We’ve all been there — you’ve wrapped up a long day at the office and feel amped to hit the gym. You’re all set for a run on the treadmill and a weightlifting session. But just as you change into your athletic gear, your stomach growls. Uh oh. There’s no way those crackers you ate at 3:00 can sustain you through a workout.
What should you grab to eat? While it can be tempting to reach for the nearest snack (even if it’s some chips or a candy bar from the vending machine), there are some much better alternatives.
Pair a carb and a protein before a workout
Rachel MacPherson, a personal trainer and writer for Radical Strength, suggested having “whole, minimally processed carbs, protein and fats.” Great options include chicken, green beans, a sweet potato with coconut oil or a protein shake with protein and carbs.
Diana Gariglio-Clelland, a registered dietician at Balance One Supplements, pointed to similar choices. “Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy, and they are utilized first during exercise; the body can break down fats and protein for energy during exercise, but it’s not as efficient as breaking down carbs,” she said.
Eating a protein and a carbohydrate can support muscle growth, while protein is key for strength training, she noted. As for specific foods to consume, Gariglio-Clelland recommended fruit with cheese, a banana with a glass of milk or a slice of bread with peanut butter.
How much and when to eat before a workout
You should go for medium-sized portions so you feel full but not completely stuffed (“like a 6 to 7 out of 10 on a hunger scale of ravenous to busting full”), MacPherson added.
As for when to grab some grub, MacPherson said an ideal amount of time is one to two hours before a workout.
Expert-approved pre-workout foods
Overall, to have the best workout, it’s (unsurprisingly) best to opt for healthier options rather than junk food. And you might as well keep up those eating habits once you head home. If you decide to chow down after a workout, stick to carbs and protein. A few expert-approved snacks for after the gym include:
- Nuts with cheese or fruit
- Banana with peanut butter
- 1 cup of Greek yogurt with ½ cup berries
- 1 protein-packed bar (such as a Perfect Bar)
- Black beans
Choosing filling, nutritious foods (and staying hydrated) can help ensure you feel good at the gym and after you leave. What are your favorite pre- and post-workout snacks? Share with us in the comments below!