Written By: Katya Meyers, Dietetic Intern at Hailey Crean Nutrition, LLC
Should I have a snack before I exercise?
When and what to eat before exercise is one of the most common questions clients have when beginning an exercise program. There is an overwhelming amount of information online about what is good to eat before exercise, but instead of jumping on the latest bandwagon, it’s important to consider a few things:
- The intensity and duration of your workouts
- The timing of your workout
- Individual health goals
Much of what you may have heard regarding what and when to eat before workouts applies to high-intensity exercise. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering “Why am I not losing weight, even though I started exercising?”, the emphasis on pre and post-exercise meals and snacks may be the culprit. While it is certainly important to make sure you have enough energy to fuel your workout and recovery, a casual 30-minute bike ride or walk does not necessarily require a special pre-workout meal and post-workout recovery snack–particularly if weight loss is a goal.
Best foods to eat before a workout:
For easy to moderate workouts of 60 minutes or less, you may not need to eat anything just before (1). If you do feel hungry, you plan to exercise for longer, or it’s been a few hours since your last meal, aim for a small, easily digestible snack that blends 1-2 carbohydrate servings with protein. See below for a few ideas or try this strawberry banana oat milk smoothie recipe
Pre-workout snack ideas
½ banana + 1 Tbsp all-natural almond butter
1 small apple + 12 almonds
1 whole-grain slice of toast + 1 softboiled egg
Oatmeal made from ¼ cup dried oats + ¾ cup Greek yogurt + 1 tsp honey + cinnamon
Best foods to eat after a workout
So, you’ve nailed your hike or gym session…nice work! Exercise is one of the most important lifestyle choices you can make to improve your health. Benefits include better blood glucose management, lower triglycerides, and improved insulin sensitivity.
But, don’t stop there. Now comes another important part of your training: what you do in the kitchen. Similar to the pre-workout advice, if your workout was not particularly vigorous or long and you’re not feeling hungry, it is ok to skip the post-workout meal or snack and wait till your next meal. Let your hunger cues and blood sugar results guide you.
On the other hand, if you find yourself asking: “why am I so hungry after exercise?” Keep these principles in mind:
- Start with a big glass of water (try soda water with a squeeze of lemon for extra refreshment) to replace the fluid you may have lost through sweat. Often, thirst is mistaken for hunger. And, by rehydrating yourself quickly, you’ll be better recovered for your next workout.
- Contrary to popular belief (or at least marketing!), you don’t need a special sports nutrition product for post-workout recovery. These bars, shakes, and drinks are almost always high in calories and sugar. They are not necessary for most types of activity. Regular food should meet your refueling and rehydration needs and feel more filling, without the extra sugar and calories.
- Try timing your exercise so that your post-workout meal coincides with a regular mealtime to avoid “double-dipping”. I.e. putting in extra meals and snacks because you worked out–particularly if weight loss is a goal.
When you are ready to nosh, the best meals and snacks should again include a mix of carbohydrates and protein, though it’s ok to include plenty of fiber.
Post-workout meal and snack ideas:
Fruit smoothie: 1 ¼ cup frozen berries + 1 cup milk + 1 Tblspn chia seeds
Open-faced turkey sandwich: whole grain bread + lean turkey + lettuce, tomato & mustard
Bean or lentil soup + 6 whole-wheat crackers
Small sweet potato + favorite greens + chicken breast