How Should I Eat Before and After Exercise?

16th August 2017, Dietitian Marcus Lee, Mount Miriam Cancer Hospital

The answer actually depends on the intensity and duration of your activity. However, I can share some common and simple tips that apply for pre- and post-workout nutrition, whether you are a weekend warrior or an active exerciser.

Before Exercise: Do Not Skip the Carbs

Carbohydrates are fuel for your body, especially for your muscles and brain. The harder and longer your body is working, the more carbohydrates you need to keep going.

Ideally, you should eat about 1 to 3 hours before exercise, depending on how your body tolerates food. Try and experiment what time frame works best for your body. Everyone is different. If you’re a competitive athlete, this is something you need to explore during your training days and not during race day.

Do not eat too close to a workout as you may experience some gastrointestinal discomfort while you exercise.

You do not need a large meal before workout, but you need to make sure you get in some carbohydrates.

Here are some suggestions for pre-workout fuel:

  • 1 – 2 slices of peanut butter sandwich
  • 1 cup of yogurt with berries
  • 1 cup oatmeal with low-fat milk
  • 1 glass of apple or banana milkshake
  • 1 handful of nuts and raisins (50% raisins, 50% nuts)

Exercise with an empty stomach is not recommended, as your performance and outcome may be affected.

Notice that each of the above suggestions include some proteins, but proteins are not the principal fuel for your body. Protein is more essential for post-workout. Protein plays the roles of “rebuild” and “repair”.

After exercise: Rebuild and Repair

Your body uses stored glycogen in your muscles to power through your workout, but after that workout, you need to replenish the lost.

Carbohydrate gives your muscles the ability to replenish the glycogen storage and proteins help your tired muscles to rebuild and repair. Try to eat within 30 minutes of completing workout, especially an intense workout.

Here are some suggestions for post-workout meals:

  • Omelet egg on a whole-grain wrap with veggies
  • Grilled chicken breast with potato salad
  • Tuna salad on whole-meal bread
  • Protein shake with banana
  • Chocolate milk with rice crackers

Do remember to re-hydrate your body with water to replace fluid that lost through perspiration during exercise. If your workout is more than 1 hour, you may need to replenish water and some carbs and electrolytes during your workout.