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

Updated on February 13, 2017
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Mazlan wasn’t into health or fitness, but as age crept up on him, he realized the important benefits of living a fit, healthy lifestyle.

Try to include fruits and raw foods as part of your healthy diet
Try to include fruits and raw foods as part of your healthy diet | Source

Personal Goal & Eating the Right Food When Exercising

If you know how to eat right and follow a well-planned fitness program, you will not only burn fat and build muscles, but will also improve your cardiovascular health.

However, eating the right food will depend on your personal goal. Whether you want to lose weight, lower your cholesterol level, build muscle and strength, or just want to improve the quality of your life.

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

Fitness Goal & How to Eat with Fitness Program

Irrespective of your goal, the following guidelines will help you in meeting most of your personal goals. Follow them, and you will benefit greatly.

1. 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 and build muscle or endurance.

2. Stay Hydrated

Water not only helps to regulate your body temperature, but will also help to cushion joints. This is important when you exercise as you will lose water through sweating. So drink a lot of water before, during and after your exercise. Better still; carry a bottle of water with you when you exercise

Drink only plain water or mineral water. It is the best as it has no calories. Mineral water, however, will help replace sodium and potassium that we lost through sweating.

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

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

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

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

Tips on Eat Right for a Fitness Program: Stay Hydrated: Drink water before, during and after your exercise
Tips on Eat Right for a Fitness Program: Stay Hydrated: Drink water before, during and after your exercise | Source

3. Food Before, During and Post Exercise

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

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

As a rough guide, if you eat small snacks, eat them one hour before exercising. For small meals, eat two to three hours before you exercise, and for large meals, exercise only after three or four hours of eating.

If you do more than one hour of exercise and need to take snacks in between, raw almonds or bananas are the best choices. It has both protein, which is essential for muscle building, and carbohydrate, for 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 are of lower quality. if you have to take one of these bars, get those that have whey protein.

Check if Coffee is Good for Workout.

Almond & banana crepe looks like a delicious food after a workout
Almond & banana crepe looks like a delicious food after a workout | Source

Do You Work Out On an Empty Stomach?

See results

After your exercise, have meals that have both protein and carbohydrates such as turkey or egg sandwiches on whole wheat bread, raw almonds, banana or even a low fat chocolate milk. I personally prefer raw almond and low fat chocolate milk. It's convenient and has the protein, carbohydrate and key electrolytes. Do this within two hours of your exercise to help with 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)

Some of my friends prefer a quick coffee and chocolate milk after post workout.

4. Protein in Diet

When you are in a fitness program, additional protein is essential to help with muscle building and repair of any muscle fibers damaged during your workout. Eat lean protein such as chicken and fish. Low fat dairy product such as low fat chocolate milk is also a good choice. You may want to also consider Quinoa, the gluten free grain, in your cooking.

What is your health goal? Plan your fitness program to meet this goal and eat right
What is your health goal? Plan your fitness program to meet this goal and eat right | Source

Quote on Healthy Eating

"I saw few die of hunger; of eating; a hundred thousand."

- Benjamin Franklin

5. Eat Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates will not only give you energy for your workout, but also promote recovery after your workout. It provides glycogen that is needed for most exercises, because it is easy and immediately available.

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

Take complex carbohydrates such as whole grain breads, pasta, cereals, rice, sweet potatoes and grains.

6. Fats in Diet

You need fats in your diet for energy, but not to be taken just before or during a workout. Unsaturated fats, like those present in avocado, olives and nuts, peanut butter and fish are good sources of fats for your diet.

7. Raw Foods

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

8. Food with Fibers

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

9. Healthy Snacks

Include healthy snacks to take care of your hunger pangs. Raw almonds, fruits, yogurts and even popcorn (that is 'popped' without sugar; just a dash of salt, pepper and maybe a mist of olive oil)

10. Limit Alcohol, Cigarettes and Junk Food

Staying motivated to stay on your fitness program is important. So be kind and at the same time be realistic and limit your alcohol, cigarettes and junk food consumption, to weekends only.

Frozen raspberries: Rich in iron and vitamins, help body to stay healthy.
Frozen raspberries: Rich in iron and vitamins, help body to stay healthy. | Source

Eating Right

Also try not to 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. So as you move on with your fitness program, you will realize that some of the before and after exercise eating guidelines given above, may or may not work for you. Listen to your body, use your own judgment and adjust them accordingly. Eating right to fit your fitness program is important.

To help you with this task, you may want to keep a diary to monitor your progress and what 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."

© 2012 Mazlan


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    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 3 months ago from Malaysia

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

    • sellmyhousedenver profile image

      Adam 3 months ago from Denver, CO

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

    • daisyjae profile image

      daisyjae 4 years ago from Canada

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

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

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

    • Riverfish24 profile image

      Riverfish24 5 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 image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      Simone, thanks for your tips and sharing your experiences.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 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 image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

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

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 5 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 5 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 5 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 image

      Mazlan 5 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 5 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

      CassyLu1981 5 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!