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Balancing your eating choices before and after exercise can often feel like a tightrope walk—you don’t want to eat too much and feel sluggish, but you also want to eat enough to give you energy. It’s important to properly fuel your body before and after a workout, but figuring out exactly how and when to do so can feel needlessly complicated.
To help you make sure you are getting the most out of your workout, let’s go over a few tips for before and after exercise fuel.
Don’t work out on an empty stomach. This is a bad idea for several reasons: Not only can it affect the level of energy you bring to your workout, but it can also cause muscle loss if your body has to draw protein from your muscles as an energy source.
Try to eat at least an hour before your workout. While this may be difficult for early morning exercisers, putting some time between a meal and your exercise can help you avoid an upset stomach. If you’ve just eaten a large meal, it might be a good idea to wait even longer before exercising—up to three or four hours.
Emphasize carbohydrates. Choose pre-workout foods that will give you the most energy for the task at hand. The best pre-workout snacks tend to combine a carbohydrate and a protein, with a stronger emphasis on the carbohydrate: a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts, a serving of yogurt with low-sugar granola, or even a peanut butter sandwich.
Don’t wait. Try to eat as soon as possible after a workout—it’s best not to wait any longer than two hours. Even having something small immediately after working out is better than waiting and risking feeling lightheaded.
Emphasize protein. Your body will respond best to post-workout fuel that is nutrient dense and high in protein. Seek out lean meats, vegetables and whole grains.
Hydrate. Hopefully you continued to hydrate during your workout, but replenishing your body’s water is important after a workout as well. Drink up to avoid a post-workout headache or other symptoms of dehydration.
As with any food choice, what you put in your body before and after a workout often comes down to personal preference. It may take some trial and error to figure out what type of snacks or meals make you feel your best, so don’t be afraid to go with your gut—literally.
Check out our new guide to eating healthy on a busy schedule for more healthy eating tips.