What To Eat and When To Eat It

Here’s the real deal on what to eat to fuel up and recover no matter when you hit the gym.
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High-five to you for finding the workout time that works for you. That’s half the battle. The other half is fueling your fitness to match your power hour. Whether you’re an early-morning exerciser, a night owl or somewhere in between, when and what you eat before and after your training session can be the difference between killing it in the gym (and on the scale) and losing energy midlunge. Here, we dig into preworkout and postworkout eats so you can get the best nutrient bang for your body — morning, noon and night!

If You Are… An Early-Bird Exerciser

Preworkout

If you roll out of bed and go straight to the gym, you could putter out during push-ups. “Working out on an empty stomach can result in low blood sugar, a sluggish workout, unfueled muscles and low energy,” warns Jessica DeGore, RD, a Philadelphia-based registered dietitian. But a big breakfast can slow you down. Go for a combo of carbs and protein 30 minutes before your workout, and because you might wake up dehydrated, don’t forget H20. “Dehydration affects your workout performance and your mood, so it’s important to drink water in the morning and throughout the day,” DeGore says.

  • Whole-grain toast (1 slice) + natural peanut butter (2 teaspoons) + fruit
  • Morning smoothie (1 cup 1% milk + ½ cup Greek yogurt + ½ cup frozen blueberries + frozen banana)
  • Overnight oats (½ cup old-fashioned oats + 1 cup almond milk + ¼ cup blueberries)
  • Rice cake (1) + natural peanut butter (1 tablespoon) + jam (1 teaspoon)
  • Dates (2) stuffed with almond butter (2 teaspoons each)

Postworkout

Save your real morning meal for after your workout. “Eat breakfast as you normally would, consisting of protein, carbs and healthy fats,” says Amy Fischer, MS, RD, CDN, a nutritionist in New York City. “Aim to get between 20 to 25 grams of protein; it will also keep you fuller longer.”

  • Plain Greek yogurt (1 cup) + mixed berries (1 cup) + sliced almonds (¼ cup)
  • Veggie omelet (2 eggs + ¼ cup diced red bell pepper + ½ cup sliced mushrooms) + 1 cup skim milk
  • Canned salmon + whole-grain bagel + avocado (¼)
  • Cottage cheese (1 cup) + blueberries (½ cup)
  • Green smoothie (frozen banana + 1 cup almond milk + handful spinach + 2 scoops of protein powder)

If You Are… A Lunchtime Lifter

Preworkout

Noontime workouts aren’t an excuse to skimp on sustenance; be sure to eat a little something before and after your lunch-break lunges. “A midmorning snack gives your body time to break down and process the nutrients needed to fuel the workout,” says Kristin Reisinger, MS, RD, CSSD, a New Jersey–based nutritionist, fitness trainer and founder of IronPlate Studios. Skip salty, fried and tough-to-digest fiber foods (think kale) that can weigh you down and bloat you up.

  • Multigrain pretzels (10) + red bell pepper strips (6) + hummus (3 tablespoons)
  • Air-popped popcorn (3 cups popped) + Parmesan cheese (3 tablespoons)
  • Apple and walnuts (¼ cup)
  • Banana + almond butter (1 tablespoon)
  • Celery + peanut butter (1 tablespoon) + raisins

Postworkout

“The hour after finishing your workout is when the muscles are using protein to build muscles and absorbing carbohydrates, so be sure to eat something within that window,” DeGore says. Instead of leaving your nutrition up to the food-court gods, brown-bag a balanced meal that’ll make good on your hard-earned gym gains and power up your brain for the rest of the day.

  • Whole-wheat wrap + deli turkey (3 slices) + spinach (handful) + avocado (¼)
  • Tomato soup + multigrain crackers (12) + string cheese
  • Grilled chicken or canned tuna (3 ounces) + salad + oil-and-vinegar dressing (1 tablespoon)
  • Brown rice bowl (½ cup brown rice + ½ cup black beans + ½ cup steamed broccoli)
  • Whole-grain bread (2 slices) + peanut butter (1 tablespoon) + honey (1 teaspoon)

If You Are… An After-Work Warrior

Preworkout

It can be a long stretch between lunch and a 6 p.m. Spin class. Don’t let your afternoon to-do list trump your midday snack, or you might be ravenous through your workout. “The goal of the preworkout snack should be to provide you with energy to fuel your workout,” says Fischer, who suggests a mix of low-fiber carbs that are easier to digest paired with protein. Having portable and nonperishable options you can keep at your desk also keeps you from the dreaded vending machine.

  • Raisins (¼ cup) + peanuts (¼ cup) or almonds and dried cranberries
  • Turkey jerky (1 ounce) + dried apples (3 rings)
  • Multigrain crackers (12) + hard-boiled egg
  • Orange + mixed nuts (¼ cup)
  • Ezekiel Cinnamon Raisin bread (1 slice) + almond butter (2 tablespoons)

Postworkout

The most important window for refueling is within an hour after your workout. Waiting too long can make you hangry (cue fridge raid!). “Having a simple snack on hand for immediately after training takes the edge off hunger, promotes muscle repair and replenishment, and gives you the time to get home and think clearly about what’s healthy for dinner — no gorging necessary,” Reisinger says. The answer: something portable you can stash in your gym bag.

  • Almonds (¼ cup) and dried cranberries (¼ cup)
  • Chocolate milk, 2% (1 cup) + plaintain chips
  • Kind bar in dark chocolate almond and coconut or RBar in double chocolate
  • Apple + pistachios (¼ cup)
  • Chia pudding (¼ cup chia seeds + 1 cup almond or coconut milk)
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, yolks discarded and replaced with 2 tablespoons hummus + red bell pepper strips

If You Are… A Night Owl Gym Rat

Preworkout

To avoid scarfing down everything in sight after your twilight training sesh, don’t work out on an empty stomach. “Timing a ‘mini-meal’ rich in protein and some unrefined carbs a few hours before your workout will set you up for success,” Reisinger says.

  • Plain Greek yogurt (1 cup) + granola (¼ cup)
  • Cashews (¼ cup) + dried apricots (¼ cup)
  • Baby carrots (12) + hummus (3 tablespoons)
  • Part-skim ricotta cheese (½ cup) + strawberries (½ cup)
  • Banana smoothie (frozen banana + 1 cup milk + scoop protein powder + ice cubes)

Postworkout

Resist the urge to go straight to bed without eating. “Instead of skipping food completely, try to have a small snack, otherwise you might end up feeling sluggish the next day,” Fischer warns. Protein is a must; just go easy on the late-night carbs, which can lead to weight gain.

  • Dried peas (½ cup) + clementine
  • ThinkThin High Protein Bar in Brownie Crunch
  • Roasted chickpeas (½ cup)
  • Almond milk + whey protein powder (1 scoop)
  • String cheese + sliced tomato
  • Lettuce wrap (3 slices ham + 1 ounce feta cheese + 2 leaves romaine)

4 Hydration Hacks That Really Work

Shake up your water with these nutrition-packed add-ins that go beyond your usual scoop of protein powder.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids: Boosting hydration with BCAAs (aka: the building blocks of protein) means better muscle repair and less fatigue. Add 1 scoop to 1 cup of water.

Tart Cherry Juice: The antioxidant-rich beverage can speed muscle recovery postworkout and dial down next-day soreness (just go easy because it’s high in sugar). Add 2 ounces to 1 cup of water.

Chia Seeds: These potent seeds not only give water oomph, but they also supercharge it with protein, fiber, healthy fats and electrolytes. Add 1 tablespoon to 1 cup of water.

Himalayan Salt: Spike your water with a natural dose of electrolytes with this mineral-rich sprinkle that contains sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium to fend off muscle cramps and maintain water balance. Add ¼ teaspoon to 1 cup of water.

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