Pre and Post Workout Fuel: The Basics

We all know nutrition is crucial for giving us energy as well as helping us recover and heal. When talking about exercise, it’s important to note that different activities have different nutritional needs. Figuring out what and when to eat depends on the type of activity you’re doing and how easily you can digest different foods. 

Pre-Work Out: Generally speaking, you don’t need to consume any food prior to exercise if you’re working out less than 60 minutes or performing anaerobic activities such as heavy weight training, short HIIT (high intensity interval training), sprinting or sprint cycling. While some anaerobic activities might seem very intense and burn a ton of calories, they don’t require pre-workout fuel. The reason is that anaerobic exercise doesn’t need to break down carbs and use oxygen but rather gets its energy source from muscle stores. On the other hand, if you’re performing cardiovascular aerobic activities such as running, rowing, swimming, or any activity greater than 60 minutes a pre-workout snack may be a good idea. The best thing to eat is a light snack made up of healthy carbs and a moderate amount of fat about 45 to 60 minutes before exercise. Keep pre-workout snacks around 100 to 300 calories and not full of too much fiber. Then pay attention to your digestion and how you feel during exercise to determine if eating before leaves you feeling energized or upsets your stomach.

 Some examples include:

  • 1 brown rice cake and 1 tbsp of almond butter
  • 1 small banana and a handful of nuts
  • 1 slice of wheat bread and 2 tbsp of hummus
  • 10 pretzels and 2 tbsp of hummus 
  • 4 oz of cottage cheese and ½ cup of fruit
  • 1 cheese stick and 15 grapes 

Post-Work Out: One thing everyone needs after a workout (no matter the type) is recovery. When it comes to food, the best way to speed up recovery and improve muscle building is loading up on antioxidants and protein. Antioxidants (found in fruits and veggies like cherries and beets) have been shown to decrease inflammation and improve muscle soreness and recovery. In addition, consuming amino acids (tiny protein particles) helps to speed up recovery and muscle synthesis. It’s best to get protein from whole food sources such as lean meats, eggs, cheeses, and legumes but you can also supplement with protein powder if you’re on the go. Research has shown that eating regular balanced meals with lean protein is as effective for building new muscle as supplemental protein powders, so opt for real foods whenever you can. Try eating a regular meal after exercise with mostly complex carbs (root vegetables/fruits/whole grains) and lean proteins. If you don’t have time for a full meal, try a recovery snack full of protein and complex carbs. Keep snacks around 200 to 400 calories after intense exercise that’s more than 60 minutes. 

Some examples include:

  • 4 turkey slices and 2 brown rice cakes
  • 2 hard boiled eggs and 1 apple
  • Chocolate cherry shake: ¼ cup of tart cherries, 1 cup of regular chocolate or soy milk and ice (blend and serve)
  • 1 healthy protein bar (look for minimal ingredients, less than 12 grams of sugar and more than 10 grams protein)
  • 1 cup of lentil soup
  • ½ cup of tuna salad over salad greens 


Lindsey Gass

Lindsey Gass, RD, LD/N is a registered dietitian in Miami, FL. With a bachelor’s degree from Florida International University, Lindsey has years of experience in clinical, sports, long term care, and community nutrition. Lindsey currently works in critical care at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where she provides nutrition support and participates in trauma research. Outside of her career, Lindsey is an avid runner and Nike run club pacer working towards qualifying for a Boston marathon. Follow Lindsey on Instagram at for nutrition tips and tricks. Learn more about Youfit’s Registered Dietician