Should You Eat Snacks Before or After a Workout?

Posted by Julie King on Nov 12th 2020

Athlete resting after a workout with his YBells
Male athlete resting after a workout with his YBells.

Should You Eat Snacks Before of After a Workout?

If your exercise journey includes a goal to lose weight (or even just to slightly tone your muscles), you’ve likely heard or pondered the debate of whether snacking is necessary for your workout.

Workout performance is affected by many factors, including your motivation, fatigue, stress level, and nutrition. Given that the body functions like a machine, it makes sense that it’s impacted by the dietary fuel you take in.

Your overall diet certainly plays a role in what you can accomplish both in and outside of the gym. This includes meals and snacks you eat and drink before and after your exercise sessions.

According to dietitians, these snacks can help stabilize blood sugar, increase energy, and promote recovery for workouts longer than 60 minutes. Note, however, that this is only a recommendation, and it may take some trial and error to discover what works best for you. Consulting your physician is also recommended if you’re having trouble finding what’s optimal for your performance.

Keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Water should always be on the pre- and post-workout menu. Have it handy while working out, too.
  2. If you can’t tolerate eating before early morning workouts, then don’t. Plan a post-workout snack instead.
  3. If eating before exercise makes you feel worse during your workouts, then skip it.
  4. If you’ll be eating a meal soon after your sweat session, bypass the post-workout snack.
  5. Limit snacks to small portions of 100 to 300 calories. Don’t overeat.
  6. Pre- and post-workout snacks should be a blend of carbohydrates and protein, and can be swapped. (So you can eat pre-workout snacks after exercise, or post-workout snacks before.)
  7. For workouts shorter than 60 minutes, pre- and post-workout snacks aren’t necessary. Use your best judgment on whether your body needs the energy.

Great Snacks You Can Eat Before Working Out

Aim to eat a snack at least three hours before your workout, but no less than 30 minutes before. Snacks should combine carbohydrates for energy and protein for muscles.

Here are some pre-workout snack options:

  • Fruit and yogurt smoothie
  • Apple or banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter or almond butter
  • Hard-boiled egg with whole-grain crackers
  • A handful of homemade trail mix (a combination of almonds, raisins, sunflower seeds, pistachios, dried fruit, etc.)
  • Oatmeal with berries
  • Lean turkey on one slice of whole-grain bread
  • Graham crackers with peanut butter
  • String cheese and whole-grain crackers
  • Carrots and hummus
  • Half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-grain bread
  • Rice cake with nut butter

Snacks to Promote Recovery After Working Out

Post-workout snacks help the body replace glycogen as an energy source, as well as protein and amino acids to fortify muscles. For best results, experts suggest eating 15 to 60 minutes after exercise.

Tasty choices include:

  • One cup of low-fat or chocolate milk
  • Avocado on whole-wheat toast
  • Greek yogurt with berries
  • Turkey wrap with lettuce and tomato on a whole-grain tortilla
  • Half of a grilled chicken breast with a cup of brown rice
  • One cup of quinoa with berries and nuts
  • Cottage cheese with one-half of a whole-grain bagel
  • Spinach and egg white omelet
  • Apple and low-fat cheese slices on whole-grain crackers
  • One slice of pita bread and hummus
  • Tuna and chickpeas on pita bread
  • Green smoothie (spinach, apples, and bananas)
  • Mocha protein shake

Remember, the key here is to try different snacks before and after workouts, and pay attention to how you feel during and between sessions. If you find that you don’t notice any difference, you don’t have to eat a snack. It’s best to listen to your body and be flexible.

Julie King

For more than 25 years, Julie King has been a certified group exercise instructor and personal trainer, holding certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, the Aquatic Exercise Association and Schwinn/Mad Dogg Athletics. She also has extensive continuing education and instruction experience in PiYo, YogaFit and mat Pilates.

Over her career, Julie has led virtually every class format at commercial health clubs, corporate fitness centers, wellness centers, schools and online. A contributing editor for Club Business International magazine, she has been published in Club Industry, Fitness Management, Club Solutions, National Fitness Trade Journal and Gear Trends/SNEWS.

With a M.S. in Kinesiology and a B.S. in Journalism, Julie is passionate about helping others to cultivate a love and habit of exercise.