What You Should Eat Before and After a Workout

One thing’s for sure: you need to fuel your body no matter what time of day you like to workout. Your body needs to get the proper nutrients pre- and post-workout to refuel, rebuild and recover. But how soon should you eat before and after a workout?

Well, it’s a bit complicated.

There are varying opinions in the fitness world about the best time to eat around a workout. To be fair, there’s a lot of personal bias surrounding this topic. And let’s be honest, sometimes the most beneficial time to eat may be the most inconvenient.

Here’s the general rule of thumb: Fuel your body with carbs and a small source of protein between 30 and 60 minutes before your workout. Following your workout, consume protein-rich foods within 30 minutes.

Sounds simple, right? Not exactly.

Eating Before a Workout

Jillian Michaels, a personal trainer known for her role on “The Biggest Loser,” shared why you should always eat before and after you hit the gym. Although some people swear by exercising on an empty stomach (more on that later), Michaels urges that you always fill up before getting your sweat on. Without food in your system, your body will go into shock due to low blood sugar. According to Michaels, “If you don’t have any blood sugar available, your body will eat the muscles’ glycogen, or stored glucose. Low blood sugar will also make you tired and sluggish during your training session.” By eating within the 30-60 minute window before your workout, “you’ll have more energy and endurance to work harder, burn more calories, and improve your muscle tone.”

But there’s always a few folks out there (and in this case, quite a few), who prefer to work out on an empty stomach. Whether it’s due to feeling or logic, science says that this may not be the best way for you to prepare before a sweat session. If you’re concerned about getting rid of fat, a study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition revealed that it makes no difference if you eat before you get your heart pumping. The study found that women lost roughly the same amount of weight and fat within the hour of a steady-state cardio whether they ate beforehand or not.

Food is fuel — it’s as simple as that. Without it, your body has to dig deep to find the energy it needs to keep going. Once your body runs out of carbohydrates (aka energy), it can’t sustain the high intensity that a workout may demand. This was found to be true in a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. When a group of moderately trained men were studied, the group that ate beforehand were able to run faster and farther than the men who hadn’t.

Eating After a Workout

Most nutritionists and fitness experts recommend consuming protein within 30 minutes of a workout. Or as Michaels calls it, “the golden hour.” During this time, “muscles absorb the most nutrients, and glycogen is replaced the most efficiently,” shares Michaels. The major reason to eat after a workout is for muscle repair. In an interview with SELF, Jennifer Beck, M.D., sports medicine specialist and pediatric orthopedist at UCLA, said, “We think a lot of overuse injuries happen when people are not replacing essential building blocks as readily as they should.” If you’re using (or overusing) your muscles and not giving them the attention they need to rebuild, it would likely hurt you in the future. Aches and pains can be prevented with a protein-rich post-workout snack.

If you’ve ever felt fatigued and disoriented after a workout, you’re not alone. Low blood sugar and dehydration are common following a HIIT or hot yoga class (or just about anything that gets your blood pumping). Eating foods with protein, potassium, calcium and salt will help you avoid the pitfalls of these side effects. And remember: You don’t need to gorge yourself with a three-course meal — a protein bar or nut butter will do.

Oh yeah, just a friendly reminder that water is essential before, after and during exercise.

Amanda Garrity is a commerce editor and content producer living in New York City. She finds every excuse to go on an adventure, whether it's in her own backyard or across the country. She enjoys hiking, pretending she's a prima ballerina and drinking an abundant amount of coffee. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.