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Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, author, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Seattle, WA!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!

Anjali Shah

Pre- and Post-Workout Meals: What To Eat When You Exercise

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Eating the right foods are so important to making sure your workout is a success! Here is a breakdown of the best pre- and post-workout meals to keep you satisfied and workout-ready.

pre and post workout meals - image of gym equipment

Figuring out the right pre- and post-workout meals can be such a struggle! You don’t want to eat something too heavy before, but you don’t want to be starving during your workout either.

It’s not enough to simply eat something before you get on the treadmill or after you work up a sweat. While every person will have slightly different needs depending on their body type, fitness goals, personal preferences, and any relevant medical issues; nutritionists and personal trainers typically agree that there are certain foods that should be go-to choices for most people. 

pre and post workout meals - image of weights

So, what and how much should you eat? Here is a pre- and post-workout meals and snacks guide to get you started.

Pre-Workout Meals: 3 Tips for What to Eat Before Your Workout

Tip #1: Timing is key. It’s generally a good idea to eat something before a workout, particularly if you tend to feel lightheaded or lethargic when you don’t eat enough throughout the day. If this sounds like you, I definitely recommend making time for a pre-workout snack. It’s best to eat an hour before your workout. This gives you enough time to fully digest your food, but it’s also a short enough period to ensure you don’t burn off all that energy before you hit the weights or hop on the elliptical.

Tip #2: Don’t overdo it. In general, you should keep your pre-workout meal or snack on the small side, but make sure that it’s packed with the nutrients you need to power through. While you’ve probably heard of football teams “carbo-loading” before a game, scarfing down a giant bowl of spaghetti will likely leave you feeling tired and bloated. Personally, for workouts that are less than an hour long – I’ll often just hydrate with water before working out and eat a full meal after.

Tip #3: Choose something light, with a combination of complex carbs and lean protein. Some popular options include:

oatmeal with fresh berries in a white bowl, top view
Photo credit: Total Shape

I always recommend buying organic options when you can, especially when it comes to the dirty dozen (and since 76% of American organic consumers cite the health benefits of organic food as their top reason for purchasing it!)

Post-Workout Meals: 3 Tips for What to Eat After You Exercise

Tip #1: Avoid unhealthy “rewards.” Now that we’ve covered some of the options you might want to try before you exercise, it’s time to talk about what to eat after you’ve finished your workout. Thinking about going to town on something not-so-healthy? After all, you’ve “earned” it, right? It’s easy to justify a sweet treat or a salty snack, but the truth is that what you eat after you work up a sweat matters just as much as what you eat beforehand. Your body will have a much tougher time recovering from your workout if you don’t eat the right things. 

Tip #2: Replenish your body immediately. Be sure to drink plenty of water following your fitness regime to keep your body hydrated, and aim to eat as soon as possible to restore your energy. Physical activity takes a lot out of you; you wouldn’t leave your car’s gas tank on empty, would you? Don’t leave your body running on fumes, either. 

Tip #3: Go fresh and nutrient-rich. Here are some ideas of what you might want to chow down on after you’ve burned off some calories:

  • Protein pancakes
  • Banana or whole grain toast with almond butter
  • Whole wheat pita with hummus and veggies
  • A fruit and veggie protein smoothie or chocolate milk
  • Egg omelet and avocado on toast
  • Egg salad on whole wheat crackers
  • A quinoa bowl with berries and nuts
  • A salad with lentils/beans/hardboiled eggs or other plant-based protein
  • Scrambled eggs or a hardboiled egg with sautéed veggies on the side
  • And if it’s mealtime, feel free to just make yourself a healthy lunch or dinner!
pre and post workout meals - image of lentil salad

While plenty of us struggle to eat a balanced diet and fit in enough physical activity, some statistics suggest that Americans are trying to lead a healthier lifestyle. The demand for gyms, workout equipment, and fitness classes are on the rise too (since fitness industry jobs are expected to increase by more than 23% over the next decade!) But you’re not going to get the most out of your workout if you aren’t fueling your body (or facilitating its recovery) the right way. You need energy to keep your body going. And, as human beings, our energy comes from the food we eat. In short, proper nutrition is essential if you want to make gains in the gym — or just get through your training session in one piece!

It’s not always easy to know exactly what you should keep in your fridge or cupboard to fuel your workouts, particularly when you don’t have a lot of time to cook. With these easy snacks and recipes you can prep for the week, you’ll be able to get a lot more out of your gym time and make sure you have the energy required for every other obligation on your calendar!

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