What to Eat Before a Workout: 50 Pre- and Post-Workout Snacks
For some, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But for others who manage to squeeze some gym time into their everyday routine, pre- and post-workout foods can be just as important.
We tapped Bob Seebohar, sport dietitian and exercise physiologist, for 50 snacks that offer the right balance of carbohydrates, fats, and protein to satisfy hunger, fuel workouts, and aid with recovery. While everyone’s nutritional requirements and preferences are different depending on their goals and activities, you actually don’t need to eat much to work out for 60 minutes or less, says Seebohar, so keep these in mind for your longer sweat sessions. Read on for what to eat before a workout, plus the snacks to grab after.
The body builds muscle and recovers 24 hours a day, not just at the gym. Smartly timed snacks can give the body the fuel it needs to build muscle, burn fat, and recover as best it can. If you prefer to eat before exercising, or if your workout will last longer than an hour, Seebohar suggests grabbing a snack about 45 to 60 minutes in advance and keeping it small (think a palmful of carbs, a half palmful of protein, and a quarter palmful of fat). Find what works for you by trying one of these 25 options.
A parfait sounds fancy, but it’ll only take you three minutes to throw together this combo of 2 percent or full-fat yogurt, granola, and berries. Pro tip: You can make this in a disposable cup and eat it with a plastic spoon on the way to your morning workout.
Swap out sugar-packed juice for the real deal in this whole-orange smoothie. Confused about what kind of protein powder to use? Seebohar likes Thorne Research
or NOW Foods
We love smoothies, but first—coffee. This recipe combines both. It’s perfect for an early-morning workout since the hit of caffeine will perk you up before you hit the gym.
Oats are a classic morning staple, but if you don’t want to clean up a pot before rushing to the gym in the morning, try this one as an afternoon snack. The recipe serves two, but we suggest dividing it into three portions and refrigerating the remaining two for smaller snack-size servings.
It doesn’t get much easier than blueberries, bananas, yogurt, almond milk, and ice. Just be sure to swap out the suggested nonfat yogurt for a partial- or full-fat version— it’ll give you more fuel to crush your workout.
This banana bread-inspired parfait is not nearly as complicated as baking up a sweet treat. You can pre-make a few and then pop them in the fridge for a grab-and-go snack on busy days.
The classic apple-and-peanut-butter combo gets an upgrade from raisins and chia seeds. If you’re in a rush, skip the extras and just grab an apple with PB. Try stashing some to-go packs of peanut butter
or almond butter
in your gym bag so you can chow down on your way to indoor cycling class.
Protein shakes can taste
chalky boring, but when there’s coffee and chocolate involved, we’re big fans. This blogger suggests adding an extra tablespoon of sugar, but we’d suggest skipping it for an even healthier (and easier!) recipe.
Cottage cheese gives this parfait a light and creamy texture and adds a little extra fat, which will keep you feeling satisfied longer.
Make these DIY no-bake peanut butter balls ahead of time, and you’ll have some healthy treats ready to fuel a week’s worth of sweat sessions. Seem like too much effort? Grab a box of your favorite bars (we love CLIF Bar’s new nut butter-filled ones
), cut in thirds, and then roll into balls for smaller bites.
Avo toast never fails. When you have a heartier appetite, try this pre-workout version and add a hard-boiled (or fried) egg on top for added protein. There are a lot of ways to get fancy here
, but we’re big fans of this classic combo before a morning run.
If you have time on your hands, mix up these DIY energy bars and stash the extras for later. All you’ll need for this no-bake recipe are a food processor and a few ingredients. Short on time? Stock up on some store-bought bars with high-quality ingredients and a 1:1 or 2:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio (in other words, look for 10 grams of carbs and 10 or 20 grams of protein), Seebohar says. One of our favorites is RXBAR, which lists the main ingredients right on the front of the wrapper.
PB and banana is the perfect on-the-go snack. For a longer workout, spread both on one slice of whole-wheat toast and add a sprinkle of chia seeds to make this recipe even
Getting in some fuel for your workout can be as easy as heating up a small portion of leftovers from the night before. Try making an easy meal-prep combo like this chipotle chicken, sweet potato, and green bean dish then setting aside a snack-size amount for an afternoon snack.
These crunchy buckwheat bars are essentially a healthier and protein-filled version of Rice Krispie treats. If made ahead, they’ll last up to two weeks in the fridge or two months in the freezer.
Waking up early on the weekend for a long run? These protein-packed waffles will seem like a treat, but they’re the right balance of nutrients to fuel your body for the long haul. Have one half of a waffle before and save the other for after your workout. They’re also freezer friendly, so you can stash the extras and pop them in the toaster later.
A wrap may sound like a meal, but this mini version is the perfect size for a pre-workout bite. The gluten-free “wrap” is actually just turkey wrapped around some avocado with shredded carrot for added crunch. It’s the perfect use-what-you-already-have-in-your-fridge kind of snack.
Hummus and carrots is a classic snack that works perfectly fine before a workout. This blogger makes a homemade version with a cauliflower base, but feel free to grab prepackaged hummus and baby carrots at the store.
If you’re gluten-free or just not big on toast, this is a great way to get your nut-butter snack in while adding healthy carbs to power you through. Plus, rice cakes don’t go stale as quickly as bread, so you can always keep a pack on hand.
Omelets are one of our favorite any-time-of-day meals. You can load them up with tons of your favorite veggies and, since you’re working out, splurge with full-fat cheese. This baked style makes it easy to portion out snack sizes, or you can make them in a muffin pan.
This Italian-inspired avo toast trades mozzarella for low-cal, high-protein cottage cheese. If you’re on the go, swap out the bread for a few whole-grain crackers.
By mashing up an egg and a banana, and topping them with apples, almond butter, and coconut, you’ll get a grain-free oatmeal of sorts. This is a great one to make the night before and eat in a travel cup on your way to your favorite morning cardio class.
If you’re feeling really fancy, you can make your own sports drink chock-full of electrolytes to prep your body to get sweaty. If you’re in a rush, try a store-bought mix like Generation UCAN
, which is low in sugar, or Propel waters
, which are low cal.
Whip up this chicken salad for a snack, stuff it in half a pita pocket, and then use the remainder for lunch or dinner.
Avocados are good. Avocados stuffed with the makings of a BLT are even better. Use full-fat Greek yogurt in place of mayo for a quick and hearty snack.
Refueling your body after a hard workout is important for recovery, particularly if it lasts longer than 60 minutes. If your workout is strength based, the food you eat can help your muscles rebuild and repair. Seebohar suggests looking for a combo of about 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates, up to 20 grams of protein, and just a bit of fat (5 to 8 grams). The best time to eat? If your workout is short or moderate, just wait until the next meal. If it’s high intensity, strength based, or lasts over two hours, the window for glycogen replenishment is the first 30 to 60 minutes after your workout, Seebohar says.
The great thing about trail mix? You get to choose what’s in it if you’re making it yourself. Whip up a big batch and divide it up into mini snack bags for the whole week.
Protein pancakes are a perfect way to get some quality protein into a sweet treat. Pick a protein powder of your choice (Seebohar recommends whey isolate with no artificial sweeteners) and get cooking. Trust us, it’s a lot tastier than chugging down the chalk water you mix up in a shaker bottle.
Shakes are great because they’re quick and easy, and this one takes the cake. You get the extra nutrients and a hint of sweetness from the sweet potatoes, plus the protein you need after a hard workout.
This snack is easy, simple, and super tasty. Combine bananas, Greek yogurt (use partial- or full-fat after a workout), and peanut butter, and there you have it—carbs, protein, and fat all in one snack.
This post-workout snack legit looks like a candy bar, and it basically tastes like one too. Make a whole batch of these in advance so you can grab them on your way out the door. If you don’t have time to make them at home, try something comparable, like a CLIF Builder’s protein bar
This smoothie is a tasty vegan option, which is key because protein shakes often use milk-based protein powders. The fruity combo is great for your sweet tooth without any added sugar.
One thing people forget can be a great post-workout snack: last night’s dinner. A meal with a protein and some complex carbs (like this one) is ideal, so if you have a small portion of leftovers from dinner, don’t throw it out—wrap it up!
Another protein-packed make-ahead: avocado tuna salad. Prep a big batch on the weekend, and use it for lunch, dinner, or smaller after-workout snacks.
This shake will totally curb your sugar cravings. The recipe uses casein protein powder, which is great before bed since your body digests it slowly overnight. If you want to skip the casein, sub in any whey or plant-based protein powder.
This recipe is the perfect breakfast sandwich for anyone in a hurry on the way to work. Wrap it up and stash it in your gym bag, then simply nuke it when you get to the office.
Sweet potato in a protein bar? Count us in. These are great because they’re gluten-free, you can use whatever protein powder you like, and it takes just 20 minutes to make a whole batch.
It’s rare that you crave a big salad after a hard strength session, so sometimes, drinking your greens is just easier. This recipe includes spinach, apples, and bananas for a shake full of nutrients.
Rice cakes are a great vehicle for whatever wacky and delicious topping combo you come up with. Post-workout, try topping the fluffy cake with nut butter, banana, cacao nibs, and crumbled sea salt potato chips (yes, really!) to replenish sodium loss.
In the mood for something cold? Try one of these recovery fudge pops, which are the perfect treat after a hot and sweaty workout. Use skim milk in place of half and half for a healthier alternative. As with any treat, eat these in moderation.
Sometimes the simpler the recipe, the better. Not only is this one super easy to make (you just cut things!), it will also keep you full after your workout. Skip the added sugar for an even healthier option.
Store-bought muscle “milk” may sound like an appealing option, but it can also be packed with added sugar. Make this homemade version and save some money too.
Combine the protein of egg whites with the nutrients of spinach to refuel your body after a sweat session. Half the recipe to make a smaller, snack-size portion.
Cottage cheese is another good low-cal protein option. Add whole-wheat cereal and strawberries (or whatever fruit you like) for some flavor and crunch. If you’ve had a long workout, you’ll definitely need it.
The beauty of this one is that it’s simple and straightforward. If you don’t have time to whip up a snack yourself, combine hard-boiled eggs for protein with a veggie and nuts for healthy fat.
Whether you’re in the peanut or almond camp, nut butters make an easy and high-protein snack option. Spread your preferred nut butter (we like to use a big, healthy serving) on a small whole-wheat wrap, throw on some bananas, add a dash of cinnamon, and then roll it up.
If you’re not into chocolate or peanut butter in your protein shakes, this is the pick for you. The flavor is subtle, and the banana and orange pack plenty of nutrients.
Who doesn’t love the classic BEC breakfast sandwich? This one uses an English muffin and will remind you of your favorite fast-food guilty pleasure—just way healthier.
Another simple choice: hummus and pita bread (or carrots, celery, or whatever else you have on hand for dipping). Just check your hummus ingredients and choose one with as few ingredients as possible (no added sugars!).
Sweet potatoes, avocado, and eggs are three of our favorite healthy foods, so this is the perfect post-workout bite. You can even make it for dinner (brinner) the night before and save some leftovers.
Another leftover-friendly recipe, this chicken hash is perfect for any meal and packs in nutrients to help your muscles rebuild.
Originally published May 2014. Updated January 2017.