What to Eat Before, During and After Exercise

Women's Soccer GameChristine Rosenbloom, a sports dietician, painted a clear analogy of why the right foods are important before a workout. “Foods provide the gas to your body’s engine, and fluids provide the water to your body’s radiator.” Without the right fuel and fluid, your body is going to have a hard time functioning at its best.

If your workout is short and sweet, such as a short run, walk, or bike ride, it doesn’t matter too much what you eat. However, if you’re going to be enduring strenuous physical activity for over an hour, you should be paying close attention to what you digest beforehand. If you eat the right foods you’re much less likely to experience low blood sugar and more likely to maintain energy and even efficiency for an hour or more.

The shorter the amount of time before your athletic event, the smaller your snack or meal should be. If you’re eating four hours before a race or a workout, feel free to eat a sizeable portion. If you’re only an hour way, maybe eat an energizing snack instead of an entire meal. You should be eating foods that have a high amount of carbs, are low in fat, and have a moderate serving of protein. Whatever you eat beforehand should help you maintain blood sugar and carbohydrate stores and should not lay undigested in your stomach; meaning eating a meal leaving adequate time beforehand for digestion.


According to Berkeley Wellness, if your workout is for over an hour, hydrating with a sports drink with low sugar content, some potassium and sodium is recommended. If you’re working out for less than hour, simply drink water when you feel thirsty. The American College of Sports Medicine encourages hydrating at least four hours before you exercise. Zelman advised weighing yourself before your workout and after; then replacing each lost pound with two cups of fluid.

Eating Before

Zelman recommends eating familiar foods before a game or a workout. Your body is less likely to reject foods that it is used to eating, like pasta or a grilled chicken sandwich, rather than trying something new or fried. Avoid fast foods and greasy foods, like hamburgers, fries or soft drinks.

Eating During

If you’re exercising for a prolonged period of time, like cycling for over 40 miles, it’s likely you will deplete your stored carbs. You can eat small high-carb, low-fat, low-fiber snacks that will keep blood sugar levels up and fuel your muscles and brain. If you don’t refuel through snacking or drinking a sports drink, you may “hit the wall” and experience uncomfortable weakness or fatigue.

Eating After (Recovery)

Rosenbloom says your body needs protein to build muscle and your muscles need protein for recovery and growth. The best time to drink a protein-rich smoothie or eat a protein-filled meal of lean meat is after your workout. You only need 10-20 grams to provide the amino acids that are needed to enhance muscle recovery and growth. Protein can come from anything, whether it’s chocolate milk or actual meat.

The helpful facts above are there to assist you in finding what meals will really work for your body before and after exercise. Working with a sports dietician can help you find a method catered to your specific needs, while experimenting with different foods and portion sizes can also put you on the right path to improved efficiency and energy levels.


Make sure to consult your primary care physician or chiropractor for all health related advice.

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