When it comes to working out, it’s important to feel energized, but it’s not always as simple as grabbing a snack on your way out the door. Eating too close to exercise is a recipe for discomfort, but heading to the gym hungry isn’t ideal either.
To learn how to maximize the potential of a workout, I spoke with nutritionist Heidi Skolnik, MS, CDN, FACSM, and author of Nutrient Timing for Peak Performance to find out what to eat and when, before heading to the gym.
All Day Long
It’s never a good idea to start a workout with a water deficit. Make sure to stay well hydrated before, during, and after exercise. Use this to see how much water you should be drinking daily. Keep in mind that the body needs to be hydrated to process calories; even being mildly dehydrated can slow down your metabolic rate.
Two to Three Hours Before a Workout
If you’re planning a meal a couple of hours before working out, Heidi suggests eating a meal that is a mix of carbs, protein, and fat, which falls in the 300- to 400-calorie range. Her suggestions include a small serving of lean protein with veggies, hummus and pretzel crisps, or a fruit and nut bar (we’re partial to KIND and Larabars) with a small serving of yogurt. Avoid gassy food like beans and broccoli since they may cause intestinal discomfort.
One to Two Hours Before a Workout
As you get closer to your workout, carbs should become the focus of your snack (up to 50 grams) with just a little bit of protein. Heidi suggests cereal with skim milk or trail mix with a latte. If you only have one to two hours before your workout, keep your snack under 200 calories. This mixed protein-carb snack will help you feel satisfied and fueled and may also help reduce muscle soreness.
15 to 30 Minutes Before a Workout
If you only have 15 to 30 minutes before a scheduled workout, choosing a small snack that is simple to digest is key, says Heidi. Pick a snack that has about 25 grams of carbs like a tablespoon of raisins, a small banana, a few saltine crackers, or a small serving of applesauce.
Immediately Before a Workout
If you haven’t eaten in awhile, don’t skip out on food — even if you’re just about to head into the gym, says Heidi. Your body will need the energy to power through whatever vigorous workout you put it through. Restrict this snack to simple carbs (up to 15 grams), and keep it light: seven to nine jellybeans, an eight-ounce sport drink, or one slice of white bread should do the trick. The key is to stick to simple sugars that won’t cause digestive discomfort midway through your workout.
Within 30 minutes of finishing a workout, eat a snack that is a mix of carbs and protein. This will help reduce muscle soreness, and, since your body’s metabolic rate is higher after a workout, it will give it the fuel it needs to recover. Heidi’s faves include chocolate milk or yogurt (throw in an energy bar if you’re famished or had a really intense workout), or cottage cheese with a banana or pineapple. Here are even more ideas for .