What to Eat Before, During, and After Your Workout

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Last week, fueled by Olympic fever, we resolved to finally get our workout regimen back on track. And, naturally, any good routine requires food, right? Right. So, we turned to you for advice. We wanted to know what you nosh on before, during, and after you hit the gym — or the trails.

As it turns out, many of you had similar answers. For the most part, you tend to eat something light beforehand, take in plenty of water during your training, and load up on protein for recovery.

Here’s what you had to say — plus, we decided to check in with Shira Lenchewski, MS, RD, an LA-based nutritionist and dietitian, to see how your strategies stack up.

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Pre: Keep It Simple

Before your workout, most of you tend to go easy on the calories, preferring to exercise on an empty stomach or, if your belly is grumbling, eat something light like a banana or juice.

Anytime I need a quick energy boost beforehand, I go for a smoothie, especially a green one. I always feel my best after consuming one, but I prefer not to do so right before any heavy physical activity. I make sure I eat ahead of time, about a half hour or so. – MaryBakes
It depends on the workout and time of day. First thing in the morning (pre-6am) I don’t eat anything. If it’s later than that and my stomach is rumbling, then I’ll eat a medium banana. I try not to exercise after a meal of possible. – Lindsey Rose Johnson
Pre-workout, simple fresh juiced cocktail of beet, blackberries, and seasonal fruit (peaches and watermelon now). Glass of water after the juice. – Sheila Hellman
I don’t like to eat right before a workout, but a half-hour or so before I like having a piece of fruit for the energy from the simple sugars. I also like having some tea or coffee before my workout, because caffeine does wonders for athletic performance and really helps me stay energized. – Rocket Science

The Expert Says: To fuel your workout, I recommend something light, with a combination of complex and simple carbs, like hummus and crudités with berries or half a banana. The complex carbs from the hummus will give you a slow and steady energy release throughout your workout, while the sugar from the fruit breaks down more quickly and kicks in more rapidly.

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During: Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

The most common “snack” while you’re pumping iron? Good old H2O.

It’s just water until after my workout. – Rocket Science
During a workout, it is usually nothing but cold water to keep me going. Occasionally I might have a nut bar if I need some extra energy during my workout. – MaryBakes

The Expert Says: Hydration is the most important thing during the workout, although it’s worth noting that it’s key to stay hydrated not just during the workout, but before and after as well.

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Post: Load Up on Protein

Whether it’s an apple with nut butter, hummus and veggies, or a meat sandwich, protein is your go-to for when your workout is behind you.

Afterwards, I always need a lot of protein to regain my strength. I enjoy a good hearty meat sandwich. – MaryBakes
Post work out is smoothie of orange juice, raspberries, banana, mashed cooked pumpkin or sweet potato, blueberries, raw pumpkin seeds, ground brown flax seeds, and a few ice cubes. – Sheila Hellman
If I’ve been lifting weights I’ll have a protein shake afterward (unless it’s time for a meal, in which case I just make sure to have some protein-rich food). But if I’m not torturing my muscles in the workout, I’ll recover with some milk. Maybe some trail mix. – Rocket Science
I eat an apple and a quarter cup of nuts almost everyday post workout. – Jessie Skovron
After a cardio workout I aim for something hydrating like a green smoothie. If I’ve been lifting, then it’s something with more protein—a green smoothie with protein powder or hemp hearts, a bowl of unsweetened Siggi’s yogurt with fresh fruit, or an apple with almond butter, hummus and veggies, etc. – Lindsey Rose Johnson

The Expert Says: Whatever exercise you’re doing (from hot yoga, to resistance training, barre classes, dance cardio or endurance running), after your workout you want to make sure you’re eating foods that will help repair muscle fibers and replenish glycogen stores (your muscles’ main energy source), which are depleted after strenuous activity.

You do this with ample, high-quality protein, combined with a carbohydrate source that the body converts quickly into energy. For best results, the snack should be eaten 15-30 minutes after your workout, so ideally it’s portable and not too complicated!

Two hard boiled eggs and a date are a great option here. Eggs are one of the richest sources of leucine, which is responsible for triggering protein synthesis in muscle, while the healthy sugars from the date delivers a speedy energy boost. Do yourself a favor and hard boil a dozen eggs Sunday evening, so you have them ready to go Monday morning.

Shira Lenchewski, MS, RD is a results-based nutritionist who loves science and good food. She is the resident nutrition expert at Goop and LaurenConrad.com, and has been featured in ELLE, Well+GOOD, Glamour.com, Refinery29, Shape.com, BonAppetit.com, The Real Girl’s Kitchen, and POPSUGAR Fitness.