What to eat before and after a workout

May 2, 2023 | by Joanna Foley

The Salvation Army’s KROC center has no shortage of exercise classes. Being a health professional and registered dietitian, I’ve taken a number of fitness classes over the course of my life. I’ve always appreciated a variety of workouts, and was so excited to check out BODY PUMP as soon as I could.

If you’re wondering what this class is all about and are interested in learning about the best ways to fuel your body both before and after a workout, keep reading to learn more.

What is the KROC center’s Body Pump class like?
The Body Pump class is a group exercise class that occurs in the gym on the lower level of the KROC center. Led by an experienced and upbeat instructor, it is a total body workout that uses light to moderate weights with lots of repetition. It will get your heart pumping and target just about every muscle group in your body.

My first Body Pump class was on a Wednesday evening. I appreciated that it was offered at a time that was after most people’s workday. Since it was my first time, I sought the guidance of the instructor who kindly led me to the weight room and showed me which pieces of equipment to bring with me to my workout area.

I stood amongst about a dozen or so other participants all ready to get our workout on. The instructor introduced herself and gave a quick intro to the class, then proceeded to put on some upbeat music so we could get started. She led us through a series of strength exercises, which used either bar weights or handheld weights. We focused on one muscle group at a time, and got our sweat going as we pulled, pressed, lifted and lunged our way through the exercises, targeting the legs, shoulders, chest, arms, and more.

What I liked most about this class was the variety of exercises, which left me feeling like I accomplished a lot with my body. I knew that there was no way I would get that kind of workout done on my own. I also appreciated that the instructor kept it all fun and upbeat so that it was nearly impossible to get bored during the hour-long class. She challenged each participant to work at a pace and a weight level that was just out of our comfort zone, so that we would get the most out of our workout. I certainly left feeling like I did, and felt motivated to come back for more.

Fueling for your workout: why nutrition matters so much
When it comes to getting results from exercise, the process is always two-fold. While muscle is created in the gym, it is maintained and revealed by how we fuel our bodies with food. That’s why consuming the right pre and post-workout nutrition is so important.

The timing and composition of your food choices plays a large role in the way your body responds to exercise, and how it promotes muscle growth. Improper fueling or refueling can significantly hold you back from exercising to your full capacity, and from building the lean muscle you want and need.

What should you eat before a workout?
When it comes to pre-workout nutrition, carbohydrates are key. Carbs are the body’s primary energy source, which means you need them to fuel your body for any workout. A small amount of protein is also good to get in your body before a workout, since protein will help make the right amino acids available for your muscles, which helps promote muscle growth.

When putting this into practice, it’s important to remember that not all food is created equally. It’s always a good idea to be choosing nutritious sources of both carbohydrates and protein when forming a pre or post-workout meal or snack.

Examples of healthy pre-workout snacks include:

  • Banana or apple paired with nut butter
  • Whole grain crackers with hummus and a hard boiled egg
  • A handful or two of nuts and dried fruit plus a string cheese
  • Whole-grain toast topped with nut butter
  • A low-sugar energy bar, such as an Rx Bar, Lara bar, KIND, or Perfect bar

If you’re wondering when to eat a pre-workout meal or snack, the truth is that there is no perfect timing. As a rule of thumb, you should aim to fuel your body about 1 to 4 hours before a workout, but this depends on how your body tolerates food. Therefore, you should experiment and see what time frame works best for your body. The goal is to not have your body be in an overly full state, or still digesting food at the time of exercise, as these things can cause digestive distress and/or interfere with your ability to perform.


What should you eat after a workout?

Refueling after a workout is crucial. When you exercise, your body is using up glycogen, which is the storage form of carbohydrates. Depending on how long and intense your workout was, your body may use up all of its glycogen stores, which need to be replenished. If not enough carbohydrates are consumed following exercise, the muscles will turn to protein for fuel. This can cause them to break down, which is the opposite of what most athletes or those trying to build muscle are trying to achieve. 

Protein is also crucial to consume after a workout, and is needed in higher amounts than before exercise. Protein is what rebuilds and repairs your muscles, and will help build and maintain muscle tissue.

Examples of healthy post-workout snacks include:

  • Smoothie made with frozen fruit and veggies, low-sugar pure protein powder, nut butter, and milk of choice
  • Plain greek yogurt topped with low-sugar granola and fruit of choice
  • Turkey wrap made on a whole-grain tortilla with hummus, avocado, and veggies of choice
  • Omelet or scrambled eggs paired with whole-grain toast topped with avocado or nut butter

When it comes to the timing of eating after a workout, it’s important not to wait too long before refueling. Muscle may be the most responsive to nutrient intake during the first 30 to 60 minutes after exercise, making this an optimal time to get in a nutritious and balanced meal or snack.


In Summary

The combination of exercising and eating right are key factors in promoting good health. In order to get the most benefit from your workout, you must give your body the right fuel both before and after exercise. Carbohydrates and protein are both essential nutrients to consume surrounding exercise. Choosing nutritious food sources of each will give your body the best form of fuel that it needs.

Recent Stories