Ask a Trainer: What Foods Should I Eat Before and After a Workout?

“Post-workout nutrition is basically the most important meal of your day.” —Holly Rilinger, Nike master trainer

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Once you *finally* find the motivation to get your fitness on, you want to get the most bang for your workout buck. The last thing you want is invest all that time and effort into working out (and let’s be honest, money on those sexy fitness fashions), just to find that you’re not getting the results you hoped for. (Check out Holly’s tips to avoid the dreaded workout plateau.)

That’s why, along with finding a exercise routine you can stick with, it’s crucial to take a good hard look at what you’re putting in your mouth. Eating the wrong foods may not only cause weight gain, but it can also significantly affect your fitness progress.

“Fuel is so important when it comes to working out,” says Holly Rilinger, Nike master trainer. “If you don’t have the right fuel, you’re not going to perform, and if you don’t eat correctly after a workout, you’re missing all the benefits of that workout in general.”


What to Eat Before a Workout

Two of the most important nutrients to include in a pre-workout meal are protein and carbohydrates, says Rilinger. “When I say ‘carbs,’ I’m not talking about cookies and pasta. I’m talking about whole grains, fruits, and vegetables,” she says. Learn more about the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates

Carbohydrates give you the energy to make it through your workout, and protein will fill you up and keep you from getting hungry during your workout, says Rilinger.

Some great pre-workout meal options include:

  • Apples with nut butter, like peanut butter or almond butter
  • A banana
  • Oatmeal with berries and fruit
  • Greek yogurt with fruit

Just want a quick snack before you sweat? Here are high-protein snack ideas to fuel your workout.


What to Eat After a Workout

“Post-workout nutrition is super important. It’s basically the most important meal of your day,” says Rilinger.

When you exercise, your muscles use their glycogen stores for fuel, which depletes them. The proteins in your muscles also get broken down and damaged (don’t worry, it’s a normal, healthy part of building muscle). “We basically break the protein out of the body,” says Rilinger.

After your workout, your body rebuilds its glycogen stores and repairs and regrows those muscle proteins. That’s how you build muscle slowly over time.

Eating the right nutrients—i.e., protein and carbohydrates—soon after you exercise can help speed up this process. “We like to call the hour after you work out ‘the magic hour,’” says Rilinger. “It’s ideal to try and get these foods in directly after your workout.”

Here are some examples of great post-workout meals with protein-packed foods:

  • An omelet with vegetables
  • Salmon with vegetables
  • Cottage cheese with berries

And don’t forget to stay hydrated: “A good rule of thumb is to drink water before, during, and after your workout,” says Rilinger.