When it comes to working out, you always want to make sure you have ample energy, and that’s going
to come from the food you eat. Eating too close to vigorous exercise can get ugly, and heading to the
gym hungry is a recipe for a weak-feeling workout and unusually sore muscles the next day.
Just as you'd fill up your car's gas tank before a road trip, it's important to make sure your body
has the right fuel to sustain you during a workout. If you’re like most, lunch is a distant memory
by the time you're ready for after-work exercise, so snacks or even small meals are in order if
you want to have the energy you need. Most assume it's all about protein. Protein is important for
muscle building and repair, but in order to lift those weights you need carbohydrates for energy.
Choose carbs that are easily digestible and avoid high-fat foods—or large quantities of any
food—just before working out because they don't digest well during exercise. The best solution
depends on how much time you have before your workout.
Two to Three Hours Before a Workout
If you're planning a meal a couple of hours before working out, stick to a mixture of carbs,
protein, and fat, in the 300-400 calorie range. This includes a small serving of lean protein like
half a turkey or lean roast beef sandwich on whole-wheat bread. Stay clear of the fried food,
greasy burgers, and soft drinks. Avoid gassy food like beans and broccoli since they may cause
One to Two Hours Before a Workout
As you get closer to your workout, carbs should become the focus of your snack (up to 50
grams) with just a little bit of protein. A bowl of cereal with skim milk, trail mix, or a banana are
all great options. I also go for Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches If you only have one to two
hours before your workout, keep your snack under 200 calories. This mixed protein-carb snack
will help you feel satisfied and fueled and may also help reduce muscle soreness.
15 to 30 Minutes Before a Workout
If you only have 15 to 30 minutes before a scheduled workout, choosing a snack that is simple to
digest is key. Pick a snack that has about 25 grams of carbs like a handful of raisins, a few saltine
crackers, or a cup of fruit cocktail.
Immediately Before a Workout
If you haven't eaten in awhile, don't skip out on food — even if you're just about to head into
the gym. Your body will need the energy to power through whatever vigorous workout you put
it through. Restrict this snack to carbs (up to 15 grams), and keep it light: an eight-ounce sport
drink should do the trick.
Carefully Assess Protein Bars
When squeezing a workout into a busy schedule, you may like the convenience of protein bars.
Make sure you choose carefully, most bars are glorified candy bars, often providing even more
calories. To find the better ones, choose a bar that has about 200 calories, up to 5 grams of
protein and 25 grams of carbohydrates.
Within 30 minutes of finishing a workout, eat a snack that is a mix of carbs and protein. This will
help reduce muscle soreness, and, since your body's metabolic rate is higher after a workout, it
will give it the fuel it needs to recover. My favorites include chocolate milk and protein shakes.
It's important to realize that just because you worked out doesn't give you free rein in the kitchen.
If you exercise for an hour or less, your best bet is to grab a bottle of water and eat at your next
scheduled meal. If it lasts longer, plan to have a snack on your way home.