Deciding when to eat around your workouts can maximize performance, energy and recovery. Timing is everything when it comes to eating around exercise. The right nutrients before physical activity provides energy to power through your workout. Refueling afterward aids muscle repair, growth and recovery. Here’s a comprehensive look at ideal meal timing and food choices.
- Eat a light meal with carbs 30-60 minutes pre-workout to fuel your session.
- Consume a carb-protein meal within 60 minutes post-workout to replenish glycogen and support muscle growth.
- Hydrate well before, during and after exercise to improve performance and recovery.
- Choose foods that are easily digested and provide energy without gastrointestinal issues.
- Experiment to find the best pre- and post-workout nutrition strategy for your body and goals.
Why Timing Matters
Your body utilizes different fuels at different times during exercise. Knowing when and how to deliver the proper nutrients can make a big impact.
Pre-workout meals prevent hunger, provide fuel for activity and minimize muscle breakdown. Consuming carbs before a workout maximizes glycogen levels for sustained energy. Eating protein helps counter muscle damage during exercise.
Post-workout meals replenish glycogen stores, rehydrate and stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Consuming carbs and protein soon after training enhances recovery, growth and strength adaptations.
Factors to Consider
Several factors play a role in determining your ideal meal schedule around exercise:
- Fitness goals: Bulking up? Training for a marathon? Different goals mean different fueling needs.
- Workout duration/intensity: Long or tough workouts demand more pre-workout fuel than short, easier sessions.
- Time of day: Morning workouts may require a bigger pre-workout meal. Evening workouts make the post-workout meal more important.
- Your body: Experiment to see what meal timing works best for your digestive system and appetite.
- Food preferences: Focus on easily digestible carb and protein-rich foods you enjoy eating.
What to Eat Before Exercise
The pre-workout meal should primarily provide quality carbs for energy. Aim for foods that are:
- High in complex carbs – Oats, whole grain bread, sweet potatoes, quinoa
- Moderate in protein – Greek yogurt, nut butter, eggs, whey protein
- Low in fat & fiber – Limit fatty meats, whole grains, raw veggies
- Easily digested – Avoid excessive spices, fried foods, high-fiber foods
- Hydrating – Drink 16 oz water with your pre-workout meal
Some excellent pre-workout food choices include:
- Oatmeal with banana
- Whole grain toast with almond butter
- Cottage cheese with fruit
- Hydrating sports drink
What to Eat After Exercise
Post-workout meals should contain both carbohydrates to replenish glycogen and protein to repair and build muscle. Ideal foods are:
- High in complex carbs – Sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal
- High in lean protein – Chicken, fish, eggs, Greek yogurt
- Hydrating – Water, chocolate milk, fruit smoothies
- Easy to digest – Limit fatty, fried foods right after exercise
Some great post-workout food combinations:
- Smoothie with fruit, yogurt, protein powder
- Whole grain toast with peanut butter
- Rice bowl with chicken
- Veggie omelet with avocado
Keep refueling with water, about 16-24 oz, after your workout as well.
Timing Your Pre-Workout Meal
For most people, the ideal time to eat before exercise is 30-60 minutes prior. Here are some pre-workout meal guidelines:
- 30-60 minutes before: Gives time for digestion while avoiding an energy drop mid-workout.
- 300-400 calories: Provides energy for moderate 60 minute workouts.
- Hydrate with 16 oz water: Prevents dehydration and aids digestion.
- Smaller portions for shorter/easier workouts: Quick snack versus full meal.
- Avoid within 30 minutes: May not fully digest and absorb yet.
- Avoid more than 1-2 hours before: Risk glycogen and energy depletion.
Timing Your Post-Workout Meal
Replenishing carbs and protein soon after training enhances recovery. Aim to eat within 60 minutes after exercise.
- Within 30-60 minutes: Restores glycogen and stimulates muscle building.
- 300-400 calories: Replaces spent energy from workout.
- Carb to protein ratio of 3:1 or 4:1: Optimizes refueling.
- Hydrate with 16-24 oz water: Rehydration is crucial.
- Larger meals after tough workouts: Follow easier workouts with smaller snacks.
The one hour “anabolic window” after training is prime time for your muscles to soak up nutrients and maximize growth and repair.
Listen to Your Body
While these guidelines provide a general framework, it’s important to experiment and find the best fueling approach for your unique body and preferences. Track how different meal timings and foods impact your energy, stomach comfort and recovery. Tailor your routine to optimize both performance and results.