8 Healthy Foods to Eat Before and After Exercise

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Last Updated: Jun 11, 2020

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Michael Kummer.

If you’re not taking care of your diet, then you won’t be getting the most from your body during exercise. Many people think that as long as they hit their 3-4 workouts each week regularly, then they can eat whatever they want. However, your diet doesn’t just affect how you look, but how you feel and perform, too.

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Barry White is the community manager at Gymhut. He has a background in web design and marketing and works day to day on improving user experience and website functionality. When not working, Barry enjoys rugby and swimming.

Following a well-rounded diet based on whole natural foods with a little bit of moderated treats every now and again can take your performance to the next level. Yet, one of the most impactful things you can do for your fitness is to start thinking more about exactly what you’re putting in your body before, after, and even during your workouts. The period before exercise should be designed to provide fuel throughout your workout and keep you from dipping in energy while the period after your workout should focus on recovery and repair. If you don’t give your body what it needs to adapt, then you’re never going to progress, and you could end up spinning your wheels for weeks upon weeks wondering what’s going on.

So, today, we’re going to take a look at 8 recommended foods that you can use before and after your workout to promote your energy levels and recovery abilities. By becoming more knowledgeable about the workout period and paying more attention to how your diet affects you, moving forward can become easier than ever before.

1. Eggs

Eggs are an excellent source of protein and fat, including cholesterol.
Eggs are an excellent source of protein and fat, including cholesterol.

Eggs are a fantastic way to provide your body with healthy fats and a hefty dose of protein for both before and after the workout.

There’s a lot of websites and magazines stating that you need to get protein in straight after your workout otherwise you’ll enter a catabolic state and all your muscle will be lost, but that’s just not the case. As long as you eat 20-40 grams of protein around an hour or so after your workout has finished, then you’ll be fine. What matters is the amount of protein you eat over the course of the day and your eventual total.

The reason that this information is included is that most people will avoid eggs after their workout because they take a long time to digest. Yet, using them before an exercise is an excellent way to drip-feed your muscles with amino acids throughout your session, and after they can provide a hefty dose of protein to kick-start that recovery process. Not to mention, they contain saturated fat and cholesterol which can help with testosterone production, boosting your body’s ability to build muscle.

2. Lean Meat

Lean meat is an excellent source of protein
Lean meat is an excellent source of protein

Lean meat is an incredibly diverse and useful protein source as it’s essentially just pure protein. Unlike fish or eggs, there’s very little fat in lean meats which makes them perfect for if you’re dieting or you want to pair them with something else. Also, if you prepare the meat in advance, then it can make for a healthy high protein snack in a pinch.

Always aim for meats that come from high-welfare farms as the better the animal is treated, the healthier their eventual product will be.

3. Fish

Salmon is an excellent source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Salmon is an excellent source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fish is a fantastic source of healthy unsaturated fats and omega-3s. Omega-3s help to support our brain and cardiovascular health as well as a wide range of processes which improve our overall wellness.

Oily fish is great before a workout as it can give you sustained energy throughout your session. If you’re trying to gain weight, then fish is an excellent source of healthy calories as well as a large bolus of protein.

Try to shake up your fish source as different fish have different micronutrients and benefits. Wild caught fish will be the best bet as they’ve lived as much of a natural life as possible.

4. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes have a lower glycemic index than regular potatoes
Sweet Potatoes have a lower glycemic index than regular potatoes

Carbohydrates are incredibly crucial for improving physical performance and overall bodily function. Numerous studies have shown that diets higher in carbs lead to better outcomes and a more comfortable journey towards your exercise goals.

However, just living off pop tarts and candy will have an eventual negative impact on your health and won’t give you the sustained energy that we’re looking for. On the other hand, sweet potatoes contain a large number of vitamins and minerals as well as a good source of fiber. As a complex carbohydrate, it takes time for the body to break down the potato which means that the sugar is released into the blood over an extended period opposed to right away.

Feel free to mash, boil, roast, or fry your potatoes. Frying and roasting will come with more calories which is something to keep in mind if you’re dieting.

5. Fruit

Berries are an excellent source of nutrients, including antioxidants
Berries are an excellent source of nutrients, including antioxidants

There are times where a quicker source of energy is needed such as during an extended workout or if your energy levels are particularly flagging. In this case, the natural sugar from fruit can provide a useful burst of life to make you feel more active and physically capable. Not to mention, fruit is jam-packed full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Berries, in particular, are an excellent source of micronutrients and are easily portable for a snack on the go.

Fruit is better taken before your workout as it contains a significant amount of fructose. After your workout, you want to be focusing on providing your body with glucose which you’ll find from potatoes and tubers.

You can also blend fruit into a shake if you want something that’ll digest quickly and efficiently before you hit the gym.

6. Protein Powder

Do Vitamins WonderWhey
Do Vitamins WonderWhey

Whey is one of the most tried and tested supplements around with tremendous results for improving recovery and increasing muscle mass while dropping fat. Yet, not everyone wants to consume dairy or can even tolerate it.

Thankfully, there are other options available. You can now get egg-, soy-, hemp-, rice-, pea-, and a whole host of other protein powders, dependent on your diet and preferences.

Now, protein powder isn’t some inherently magical supplement that’ll turn you into a model after just one shake. They’re simply cheap, convenient, and easy ways to increase your daily protein intake for minimal overall calories, fats, and carbs. You can do the same with a chicken breast or egg whites, but protein powder has the added benefit of being able to mix up in an instant and consumed on the go. You don’t need any cutlery or cooking devices; all you need is a shaker bottle.

As protein powder is just protein, you can consume it before or after your workout. It should never take the place of a healthy whole food source, but it’s helpful to have around when you don’t have enough time to prepare a meal.

You can also mix protein powders into smoothies for added calories and nutrition. Try blending a scoop of protein with banana, berries, almond butter, and leafy greens for a quick and easy meal replacement shake.

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7. Coconut Water

Vita Coconut Water is an excellent source of electrolytes
Vita Coconut Water is an excellent source of electrolytes

Hydration is a vital component of any exercise as if you don’t have enough fluids in your system; then you won’t be able to think properly or perform effectively. Coconut water is a natural source of crucial electrolytes and a small amount of sugar which can boost your workout when you need some extra energy. Not to mention, coconut water tends to come in pre-packaged cartons which are easy to store and take with you on the go.

It’s recommended to drink coconut water before and during exercise as opposed to afterward to give your body a healthy dose of the primary electrolytes sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium. Often these are lost through sweat, so replenishing them mid-exercise or preparing your body before your workout is an excellent way to make sure you maintain adequate levels.

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8. Almond Butter

Wild Soil Almond Butter is an excellent source of fat
Wild Soil Almond Butter is an excellent source of fat

Last on the list is almond butter. Some people think that almond butter is a protein source, but it contains a much larger dose of fat. So, it’s helpful to think of it as a fat source with a small amount of protein instead.

Almond butter can provide your body with healthy fats which most people don’t have trouble digesting. The last thing you want before your exercise session is an irritable stomach, so you need to make sure that everything you eat is easy to digest.

Almond butter can be paired with almost anything, but it’s a great way to boost the overall calories of a protein shake while providing some extra taste.

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8 Healthy Foods to Eat Before and After Exercise

Eating nutritious and wholesome food is a critical component of both your mental and physical performance. The 8 healthy foods I mentioned above are just examples of what you can eat before and after exercise. Feel free to experiment to fit your taste and dietary restrictions and let me know if paying more attention to what food you put into your body has made a difference in your performance.

1 thought on “8 Healthy Foods to Eat Before and After Exercise”

  1. This is such a helpful list! I have been starting to work out at a gym, but I know I need to change what I eat as well to get results. This is super helpful!

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