There’s no doubt that the endorphin rush we experience after a workout makes us feel great. When we exercise we are more likely to make better lifestyle choices like opting to nourish our bodies with healthy and delicious foods. There are times though that exercise can leave us feeling tired, depleted or even a little bit dizzy or sick.

While the type and intensity, coupled with our fitness level, can certainly impact how a workout makes us feel, the food that we fuel our bodies with also affects our energy and performance as well as the results we achieve from our hard work.

When we eat and train we want to know we are doing both with a purpose.  Adopting the below strategies can help us achieve our goals, while also staying healthy, balanced, fit and reduce risk of injury, fatigue and keep our hormones healthy.

The body’s main energy sources are carbohydrates, protein and fat. Having a pre or post workout snack made up of these will ensure that you are eating well enough to achieve your results!  


Pre-workout Fuel

Before a workout you want to ensure the body has enough fuel and hydration so that it will not fatigue. This will help maximise performance and reduce muscle damage.

Optimally, having a meal 3-4 hours and a snack about 45-60 minutes prior to training will help ensure the above. The snack or meal before a workout does not have to be big. Something between 100-150 calories is enough to fuel your body before your workout.

Eating before a cardio workout makes your body a fat-burning energy machine so the aim is to increase your energy burning stores with quick burning, low-fibrous carbohydrates such as:

  • Bananas

  • Dates or other dried fruits

  • Piece of toast

  • Yogurt and berries

  • Rice cakes

  • Oats

If you are having a snack within a short window of time before your workout, any of the above carbohydrates are ideal because they are easily digestible which can reduce or avoid digestive discomfort while training.

For weight training or strength training (light, heavy, body or even yoga), try to include protein into your pre-workout snack like:

  • A hard boiled egg

  • A few nuts or nut butter

  • Greek yogurt

Tip: Try create a snack that is a combination of carbohydrate and protein.  One of my favourite pre-workout snacks, which I make and can take with me are my Sweet Potato Brownies.

For longer, low-intensity workouts, such as long distance walks, cycling and swimming, a pre-workout snack containing fats can be a good source of fuel. It’s important to note that fat is calorie dense and can take longer to breakdown, so it is best consumed when there is more time to digest, for example in a meal 3-4 hours before a workout.   


Post-workout Fuel

Ideally, you want to eat within 30 minutes of working out to replace your energy stores, this can be a snack and then a meal 3 to 4 hours later.

You’ll need carbohydrates to rebuild your body’s glycogen stores, as well protein to  repair and regrow the muscle proteins and allow for a speedy recovery. Regardless of whether you are a sweaty person, your body will also be depleted of electrolytes, which are necessary for optimal function of the body and neuron functioning.  Putting these electrolytes back into the body happens those contained in our food and of course, in water!

What should I eat?

Refuelling with complex carbohydrates, lean, healthy proteins and some good fats is the best combination for a post-workout meal.  Complex fibrous carbohydrates include quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato, whole grain toast, oats and high fibre fruit such as berries. Lean proteins include eggs, cottage cheese, almond or peanut butter, yogurt, tuna, salmon, grilled chicken and any non-processed protein powder. Some fats include nuts, olive oil and those in egg yolks.  

Some snacks or meals after a workout are:

  • Oats with berries, protein powder and nuts (this is PT Alice Jane’s favourite one!)

  • Bliss or protein balls

  • Cottage cheese and peanut butter on toast

  • Tuna and whole grain crackers or brown rice cakes

  • Greek Yoghurt and berries

  • Homemade protein smoothie

  • Fish, sweet potato and mixed vegetables

  • Grilled chicken, brown rice and roasted vegetables


What if I want to lose fat? Should I still eat before a workout?

The first thing you might do in the morning is head out for a workout  and it may be too early to feel hungry or you don’t have time to digest anything.. I am definitely one of those people! This is what we would call working out in a ‘fasted state’.

When you work out during a fasted state, i.e. when you first wake up, the body’s circulating blood sugar and glycogen stores fall, decreasing insulin levels.  Glycogen is glucose from carbohydrates which is stored in the body. The muscle and liver are main sites of glycogen storage in the body. It takes between 18 to 24 hours (depending on the individual and their diet) for the body to be depleted of its glycogen stores and then turn to proteins in the muscle and fat to start burning through these energy source.  If you are worried about muscle loss, don’t be unless you are fasting for extended periods of time and then working out. Also the more muscle you have the more storage of glycogen you have.

A study published by the British Journal of Nutrition has shown that pre-breakfast fasted aerobic exercise can burn 20% more fat than those who consumed breakfast and then performed aerobic exercise.  

Other studies show that the results for additional fat burn were trivial and did not make a difference to the weight and fat loss results.  One particular study showed that fasted aerobic exercise helped with weight management in males as it reduced energy intake and increase fat oxidation while another study showed pre-breakfast fasted exercise led to increased 24 hour fat oxidation in females.

So should you work out in a fasted state or not? Overall it’s  a choice which you are making depending on your needs and if you are physically fit and healthy to do so.  Personally, there are days where I work out in a fasted state and feel great, and other times it can make me feel weak and fatigued making my workout inefficient.  

When deciding whether working out fasted is right for you it is important to listen to your what your body needs.  It is always important to take into account your age, fitness, hormones and your current health state, for example if you suffer from insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes or have an autoimmune disease.