Tennis shoes, a phone with earbuds attached and a water bottle is in focus.
Before lacing up, make sure you know the dos and don’ts of nutrition when it comes to exercise. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

What to eat before and after a workout is one of the most common questions I’m asked.

Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just starting your exercise journey, there are some general guidelines.

If you’re looking for advice on meal planning and customization, you can follow up with your health care provider or dietitian.

Pre-workout nutrition

It’s best not to eat immediately before a workout.

Eat larger meals at least 3-4 hours before exercising. Ideally, you should fuel your body about 1 to 3 hours before working out with a small meal or snack.

Carbohydrates are the main fuel for your muscles. The harder your engine is working, the more carbs you need for optimal performance. In addition to carbs, your pre-workout meal or snack should also include some protein. While carbs are the fuel, protein is what rebuilds and repairs your muscles.

Here are some suggestions for pre-workout fuel:

  • A banana with peanut butter
  • Plain Greek yogurt with berries
  • Oatmeal with low-fat milk and blueberries
  • Apple and peanut or almond butter

During workout

The need to fuel during exercise depends on exercise time and type:

  • If your workout is less than 45 minutes, focus on water for hydration.
  • For sustained high-energy exercises that last 45-75 minutes, you need small amounts of carbs throughout the activity to optimally fuel your muscles and performance. Hydrate with sports drinks or a small serving of applesauce every 20-30 minutes.
  • For endurance exercise lasting 75 minutes or longer, you need 30-60 grams of carbs an hour, such as a handful of raisins or 1 medium banana.

Post-workout nutrition

Getting protein and carbs into your system is even more vital post-workout.

Your body uses stored fuel in your muscles and liver, in the form of glycogen, to fuel your workout.

Ideally, you should get carbs and protein into your body within the first two hours after exercising—the sooner the better.

This gives your muscles the ability to replenish the glycogen you just used and allows for protein and amino acids to repair your muscles.

Here are some ideas for post-workout nutrition:

  • Recovery smoothie
  • Turkey on a whole-grain wrap with veggies
  • Yogurt with berries

When it comes to exercise and nutrition, everyone is different—consider keeping a journal to monitor how your body reacts to meals and pay close attention to how you feel and perform during your workout.

Let your experience guide you through which eating habits work best for you.