What to Eat Before and After Your Workout

Knowing what to put into your body before, during and after a workout is almost as important as the workout itself - here's everything you need to know to nail your pre- and post-workout nutrition.

"What should I eat before and after my workout?" – it's a tricky question most of us have (probably) asked ourselves before hitting the gym.

When planning a workout, there's a lot more to think about than just your run route or gym plan – your workout actually starts well before you exercise. Whatever your goal, preparing your body with the foods and nutrients it requires to perform is fundamentally important. 

Read on to discover some of our top recommended meals and snacks to maximise your workout.

Some recommended reading:

What to eat before a workout?

The best pre-workout meals are the ones that give us enough energy to sustain that spin class or heavy weights session without making us feel bloated or sluggish. Whether it is the last meal you have before your workout, or the snack to munch on less than an hour before - both are equally important and some foods are better than others.

Best meal before a workout: a good breakfast

Breakfast is often one of the easiest meals to skip, or just to grab something quick and easy on the go, but for most of us, it’s super-important. After sleeping, your body is naturally low on amino acids and carbohydrates, and you need to replace them before exercising to maximise your workout.

10 ideas of what to eat before a workout

So, what is best to eat for breakfast or an early pre-workout lunch? Well, a good-quality protein source is a must (hello eggs) an a dose of carbohydrates – the more intense your exercise, the higher a proportion of the calories burned will come from carbs. Foods like whole rolled oats, bananas, fruit, and wholegrain bread are all great options for fuelling your workout. Also, try the following ideas

  • whole-wheat pasta with tuna or chicken
  • quinoa Mexican or prawn salad
  • multigrain grilled cheese sandwich
  • buckwheat (with onions and mushrooms)
  • high protein yogurt (check sugar contents!) with some fruit or as a mustard-yogurt dressing for a salad
  • a smoothie (we’d suggest adding some protein powder to it, to ensure that you get enough energy for your exercise)
  • wholemeal pastry quiche
  • savoury vegetable muffins
  • porridge or oatmeal with some berries or bananas
  • no flour banana pancakes
  • Lentil and chickpea dal
  • tofu scramble on wholegrain or rye toast
  • coconut or soy yoghurt with banana and peanut butter

If you are having your meal within one hour from your training, go for options that are easier to digest, with simple carbs, for example pancakes, over quinoa, as you will digest them faster and won’t feel unpleasantly full during  exercise.

For people that don't like eating breakfast, diets like Intermittent Fasting where you completely abstain from certain meals - like breakfast - can be a way around it. Intermittent fasting is also commonly associated with weight loss, however, there is little evidence to support it. Having something prior to your workout, even if it is only a snack, is going to boost your performance.

Best snack before a workout: bananas

Nature’s ready-made pre-workout snack, bananas can (almost) do it all – they’re easily digestible, a great source of carbohydrates (ideal for increasing your body’s glycogen stores), and rich in recovery-assisting nutrients like potassium.

One serving includes about 27g of carbohydrates, and because bananas are naturally sweet, you can even blend some into your Huel without worrying about adding refined sugar.

Not a banana fan? Strawberriesblueberries, and kiwis are all great options.

Best to avoid: granola/cereal/energy bars

These might sound like a good idea on paper – oats… grains… what’s not to like? – but these off-the-supermarket-shelf staples often contain loads of sugar. Ultimately, these types of bars are processed foods and not always produced with nutrition in mind, so you can lump these in with salty crisps and sugary sweet treats.

Huel Bars are a nutritionally complete alternative, containing a balanced mix of carbs, proteins, nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. They’re also low-GI (Glycemic Index), meaning they’ll release energy slowly, giving you a more sustained boost throughout your workout.

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What to eat after a workout?

Arguably, the most important meal is the one you have after your workout.

You've just worked your butt off and now you're needing something nutritionally sufficient to recover, and it also tees our body up nicely for your next workout. Efficient!

Ideally, you should try and eat within an hour of exercising. It’s not ideal to eat nothing after exercise, but that 5k you've just run won't be a write-off if you don’t eat within that time frame. Here’s what you need to keep in mind when recovering after exercise:

Best meal after a workout: carbs and protein

After a workout, you want a meal with a decent amount of carbs and protein in it to help replenish your carbohydrate stores – also known as glucose – and your muscles, which need protein to rebuild after strenuous exercise. Combining the two into one meal can help reduce muscle soreness, increase the rate of muscle glycogen storage, and speed up muscle protein synthesis (better known as ‘making new muscle’).

10 ideas of what to eat after a workout

A good post-workout meal might include a protein source like meat (think chicken, salmon, and tuna), dairy (cottage cheese), eggs, or plant-based sources like tofu quinoa, brown rice, peanuts, beans, and pulses.

Funnily enough, those plant-based protein sources make for good carbohydrate sources as well, alongside certain fruits (pineapple, berries, banana, and kiwi), oats, potatoes, and pasta.

  • chicken chickpea hummus bowl
  • honey soy salmon with brown rice
  • loaded sweet potato with tuna
  • pasta with ricotta and spinach
  • bulgur with baked veg and harissa chicken
  • beef jerky with cherry tomatoes
  • chicken or prawn stir fry with vegetables and noodles
  • wholegrain wraps with whatever you like: prawns, chicken, tofu, turkey, veg and a sauce of your choice
  • smoked salmon and avocado sandwich
  • Quinoa with lentils, chickpeas, and red kidney beans
  • Lentil Spinach Curry With Coconut Rice
  • Pumpkin chili
  • Tuscan bean soup

Huel Powder v3.0 can help. One shake makes for a great post-workout meal as it contains both carbohydrates and protein, and it’s handy for hydration because you can prepare it with water. With more protein and fewer carbs, Huel Black Edition is ideal for anyone who wants a bit more flexibility around their overall carbohydrate intake.

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Best post-workout drink: Water

So you might not lose as many calories as you think you do during exercise, but you can bank on losing plenty of water. Whether you’re doing yoga, lifting weights, or pushing through a tough spin class, you’re going to lose water via sweat, which needs to be replaced.

Rather than downing a lot of water after your workout, make sure that you’re hydrated before you exercise, drink while you’re working out, and sip over the hours following your workout.

Best to avoid: eating too much

Ever got home from the gym and wolfed down what feels like the world’s biggest bowl of pasta? We’ve all been there. It’s easy to overestimate how much work you’ve done and it’s equally easy to ‘reward’ yourself by eating a huge meal afterward.

Though it might feel like you’ve burned off a million calories during a workout, there’s a good chance you haven’t (sorry)!

We naturally overestimate our energy expenditure after physical activity and eat far too much to compensate for what we’ve just burned off. A good way to get around this problem is to work out just before breakfast, lunch, or dinner – times when you’d naturally eat larger portions anyway. Oh, and sticking to a quality, not quantity approach.

Best to avoid: protein shakes and smoothies

Yes, really. So it’s important to stress that not all protein shakes are built the same.

Animal or plant-based protein powders that you add water to and mix yourself are OK, but off-the-shelf protein shakes – often found in vending machines inside gyms and leisure centres – usually contain tonnes of sugar.

If you’re on a tight schedule, and it’s going to be a while before you have a substantial protein fix, nutsseeds, and fruit (including dried fruit) are great on-the-go options. Of course, there's always Huel Complete Protein if you need a high-protein snack in a pinch. 

So there you have it – just a few things to eat (and avoid) before and after your workouts.

But whether it’s leg day, abs day, chest day, or even rest day, Huel is an easy way to give your body everything it needs to train effectively and efficiently.

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