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Published on September 15, 2020

cut up banana and peanut butter on a plate

What Should I Eat Before – and After – I Work Out?

Pre- and post-workout nutrition can confuse everyone – one of the most common questions I get is “What should I eat before and after a workout?”

The answer depends on what type of athlete you are and your specific activity. In general, there are similarities for everyone from a middle-school basketball player to a 55-year-old triathlete. 

Pre-Workout Nutrition Keys

Nutrient timing is major factor for promoting workout intensity, strength and endurance. In general we want a pre-workout meal or snack one to four hours prior to training. Keep in mind that macro-nutrients like carbs, fat and protein all are digested at different rates. Carbohydrates are digested and absorbed quickly; fats and protein slow digestion.

If you only have an hour or two to digest, consume smaller snacks that are mostly carbohydrates. That way your body can digest and absorb it quickly and utilize it as fuel.

Some suggestions for pre-workout fuels include:

  • Banana and peanut butter or nut butter
  • Oatmeal with low-fat milk and berries
  • Greek yogurt with fruit
  • PB&J sandwich
  • Granola bar
  • Applesauce pouch

It’s important to experiment with different pre-workout snacks and a variety of fueling schedules during practice. Avoid trying new foods or experimenting with a new fueling schedule before games or competition in case you don’t tolerate the new foods well.

Post-Workout Options

The ultimate goal of post-work refueling is to fully prepare the body for the next practice or game. Aim for a post-workout snack 15-60 minutes after training. It should contain protein, carbohydrates and fluids. A good rule of thumb is 40-60 grams of carbohydrates with 20-30 grams of high-quality protein for an approximate 2:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein.

Smart suggestions for post-workout snack would be things like:

  • Low-fat chocolate milk with a handful of almonds
  • Greek yogurt with granola and blueberries
  • String cheese with apple slices and peanut butter, along with some pretzels

Make sure you re-hydrate with fluids as well as electrolyte-rich drinks to replace those lost during workouts. Aim for 16-24 ounces of fluid for every pound you lose during exercise.

Fueling properly before workouts is all about self-experimentation and finding a “sweet spot” where you’re not training hungry but you don’t feel full and heavy. After a workout, the right combination of fuel you can help promote recovery while protecting against injury. A good post-game or workout meal can also reduce inflammation and fight soreness. 

Anna Heronimus, RD, LN, is an Avera Sports Dietitian with the Avera Human Performance Center

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