What to Eat Before and After a Workout: 8 Healthy Snacking Tips

Author: Dana Ryan

By Dana Ryan

PH.D., M.A., MBA,
Director, Sports Performance & Education

For athletes and active individuals, snacking ensures adequate fuel for exercise, improves muscle recovery, boosts mental performance, and helps maintain healthy body composition.

Here are my top tips on healthy snacking:

1. Combine lean protein with a carbohydrate and/or healthy fat

Pair protein-rich foods with a carbohydrate or healthy fat for a balanced snack. It is crucial to have lean protein at every meal and snack to support muscle growth and repair. Protein also promotes fullness, helping ward off hunger until your next meal. Carbohydrates provide both your body and your brain with energy, choose whole grain for long-lasting energy. Healthy fats also provide energy with staying power.

Examples of balanced snacks include Greek yoghurt with granola, half a turkey sandwich, a fruit smoothie made with Greek yoghurt, a banana with peanut butter, or trail mix.


2. Don’t ignore your hunger cues

Listen to your body and pay attention to your hunger cues. Common signals include stomach rumbling or growling, fatigue, dizziness, and poor concentration. Being able to recognise these signals is crucial for athletic performance. You’ll need energy to perform your best.

Typically, spacing meals and snacks out every 2-3 hours is adequate timing to avoid hunger pangs and to ensure your body has enough fuel. This amounts to 2-3 snacks in addition to three main meals per day.


3. Fuel your exercise with pre-workout snacks

Carbohydrates are the preferred source of fuel for exercising muscles. Timing is important: prioritise
easy-to-digest carbs in your pre-workout snack.

A small amount of lean protein is okay, but limit or avoid fats, as they may cause digestive issues if eaten too close to the time of your workout. Eating your snack one-hour pre-workout should allow enough time for digestion.

Examples of pre-workout snacks include a fruit smoothie, a handful of dried fruit plus wholegrain cereal, Greek yoghurt with berries, a piece of fruit plus a carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage, or a piece of wholegrain toast with jam.


4. Refuel, repair, and recover with post-workout snacks

A good post-workout snack should have three components: protein, carbohydrates, and fluids. Aim for at least 20 grams of protein in your snack to prevent muscle breakdown and to promote muscle building. Eating your snack within the first hour after exercise is ideal for replenishment and rebuilding.

Examples of good recovery snacks include low-fat chocolate milk, a protein shake, a fruit and Greek yoghurt smoothie, trail mix with dried fruit, or wholegrain bread with nut butter.


5. Snack mindfully and avoid distractions

First, make sure you choose a healthy snack that aligns with your performance and health goals. Then, stop what you’re doing for a few minutes – turn off the TV, put down your phone, and close your laptop – and eat your snack.

Eating without distractions will help you feel more satisfied and you’ll be less likely to overeat.


6. Don’t get tricked by treats

Distinguish a healthy snack from a treat. Healthy snacks are nutritious and satisfy hunger. Treats, such as sweets, fried foods, and chips lack useful nutrients and deliver “empty” calories,” meaning they cannot help your body grow, recover or perform to the best of its ability and could lead to weight gain.

Instead, choose a healthy snack that can satisfy your craving while making you feel full.


7. Choose healthy, convenient snacks to fill nutrition gaps

Whether you’re fuelling for exercise, replenishing energy losses, or building and repairing muscles, your body needs constant nutrition.

When you’re on-the-go, choose a convenient snack such as a protein bar, fruit, or low-fat Greek yoghurt. Snacking is a great way for active people to get the extra nutrition they need to achieve body composition and performance goals.


8. Plan ahead

Prepare healthy snacks at home to take with you to work, school, or training. Skip the vending machine and avoid buying snacks where healthy options are limited and pack portable snacks in your backpack or sports bag.

Planning ahead and knowing your schedule will keep you from missing your healthy snacks.


Always read the label – use only as directed.
Before embarking on any physical activity, please consult your physician.