What to eat pre- and post workout

Who among us has not fallen for a post-workout smoothie, and the feeling that you’ve ‘earned’ it? It can be tricky to figure out how to match your eating habits to a workout – luckily, Woolworths registered dietitian Cindy Chin has the low-down.


What should people take into consideration when they think about eating before or after a workout?

It’s quite a complex topic – there is no ‘one size fits all’. There are many variables that determine one’s energy needs, for example your height, gender, activity level, and whether you’re trying to lose, maintain or gain weight. Some basics points to think about:

How much food: The majority of us are trying to reduce weight (two thirds of women and a third of men in SA are overweight/obese) so the pre-workout snack should be part of your everyday eating, not over and above your daily requirements.

Timing: You may want to adjust the timing of the snack depending on when your last meal was or when your next meal is. For example, if you exercise first thing in the morning, you may want to have a light snack before your workout.  

Exercise intensity: Light to moderate exercise (less than an hour) probably doesn’t require a pre- or post workout snack. Longer, more intense workouts might need a pre-workout snack, or a snack during activity, if longer than an hour. It’s about keeping blood sugar levels steady, so spacing meals and snacks optimally/strategically through the day around your workout will be best.

What are the best foods/snacks to eat before a workout – and when?

Just before a workout, you can look at carb-containing foods that are easily digestible and compact, like a banana or some dates. If your workout is long – more than an hour of intense exercise – then eating a carb-containing snack with more complex carbs and fibre about an hour beforehand should provide a slower release of energy. A good example of this is a slice of whole grain bread with peanut butter.

What is a good guide to staying hydrated?

I would say just stay well hydrated throughout the day, not only before a workout or when you’re thirsty. Drink water before and during a workout – keep a water bottle nearby and drink to thirst.

What would you recommend as a good snack post-workout?

Actually, the key is to just eat a healthy meal. If there’s going to be a few hours before your next meal then a small snack of fruit/ hummus and veg/ yoghurt and fresh fruit/ whole grain crackers and cheese/ or a small handful of dried fruit and nuts should be adequate. Try not to drink your calories, as it’s easy to consume more than you need  (think smoothies, juices, milk drinks). Eat to appetite – if you’re not hungry, don’t force yourself to eat. It’s something else if you’re an athlete training for an event, but that’s on a different level. SHOP SNACKS