The 20 Best Foods to Eat Before and After Your Workouts

Owen Henn

Exercise and nutrition are like two rowers in a boat — you can go farther and faster if they are working together. In fact, rowing is the perfect example of a workout that you want to be properly fueled for. Rowing works 86% of your muscles, building cardio as well as strength. In a race, those final strokes that separate winners from losers are often decided by which rowers have more fuel in the tank.

That’s why Hydrow is partnering with Hungryroot, the easiest way to get simple recipes and healthy groceries delivered to your door, to power exercise performance through good nutrition. Leveraging nutrition can give you a serious advantage in reaching your health and fitness goals. 

The windows of time before and after a workout are particularly important. This blog post will touch on the fundamentals of pre- and post-workout nutrition, and list some of the best foods to eat before and after your workouts.

Let’s get started!

10 foods to give you energy before your workout

Before a workout, look for foods that contain healthy sources of carbohydrate and adequate protein. Carbohydrates (or carbs) break down into glucose and enter the bloodstream as energy currency, while protein helps prevent muscle tissue breakdown during a workout. 

In terms of timing, a quick snack can be eaten 30 to 60 minutes before exercise, whereas a larger meal should be eaten two to three hours prior.

Here are 10 foods to incorporate into your diet if you’re looking to power your workouts: 

1. Banana and peanut butter

This classic combination provides carbs in the form of natural sugar from the banana, while the fat and protein from peanut butter provide longer-lasting energy to fuel your workout. Subbing in apples is another option if you want to mix things up.

2. Sweet potatoes

No matter how they’re prepared — baked, mashed, or otherwise — sweet potatoes are a tasty source of carbs. The fiber in sweet potatoes also helps with slow absorption, making for a more sustained source of energy.

3. Rice

An excellent source of fast-acting carbs, rice can be eaten on its own or combined with some protein to maximize its pre-workout benefits. A blend of rice that is higher in protein, like Hungryroot’s Lentil Quinoa Rice Mix, is a great choice. Rice cakes with peanut butter is another quick option if you’re on the go. 

4. Oatmeal

For the early birds out there, oatmeal is a popular option for morning workouts because it provides whole-grain carbohydrates and can be prepared quickly in the morning (or even the night before). You can squeeze in some additional protein by throwing some nuts in there, or find a product with higher protein, like Hungryroot’s oats shake. 

5. Yogurt

Yogurt is a perfect pre-workout food because it naturally contains both carbs and protein. It is endlessly customizable — add in some sliced fruit, nuts, or granola if you need even more fuel for your workout. Remember that part of good pre-workout nutrition is digestibility, so if you have any issues with dairy, consider a non-dairy yogurt option like almond or coconut yogurt.

6. Tortilla

A tortilla is a versatile source of carbs that can be combined in any number of ways to fit your pre-workout nutrition goals. You could make a fajita by adding some veggies and hummus, make a wrap by adding protein like chicken, or enjoy a little breakfast burrito and scramble some eggs in.

7. Bread

Take your favorite bread — anything from a sprouted whole grain to pita to naan bread — and pair it with a protein for extra credit. Anything goes here, from a turkey sandwich to pita with hummus.

8. Fruit with cheese

Why wait for a fancy dinner party to break out the cheese plate? Cheese is a great source of protein, and when paired with fruit, it can help fuel your workouts. One tip: Don’t overdo it! Cheese is energy dense and something we can easily overeat (let me be the first to raise my hand here). You want to be fueled, not weighed down, by your pre-workout foods.

9. Crackers

A great choice if you are on the go, crackers can provide quick carbohydrates. Look for a cracker that contains higher amounts of protein, potentially from a blend of nuts and seeds.

10. Carrots and hummus

Another classic combination, this snack provides protein and a moderate amount of carbs. Carrots (or your favorite veggies) with hummus have a fairly low number of calories compared to other options on this list, making them best suited for workouts with a lighter workload. 

10 foods to jumpstart your recovery after a workout

After a workout, the main goal of nutrition is to aid in repair and recovery. Similar to pre-workout nutrition, we are looking for foods after a workout that contain healthy sources of carbohydrates and good amounts of protein. 

Carbs help to replenish our glycogen, the storage form of glucose in our liver and muscles that can become depleted after a particularly intense or long workout. Protein after a workout helps to maximize muscle protein synthesis, the recovery and rebuilding of damaged muscle fibers. 

We often hear about the “post-workout window,” a period of time after a workout where carbs and protein can help maximize muscle protein synthesis and limit the breakdown of our own muscle. Research suggests that if you are training fasted (without having eaten anything beforehand), there is a 30- to 60-minute window after your workout where carbs and protein are critical in maximizing recovery. 

However, if you’ve had a proper pre-workout snack or meal, this window is widened to a few hours and it is not as critical to eat directly afterwards. Hitting your overall daily energy and protein targets is just as useful (if not more so!). 

Looking for inspiration? Check out our picks for 10 post-workout foods: 

1.  Protein shakes

In a pinch, a quality protein shake offers protein and potentially carbs after a workout. While you should try to favor real foods because of the broader spectrum of nutrients they provide, a protein shake can be helpful in meeting your overall protein needs throughout the day.

2. Turkey  

Turkey packs a ton of protein, but also comes loaded with B-vitamins and minerals like selenium and zinc. Pairing turkey with a starch gives you a well-rounded post-workout meal.

3. Beans

 A great source of both carbs and protein, beans are a perfect choice to refuel after a workout. Combining beans with rice, like in a burrito bowl, ensures that you are eating a complete source of protein — in other words, you will get all the essential amino acids that your body cannot manufacture on its own.

4. Salmon

Not only a fantastic source of complete protein, salmon also provides Omega-3 essential fatty acids. You will be taking care of your muscles and your brain by eating fish. Pair salmon with any starch — like lox on a bagel — to get a more complete post-workout meal.

5. Eggs

The humble egg is a versatile source of protein and a bonafide nutrition powerhouse. The possibilities are endless here — scramble some eggs with vegetables, plop a fried egg on toast, or bake some egg muffins ahead of time.

6. Peanut butter and jelly 

A tried-and-true favorite of children and anyone who used to be a child, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich gives you plenty of carbs to refill your glycogen stores alongside plant-based protein to rebuild muscle.

7. Chocolate milk

Let’s keep the childhood nostalgia nutrition train going! Chocolate milk is a grab-and-go source of complete protein and quick-acting carbs that get to work immediately to help you recover from a workout.

8. Pasta

Rich in carbohydrates, pasta can help to top off your glycogen stores. For extra credit, choose pasta that’s higher in protein like chickpea pasta and/or add in some additional source of protein.

9. Chicken breast

A staple for a reason, chicken breast provides lots of protein and can be prepared in any number of ways. Try to pair it with a starch, like a chicken fajita, a stir-fry with rice, or thrown into a pasta dish.

10. Shrimp

Belying its name, shrimp offers a big amount of protein to help rebuild muscles after a workout. Like chicken, it can be added to pasta or rice dishes to provide all the building blocks for good recovery. 

Exercise and nutrition are complementary tools to help get you to your health and fitness goals. If you want to get healthier and stronger, look no further than the world-class workouts offered by Hydrow and the feel-good food at Hungryroot. Get started with 40% off your first Hungryroot delivery when you use code HYDROW40.  Plus, use HUNGRYROOT100 for an additional $100 off a Hydrow rower (this is in addition to any discounts on the Hydrow site).

Owen Henn

Following a University rowing career, Owen first stumbled into a yoga studio thinking he’d never enjoy it and emerged with a new, healthy obsession and profession (in addition to his work as a hospital dietitian for children with diabetes). His workouts are fun and accessible, challenging students to find their edge and celebrating whatever that looks like.