Nutrition Facts: Pre- and post-workout fuel

Haley Hughes recommends smoothies for post-workout snacks.

I frequently get asked by clients how to fuel for exercise. It’s an extremely important question when focusing on health and athletic performance goals!

Let’s start with who should be concerned about what to eat pre- and post-workout.

• Those who are physically active and exercising more than 60-90 minutes.

• Those who do intense exercise such as CrossFit, HIIT, etc.

• Those with goals of wanting to preserve/gain muscle mass or lose weight.

• Those with chronic disease or certain conditions impacted by exercise.


One thing to consider is the timing of the workout — this will determine what and when to eat for optimal performance.

24 hours before: Focus on eating balanced meals and making sure you’re eating enough calories to fuel your active lifestyle and workouts. This is especially important if training fasted early in the morning, if you’re noticing fatigue around workouts or struggle with blood sugar control.

1-3 hours before: A simple carbohydrate food or beverage with possibly a moderate amount of protein preferably low fiber and low fat, as these take longer to digest and may cause digestive discomfort depending on exercise.

Pre-workout snack ideas include: banana with ½ protein powder serving (shake), small turkey sandwich with an apple, sweet potato with Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese with berries.


Carbohydrates and proteins again are very important for optimal recovery after intense training. Workout intensity, and multiple other factors, will determine how many carbohydrates should be consumed for maximizing glycogen storage and preventing muscle protein breakdown.

Protein is as equally important and works with carbohydrates to promote optimal recovery. You can often estimate protein needs based off the weight of the individual. For example, a 150 lb woman may need 82-136g of protein per day (1.2-2g of protein per kg, is often a good starting point for athletes). Focus on high quality sources, such as lean animal meat, eggs and dairy can be very beneficial. Plant based options can be utilized as well but may need to be consumed in larger quantities or paired with other foods.

Mix and match proteins and carbohydrates for a perfect post workout meal or snack. Examples: cottage cheese and peaches, deli slices and an apple, tuna and crackers.