What are the best foods for workouts?

Have you ever heard the saying, “You can't outwork a bad diet?” Well, it's true. Quality diet and exercise go hand in hand. The right nutrients for your pre- and post-workout meals may help you reap the best results. Keep in mind, your nutrition and hydration needs may differ depending on the type and intensity of your workout. Food is a powerful tool that can help you reach your fitness goals — whether that’s losing weight, building muscle or a little bit of both.

What to eat before a workout

Eating before a workout can set you up for success. Did you know your body relies on carbohydrates for energy during exercise? That’s why proper nutrition beforehand is so important. Choose easy-to-digest foods that provide a good combination of carbohydrates and protein.1,2

Giving your body enough time to digest helps you have a more comfortable workout. Otherwise, you may experience bloating or gas pains. Planning to have a large meal? Wait at least 3-4 hours before starting your workout. 

If you’re noticing your stomach doesn’t tolerate food before working out, talk to your provider. Some people may prefer to wait to eat until after they exercise.

Try these pre-workout foods:

  • Oatmeal: A bowl of oatmeal topped with sliced fruits and a sprinkle of nuts provides a good balance of carbohydrates and protein for sustained energy.
  • Egg and avocado: A boiled or poached egg with a side of avocado on whole grain toast offers a mix of healthy fats, protein and carbohydrates.
  • Greek yogurt parfait: Layer Greek yogurt with granola and mixed berries for a light and easily digestible pre-workout snack.
  • Smoothie: Blend spinach, banana, protein powder and almond milk for a nutrient-packed, easy-to-digest option.
  • Whole grain wrap: Fill a whole grain wrap with lean protein (like turkey or chicken) and add some veggies for a good pre-workout snack.
  • Quinoa salad: A cold quinoa salad with diced vegetables and a light vinaigrette can be a refreshing and energizing choice before a workout.

What to eat after a workout

It’s important to refuel your body within 2 hours to support muscle recovery.1 With the right post-workout foods, eating after a workout can help your body recover the way it needs to. After exercising, prioritize meals or snacks that combine lean protein and complex carbohydrates to help repair muscle and replenish energy.2

Everyone’s post-workout snack may be different. The best post-workout meal for your body will depend on which foods you digest well, how many calories you burned and which foods you actually enjoy! Here are some foods to eat after a workout:

  • Lean protein: Chicken breast, fish (like salmon or tuna), eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese
  • Complex carbohydrates: Brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, whole grain bread or pasta, legumes (beans, lentils)
  • Fruits and vegetables: Berries, bananas, oranges, spinach, broccoli, bell peppers
  • Healthy fats: Avocado, nuts (almonds, walnuts), seeds (flaxseeds, chia seeds), olive oil
  • Hydration: Water, coconut water, sugar-free electrolyte drink

Foods to avoid before or after working out

When planning your pre- and post-workout meals, be mindful of foods that may not sit well with you. Certain types of foods may lead to discomfort and make it hard to perform at your best:

  • Rich foods: Chocolate, candy and other sweets
  • Greasy foods: Fries, hamburger or anything deep fried
  • Fatty foods: Pizza, high-fat meats, chips and other snack food
  • High-fiber foods: Beans, and certain nuts and fruits

Keep in mind, individual responses to foods will vary. It may take time to figure out which foods best support your health and fitness goals. Paying attention to your body's responses can help you choose foods that support your workouts and overall well-being.

Staying hydrated during a workout

With so many different kinds of sports drinks and workout powders, it can be difficult to know what to drink to stay hydrated during your workout. Good old H2O is usually your best bet. Many artificial exercise drinks have additives and sugar.3

If you've got intense workouts planned, grabbing a sugar-free sports drink or coconut water may help replenish lost electrolytes.

Benefits of drinking water

Drinking water does wonders for our bodies. Here are some ways water may help improve your well-being: 3,4

  • Lubricates joints
  • Supports healthy organs and cells
  • Aids digestion
  • Regulates body temperature
  • Maintains sodium balance

Diet and exercise are 2 important lifestyle habits that can go a long way in supporting your overall health and well-being. Knowing which foods to fuel your body — and when — can help support your fitness journey, and keep you feeling strong and energized.