By Jen Hartman

Remember that one athlete you played sports with who fueled up with a soda and candy bar before the game? No surprise, they weren't doing their body any favors.

In addition to clocking countless hours of training, world-class athletes recognize that fueling their bodies correctly before and after workouts is vital to their success.

While most of us are not training with the intensity of a pro, it’s still important to focus on proper nutrition to help our bodies prepare for and recover from workouts.

Individuals who follow a healthy diet regimen in conjunction with their workouts have more energy, are more successful with weight loss, have fewer health problems, and experience less depression.

Exercise is important! But, research shows that health benefits are greater when proper nutrition is also followed. Depending on your individual routine and needs, this can look different. However, I wanted to take a little time to offer some general recommendations.


Don’t eat right before. It is best to fuel your body 1-3 hours prior to your workout. If you prefer to work out first thing in the morning, try one of these light breakfasts, then wait at least 40 minutes.

  • 8 ounce fruit smoothie made with Greek yogurt and frozen fruit
  • 1 slice whole grain toast with boiled egg
  • 1/2 peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread
  • 1/2 cup steel cut oats with frozen berries and 1 tbsp walnuts

Do include carbohydrates. Healthy carbohydrates provide necessary energy and fuel for your muscles.

Make room for lean protein. Protein digests slower, so this will help you stay fueled during your long workout. Protein also provides essential amino acids, which are necessary for your muscles to participate in activity. 

Hydrate. Water is best! Drink no less than 16 ounces at least two hours before, with 5-10 ounces immediately prior to your workout. Keep water with you while you exercise so you can maintain hydration.


Refuel quickly. For most individuals, it’s a good idea to refuel with a snack 15-20 minutes after your workout. For optimal muscle repair and recovery, a snack consisting of both a carbohydrate and protein is ideal. This might look like:

  • 1 tbsp nut butter with an apple
  • 8 ounces of low fat chocolate milk
  • Greek yogurt and berries
  • 1/2 turkey sandwich on whole grain bread
  • 8 ounce smoothie made with low fat milk and fruit

Rehydrate. Typically water is sufficient to replenish your body. Sports drinks should only be used after high-intensity or long-lasting exercise. For example, if you are running five miles in high heat, you may want to replenish with a sports drink. However, if you are walking on the treadmill for 45 minutes, water would be sufficient for rehydration.

Eat a well-balanced meal 3-4 hours following your workout. You can use the USDA’s education tool, MyPlate, as a guide. Fill half of your plate with veggies. Add some lean protein such as chicken or fish, and a portion of whole grains such as rice, quinoa, or whole grain bread. Suggestions include:

  • 1 whole wheat pita filled with grilled chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and avocado paired with 1/2 cup of fresh fruit
  • Grilled salmon with brown rice, roasted broccoli, and carrots
  • Quinoa and black beans topped with shredded lettuce, corn, salsa, and diced avocado with lime vinaigrette

REMEMBER: Never try anything new on a race or game day as it is best to determine what works for your body during the training period. Because proper nutrition often looks different for everyone, these recommendations may vary based on your individual workout schedule, calorie needs, and level of activity.

Let one of our registered dietitians help you determine what works best! 

About the Series

Healthy Helpings is an ongoing series of sound information and inspiration for a healthier lifestyle. Look here for fresh recipes, fitness tips and more bite-sized advice on maintaining a better balance in life—from your friends at the Y.

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