?

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What to Eat AFTER Exercise

After your workout, meals with both protein and carbohydrates such as turkey or egg sandwiches on whole wheat bread, or raw almonds, banana, and low-fat chocolate milk are recommended. I prefer raw almond and low-fat chocolate milk for the protein, carbohydrate, and key electrolytes content.

You must eat within two hours of your exercise to help muscle recovery and to replace glycogen lost during exercise. (Glycogen, from carbohydrates, is a source of energy used for any short, intense bouts of exercise).

4. Protein for Exercise

When you are in a fitness program, additional protein is essential for muscle building and to repair any muscle fibers damaged during a workout. Eat lean protein such as chicken and fish. A low-fat dairy product such as low-fat chocolate milk, and Quinoa, the gluten-free grain are also good choices.

Protein is essential to repair muscle damaged during exercise
Protein is essential to repair muscle damaged during exercise | Source

5. Importance of Carbohydrates for Exercise

Carbohydrates will give energy to your workout and promote recovery after a workout. It provides glycogen needed for most exercises, which is easy and immediately available.

If there's not enough carbohydrate, protein in your body will be used as an energy source. This is not recommended as the by-product is tough on your kidney.

Take complex carbohydrates such as whole grain bread, taro, rice, sweet potatoes, and grains.

6. Good Fats In Diet

You need good fats in your diet for energy. But it must not be taken just before or during a workout except for MTC oil. Unsaturated fats present in avocado, olives, nuts, peanut butter, and fish are good sources of healthy fats for your diet.

7. Raw Foods in Diet

Include raw foods in your diet as it has enzymes and oxygen that help muscles to function better during your exercise.

8. Food with Fibers

Fiber will aid your digestion and make you feel fuller. The best time to take fiber is in the morning. So, go for a healthy fiber-rich breakfast like grapefruit and oats.

9. Healthy Snacks for Exercise?

Include healthy snacks to take care of your hunger pangs. So, carry with you raw almonds, fruits or even popcorn that is 'popped' without sugar but with a dash of salt, pepper and maybe a mist of olive oil.

10. Limit Alcohol, Cigarettes and Junk Food

To stay motivated and to continue on your fitness program is important. So, be realistic and continue to enjoy your alcohol, cigarettes and junk food consumption but on weekends only.

Frozen raspberries are rich in iron and vitamins to help body stay healthy.
Frozen raspberries are rich in iron and vitamins to help body stay healthy. | Source

Food for Exercise Journal

You need good food for exercise so don't starve yourself as this is not healthy. Your body needs all the energies to fuel your fitness program.

Everyone is different and knows their own strengths and weaknesses. As you move on with your fitness program, you will realize that some of the before and after exercise food will either works or doesn't for you. Listen to your body, use your own judgment and adjust them accordingly.

To help with this task, keep a 'Food for Exercise Journal' to monitor your progress and what type of food works for you.

Good luck and stay fit.

Eating Before and After a Workout


"This article is written for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate fitness and health professionals on any matter relating to their fitness, health and well-being."

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2012 Mazlan


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    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Malaysia

      Miebakagh Fiberesima, thanks and have a great workout day!

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      2 years ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hello Mazian, this is a good story. You speak my mind.

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Malaysia

      @sellmyhousedenver, hahaha. Is that a good thing or what?

    • sellmyhousedenver profile image


      3 years ago from Denver, CO

      The almond banana crepe is the only thing I kept remembering from this post!

    • daisyjae profile image


      7 years ago from Canada

      I like to exercise - eating right is the hard part for me! I should follow your tips

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Malaysia

      @Riverfish24 That's good that you are already practicing these tips. Thanks for dropping by and sharing.

    • Riverfish24 profile image


      8 years ago from United States

      NICE. I exercise regularly and am always looking for eating tips that match them. This hub is so useful ( and I am glad I follow most of your advice already) :)

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Malaysia

      Simone, thanks for your tips and sharing your experiences.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      I work out a lot, and the food I eat before and after exercising (not to mention all the water I drink) makes a huge difference when it comes to the way I feel before, during, and after the workout. Your advice is fantastic. Thanks for sharing it- and those useful sources, too!

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Malaysia

      @leahlefler, try the chocolate milk (or low fat version) It's nicer and better.

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Malaysia

      Om, raw almond will be my recommendation for your mum, before her exercise. It is healthy, has both protein and carbo, to fuel the exercise.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 

      8 years ago from Western New York

      Great pointers about hydration. I really need to cut back on the coffee habit because it gives me a brief burst of energy, but is also very dehydrating (and exercise with water would give me real energy, not the artificial boost from caffeine)!

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 

      8 years ago

      Very nice tips! Knowing how to eat right for a fitness program is very important for everyone but could be a lot more crucial for people with certain health conditions. For example, my mom is diabetic, and her doctor strongly advised her that she should always eat some healthy, low-sugar snacks before exercising. This is because a strenunous workout may cause people who are on diabetic medications to develop hypoglycemia, a condition of having too little blood sugar.

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Malaysia

      @CassyLu1981 Glad this is of help to you

      @Angela Brummer, I used to drink sports drink after my spinning class as I sweat a lot (to replace lost salts and electrolyte in the body) After reading a few articles on the artificial sweetener and chemicals used in sports drink, I switched to low fat chocolate milk, as it does the same work of sports drink, but using natural stuff. Just googled 'chocolate milk after workout' for more info.

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 

      8 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      It sounds like you covered everything. How do you feel about sports drinks are they mandatory or just nice to have?

    • CassyLu1981 profile image


      8 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      Excellent advice! I have been working on the whole exercise plan and I've always had a hard time of eating before or after I work out. Now I know what's best. Thanks! Voted up and useful!


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