Whether you are working out to lose weight, gain muscle, improve tone, or training for an event, you need a few go-to healthy snacks. Snacking before a workout ensures that you have enough energy to meet that day’s fitness goals, and snacking after supports your body as it recovers and assimilates gains.
Unlike your three meals of the day, snacking doesn’t have much structure. We snack when we are hungry, busy, bored, even intoxicated. In modern America, snacking can even be attributed to a good marketing campaign. Most people do not consider snacking a healthy habit, and the most common snacks in the United States support that belief. The top snack foods across the US include a mixture of cookies, crackers, chips, and candies, none of which would be considered healthy.
But pre-and-post workout snacks also have a lot of benefits. Healthy snacks like fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds can provide your body with added nutrients, prevent overeating at meals, provide you with fast energy, and support specific fitness goals.
Keep reading to learn more about how to choose healthy snacks, as well as what to eat before or after a workout.
Snacking as part of a Balanced Diet
The best way to snack is to use these non-mealtimes to support a healthy, balanced diet. Ideally, you should be eating a combination of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats that support a healthy weight and lifestyle. But your recommended three meals a day may or may not check all of the nutritional boxes.
But how often do you eat three meals that are primarily carbohydrate-based? How often do foods with unhealthy fats make their way onto your plate? Sometimes adding a piece of broccoli to your pasta or a handful of spinach to your omelet is the only healthy move you can make that day.
Or you could use snacks to fill in the gaps in your diet. A healthy workout diet should support the whole body, from the muscles, joints, and bones that support you; to your digestion, immune system, and brain, which are always hard at work in the background.
Snacking by Color
The best snacks do not contain artificial flavors and colorings but are naturally colorful. The colors red, blue, and purple found in berries, roots, tubers, and leafy greens come from powerful pigments called anthocyanidins and anthocyanins. These pigments have numerous health benefits, including antioxidative and antimicrobial properties that support brain and immune system health.
Meanwhile, foods like sweet potatoes, pumpkins, carrots, leafy greens, corn, parsnips contain a variety of orange, yellow, and green pigments called carotenoids. These pigments are also powerful antioxidants that can prevent certain diseases.
One of the easiest ways to ensure you are picking a healthy snack is to choose your snacks based on their colors. And not the fluorescent orange, yellow, and red colors that you can find at your local gas station.
Pre- and Post-Workout Snacks
Now that you know what to look for in a snack, check out these five healthy pre-and post-workout snacks that will improve endurance, recovery, and performance.
1. Yogurt with Whole Grain Granola
Whole-grain granola is the perfect pre-workout breakfast or energizing midday snack. Granola is a mixture of oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit- all of which contain complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs take longer for the body to break down than the simple carbohydrates in cookies, crackers, and cakes. Therefore, they provide a slow release of energy that will last throughout your workout. The nuts and seeds in granola also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been proven to reduce muscle soreness and support your muscles as you age.
Yogurt is another nutritious snack to eat either before exercising or as an after-workout snack. This tangy, probiotic-rich food includes a healthy dose of protein and carbohydrates that will support your energy before a workout and speed up recovery afterward.
Yogurt and granola can be eaten together or separately, as a meal or snack. Its versatility and benefits make this healthy snack an excellent supporting player in your exercise journey.
Coffee’s increasing availability and low price point make it a solid go-to for a pre-workout snack and energy boost. Research suggests that you drink coffee 45-60 minutes before your workout to optimize benefits.
The caffeine in coffee is a thoroughly researched performance enhancer for strength and cardio workouts. Its effect spreads quickly throughout the body, usually within 30 minutes to an hour of consumption.
Caffeine activates areas of the brain and nervous system to improve focus and reduce tiredness. It also speeds up fat metabolism, increases body temperature, and improves muscle performance.
However, the caffeine in coffee is not for everyone. You know if you fall into this category since coffee leaves you shaky, jittery, and anxious. To get caffeine’s benefits without the coffee, try green tea, dark chocolate, or kombucha.
Green tea contains less caffeine than coffee and is also known for a “slow-release” effect due to the presence of the amino acid called L-theanine. This means that instead of an instant jolt of energy, the caffeine slowly releases into the body and minimizes the chances of getting that jittery, post-coffee high.
3. Fruit and Veggie Smoothies
Smoothies are usually made of a combination of healthy ingredients, including a variety of fruits, nuts, milk, and leafy greens. While fruit-heavy smoothies are helpful for a quick burst of energy, the best pre-and-post workout smoothie will contain a blend of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
One of the best super smoothies for before or after a workout is a blend of oat milk, spinach, bananas, peanut butter, and blueberries. Oak milk contains plenty of fiber, carbs, and protein. Spinach helps you power through a particularly intense workout and optimizes your body’s processing of oxygen so that you can train harder with less effort. Peanut butter provides you fuel, a powerhouse food packed with plenty of protein and carbohydrates. Blueberries are added for sustained energy and improved brain function.
Bananas are a solid player in any smoothie, providing both a textural component and a myriad of health benefits. In particular, bananas contain potassium which supports muscle health and replaces lost electrolytes after a hard workout. Bananas are also easy for your body to digest and therefore make good pre-workout food to get you moving.
Next time you make a smoothie pre-or-post workout, be sure to include a few nutrient-dense foods in addition to fruit and yogurt for a potent energy boost.
4. Avocado Toast
Avocado toast became a viral health-food trend for a reason. While carbs before or after a workout provide a useful energy boost and protein supports healthy muscles and recovery, fats also play a crucial role in a healthy diet. And avocados contain 75% monounsaturated fat, otherwise known as “good” fat.
The healthy fats in avocado provide a person with the most energy per gram, more than two times the amount you get from either carbohydrates or proteins. Monounsaturated fat also protects your heart and helps your body absorb essential vitamins and minerals from the rest of your diet.
Avocados also contain more potassium than a banana and plenty of fiber to promote healthy gut function. However, before you start adding avocados to everything, you should note that all of the fats in this fruit make it a calorie-heavy addition to any diet. Therefore, it should only be consumed in moderation, especially if you are trying to lose weight.
A typical avocado toast includes a piece of whole-grain toast, mashed avocado with seasonings like salt, pepper, lemon juice, and garlic powder, and a fried egg on top. The benefits from the fatty avocado are supplemented by the boost of energy from the complex carbs in the toast and a healthy dose of muscle-building protein from the egg.
5. Protein Shakes
Protein is a crucial part of any workout diet. While people with light workouts do not necessarily need to worry about their protein intake, athletes and workout enthusiasts looking to build muscle and improve tone should know the role protein plays in recovery and performance.
The Recommended Daily Allowance of protein is .36 grams per pound of body weight. However, this amount does not account for the added protein needed to recover from moderate to intense exercise. Studies show that eating more protein can increase and maintain lean muscle mass.
Protein shakes are a quick and easy snack that will support any workout goals related to increasing or maintaining muscles. While the appropriate time to consume a protein shake is a matter of some debate, most studies agree that drinking a protein shake within 30 minutes of the end of your workout is the ideal window. This is because 30 minutes after your workout is the “anabolic window” in which your body is primed to absorb protein.
Protein can be added to a smoothie or taken on its own mixed into a glass of water. You may want to experiment with different types and flavors to see which you prefer. Whichever you choose, be sure to check the sugar content since many protein powder manufacturers like to include lots of added sugars for flavor.
Snacking Tips & Tricks
Healthy snacking can only be accomplished with careful planning. Think about all of the times you’ve snacked in the past. You reach for whatever food is closest, easiest to prepare, or the most convenient. You may grab a bag of chips on your way to buy gas or impulse buy candy as you check out at the grocery store.
To beat your cravings, a little time and effort are required. Try a few of these useful tips and tricks for healthy snacking.
Figure out what times you typically crave a snack. Once you start paying attention to the rhythms of your body, you will see that you probably want to snack at the same time every day. If your typical snack time is mid-morning, maybe you aren’t eating enough for breakfast. Or if you often skip lunch, maybe you find yourself ravenous a couple of hours before dinner. Figure out your habits and plan accordingly.
Prepare, prepare, prepare. Preparation is the key to healthy snacking. You cannot and will not choose a healthy snack if you are hungry, desperate, and walking down the aisles of your local grocery store. Pick a time when you are not hungry and plan out a few snacks that will satisfy all of your cravings, from the salty to the sweet.
Keep your portions small. You might be surprised at how often a small snack will take the edge off of your hunger. The best way to do this is to portion out your food and then put away the rest. If you are craving chips, pull a handful out of the bag and the rest back in the pantry. Measure out two tablespoons of peanut butter to go with your apple. Be aware of your portion sizes and keep them within reasonable limits.
Practice mindful eating. Mindfulness is a powerful tool when it comes to eating healthy. But first, you need to pay attention. Take note of what you feel when a craving hits you. Are you hungry, or are you bored? Are you feeling tired or stressed? When do you crave chocolate, and when do you crave salty snacks? Try to find the patterns in your behavior to decode your cravings and learn to control them.
Any or all of these tricks will help inform your pre-and-post workout snack choices. Try a couple and see what works for you.
Pre-or-Post Workout Snacking
Ultimately, pre-and-post workout snacks should enhance your performance and help you meet your fitness goals. If you find that your snacking is unhealthy, meaning you are gaining weight instead of losing weight or only snacking on unhealthy foods, it may not be the right choice for you. Snack done right should be a nutrient-rich supplement to your diet, not a calorie-bomb set to ruin all of your progress. Experiment, prepare and be mindful as you pick your favorite workout snacks.