Best Pre & Post Workout Foods

By Rebecca Gawthorne – Dietitian & Nutritionist 

Knowing what you should eat before a workout can be confusing! It needs to give you enough energy to power through an intense session, but shouldn’t make you feel heavy and bloated while you train. It needs to provide you with a steady flow of carbohydrates so you can finish your entire workout, but can’t be high in fibre otherwise you’ll be running to the toilet. With all the thousands of protein shakes and bars out on the market, knowing what to eat after a workout can be even more confusing. 

So to make your life a little easier, I've selected three of the best pre and post workout snacks based on the latest sports nutrition research. I’ve also include a ‘what not to eat’ section too to ensure you steal clear of some definite no-no’s. 

Top Pre-Workout Snacks 

Your pre-workout snack needs to provide your muscles with ready to use energy, so when it comes to gearing up for a workout, carbs are your best friend! Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for your muscles, so in order to maximise your workout and give your body the fuel it needs, you need to eat a carbohydrate based snack about 30-60 minutes before you train. Aim to keep your snack relatively small so you don’t have too much in your stomach. 

Three carbohydrate based pre-workout snacks you can try: 

  1. A Banana – portable and delicious with the perfect form of easily digestible carbohydrates, bananas are an excellent pre-workout snack. They also contain important electrolyte potassium, which helps when you are sweating during a workout. If you don’t like bananas, other fruits like a mango or a large bunch of grapes are great options too.
  2. Tub of yoghurt topped with some fresh fruit - quick and easy to eat and low in fibre, yoghurt is a great option before a workout. It contains a reasonable amount of carbohydrates and topped with some fresh fruit like a banana or mango, it packs a great carb hit to fuel you for an intense session.
  3. Homemade banana pancakes – Pancakes made with by combining an egg, a few tablespoons of flour and a mashed banana then cooked on a fry pan, are an excellent pre-workout snack. You can top them with honey for a bit of extra sweetness.  

What to avoid – spicy foods (think chilli, pepper etc), fatty foods (think burgers, chips, pizza, pastries) and foods very high in fibre (think trail mix, nut bars, mueslis). 

Top Post-Workout Snacks 

Most of us are aware that protein is needed after a workout, but did you know that carbs are essential too? Carbs are required for building muscles as they stimulate your muscles to absorb amino acids from protein through increasing the hormone insulin. Carbs replenish fuel stores to prevent muscle breakdown and contribute to the positive energy balance needed to grow muscle and recover from training.  

Hence a snack that contains both carbs and protein is needed after training. You should aim for approx. 10 - 20g of both protein and carbs and eat your snack within 20 -30 minutes after finishing your session.

  1. Fruit Smoothie – fresh fruit like mango, berries and banana blended with your milk of choice (e.g. soy milk/nut milk) and a few tablespoons of yoghurt is perfect fuel after a workout. You can also add some protein powder to your smoothie if you want.
  2. Slice of toast with homemade peanut butter - you can make your own nut butters by simply blending together nuts in a high speed blender until a smooth, oily consistency forms. Spread this onto some wholegrain bread or crackers and you have yourself the perfect protein: carb post-workout combo.
  3. Handful of nuts and dried fruit (e.g. dates, apricots) - a great, easy option to keep in a little snap lock bag in your car or gym bag, nuts and dried fruit together will help your muscles grown after a session. 

If you finish training and can eat your next main meal (i.e. breakfast, lunch or dinner) within 1/2 hour of finishing training, then this main meal can replace your post-workout snack.

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