Pair up your specific exercise—running, HIIT, barre, etc.—with the perfect foods for better performance, recovery, and results
You know carbs are essential for energy and protein is vital for muscle growth, but certain foods are better than others for fueling up before and recharging your body after certain workouts. After all, you use different muscles and burn varying levels of calories depending on if you’re lifting iron, pounding pavement, or doing plies. Find your planned exercise for the day and nosh on the recommended snacks to keep your body at its best during class and long after.
Whatever exercise you’re doing, eat your pre-workout snack one to two hours beforehand to keep your stomach from growling and provide your body with pep without weighing you down. Then refuel within 30 to 45 minutes of your cool-down to provide the necessary nutrients to restore your hard-working muscles and rehydrate your body. (If you're working out first thing in the AM, you'll need these tips for what to eat before and after a morning workout.)
Pre-workout snack: Fruit and nut bar
HIIT workouts are perfect for people short on time, and if you’re running from work to the gym, you want something portable and energizing yet wholesome, says personal trainer Lyssie Lakatos, R.D., co-author of The Nutrition Twins' Veggie Cure. Enter bars with nuts and dried fruit at the top of the ingredients list, such as Kind or Larabar. They provide carbohydrates to fuel your muscles and are rich in fiber, protein, and good-for-you fats that will keep your energy up and your stomach satisfied, Lakatos says. Choose a bar around 200 calories with at least 4 to 5 grams each of protein and fiber. (Or try making your own homemade energy bar.)
Post-workout snack: 1/3 cup cooked quinoa, 1 cup cooked vegetables (2 cups raw), and 3 ounces cooked chicken
This snack will squash hunger after your intense workout and is just the thing your muscles need. You have the quinoa’s carbs to restore glycogen (your muscles’ main source of energy) and the antioxidants in the veggies and protein in the chicken to repair muscle damage, Lakatos explains. The vegetables also rehydrate your body.
Pre-workout snack: Plain lowfat or nonfat Greek yogurt topped with granola
While many of us only associate carbs with aerobic activities, you use carbohydrates during weight training too. “If the carbohydrate stored in your muscle is low, your ability to produce power in the weight room will be sub-par,” says sports dietitian and certified strength and conditioning specialist Marie Spano, R.D. The whey and casein combination in Greek yogurt means you’re getting a mix of fast- and slow-digesting proteins, which provide muscle-building amino acids during your workout so you’re ready for anything. Aim for 20 grams of protein in your yogurt.
Post-workout snack: Tart cherry juice smoothie with fresh ginger and whey protein
Studies suggest that ginger and tart cherry juice help decrease inflammation and soreness after a hard bout of exercise. Spano recommends adding 30 grams of whey protein, which she says will give your body the right mix of amino acids to ignite muscle protein synthesis and growth. (Also try Emma Stone's post-workout protein shake recipe.)
Pre-workout snack: Smoothie made from 1 piece fresh fruit or 1/2 to 1 cup frozen fruit, 6 ounces plain yogurt, and 4 ounces milk or unsweetened almond milk
Not only is it light, sweet, and hydrating, but fruit will also help fuel you through sweaty, vinyasa-style yoga, Lakatos says, by providing much-needed carbs to your muscles and brain so your body doesn’t dip into your liver glycogen stores to recruit energy. The yogurt and milk contain calcium, which helps with muscle contraction, and as well as protein if you use dairy products. As a bonus, this chilled smoothie will help cool your body so you begin your workout feeling refreshed. (Read up on how to make the perfect smoothie every single time.)
Post-workout snack: 1 orange and 1 hardboiled egg
Oranges are packed with water and potassium, which work together to help you rehydrate quickly after sweating out lots of H2O. The fruit’s carbs will replenish energy while the egg’s protein help muscles repair. Choose eggs that are omega-3-enriched (like Eggland’s Best eggs) or organic and free-range since research shows those fatty acids may play a role in preventing the inflammatory damage caused by exercising.
Pre-workout snack: Fresh beet and peach or nectarine salad
Although fellow CrossFitters will cheer you on as you push through your workout of the day, the sessions are still exhausting. Some beets beforehand will increase nitric oxide production in your body, which dilates blood vessels to accommodate greater blood flow to your hard-working muscles. Peaches or nectarines add additional healthy carbs for more energy—and their sweetness pairs perfectly with earthy beets.
Post-workout snack: Omelet made with 2 whole eggs and 3 egg whites with sautéed onions and red bell peppers, plus a bowl of chopped fruit (including pineapple)
Eggs are among the foods highest in leucine, “the spark plug that triggers the synthesis of protein in muscle,” Spano says, and using a few whites keeps the calories under control. Fold in red bell peppers for vitamin C, a nutrient essential for maintaining the healthy cartilage you need to cushion your bones during all those box jumps. Serving your omelet with pineapple gives you the enzyme bromelain, which may decrease inflammation in the body due to exercise—or if you knocked into equipment or another Crossfitter—though the research is inconclusive.
Pre-workout snack: 1 slice whole-wheat toast with jam
Spano recommends eating a very light and easy-to-digest carbohydrate snack a few hours before running sprints, downhill, hills, or hurdles so those carbs are ready to be used for activity. Toast with a thin layer of jam is perfect and super easy.
Post-workout snack: 8 ounces nonfat or lowfat chocolate milk
Your post-workout snack depends upon how much you train, Spano says. If you clock in only a few miles a week, she suggests a glass of chocolate milk. Chocolate milk does triple duty, according to a University of Texas at Austin study: It rehydrates, provides protein to aid in the repair of exercise-induced damage to muscle fibers, and offers sugar, a fast carb that’s beneficial in restoring glycogen post-workout. Vegans can enjoy flavored soymilk for a similar effect, Spano says, since it is high in protein.
Pre-workout snack: High-protein energy bar
A bar with around 200 calories, depending on how many miles you’re putting in, and at least 5 grams of protein will give you sustained energy, Spano says. She advises shying away from those containing ingredients that will work against you, such as sugar alcohols, glycerol, or inulin, which may cause bloating, cramps, and abdominal pain. (Here's everything you need to know about how to choose the healthiest protein bar.)
Post-workout snack: 8 ounces nonfat or lowfat chocolate milk with whole-grain salted pretzels
When you’re running more miles, you need more than chocolate milk. Add the pretzels to replenish sodium lost through sweat and glycogen. (Training for a marathon? Use this dietitian's tips for what to eat during marathon training.)
Pre-workout snack: 1/2 cup cooked freekeh with 1/2 cup fruit
Firm and chewy like bulgar wheat, freekeh is an ancient grain that’s low on the glycemic index, making for sustained energy instead of a spike and then drop mid-class. Top with fruit for additional energizing carbs and water to hydrate you. And if it’s been more than four hours since your last meal, add 1 tablespoon flaxseeds or chia seeds for extra protein and fiber, which provide staying power. (Also use freekah and other whole grains to make these grain-based salad recipes.)
Post-workout snack: Ginger or chamomile tea and 1/2 whole-wheat pita filled with 1/4 cup hummus and 1/2 cup spinach
The tea is hydrating and relaxing, so it extends your chilled-out state while assisting with fluid loss; drink it iced if you really want to cool down. The hummus sandwich also helps you recover better, Lakatos says, since the pita refuels lost glycogen stores and the hummus provides healthy fat to enhance the absorption of spinach’s fat-soluble vitamins A and K, which may help reduce the inflammation created by an intense yoga session.
Pre-workout snack: 2/3 cup berries and 6 ounces plain nonfat Greek yogurt
“The berries help fuel you with carbohydrates throughout your workout,” Lakatos says. But you need protein-packed Greek yogurt if you don’t want hunger to set in during the middle of doing hundreds—it will keep you satisfied longer, since it takes four to six hours to digest, while berries take about one to two hours, Lakatos explains. (In the mood for something savory? Try one of these savory Greek yogurt recipes.)
Post-workout snack: 1 red grapefruit, 30 roasted pistachios, and 1 glass water with lemon
After a Pilates session, it’s normal to feel peaceful, even if you’ve just worked hard in a megaformer class. Keep that feeling going with this combo of clean, whole foods. You’ll restore your body’s normal fluid balance thanks to potassium in the grapefruit and pistachios and a tall glass of agua, and the nuts also may fight post-workout inflammation.
Pre-workout snack: 1/2 cup dried oats, cooked with almond butter mixed in
In order to pump out those butt-burning reps again and again all class long, you need carbs for energy, hence the oatmeal. Spano says to add almond butter to stay satisfied the entire time, plus it’s a source of magnesium, a nutrient that’s necessary for muscle contraction and relaxation, but that many women don’t get enough of, according to an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study. (For a meal that's ready ASAP, prep these overnight oats recipes in advance.)
Post-workout snack: Tofu scramble made from 6 ounces organic firm tofu and matchstick carrots and yellow bell peppers sautéed in sesame oil
“Soy protein is decently high in leucine, an amino acid that has been shown to increase the processes underlying muscle growth and repair,” Spano says. While it’s a hefty serving, six ounces of tofu will provide enough total protein post-workout since barre incorporates resistance training. (Also try these easy tempeh recipes which are soy-based too.) Add yellow bell peppers since many of us typically fall short on eating vegetables of this color, Spano says.