For some, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But for others who manage to squeeze some gym time into their everyday routine, pre- and post-workout foods can be just as important.
We tapped sports dietitian and exercise physiologist Bob Seebohar, MS, RDN, CSSD, CSCS, for intel on the right balance of carbohydrates, fats, and protein to satisfy hunger, fuel workouts, and aid with recovery.
While everyone’s nutritional requirements and preferences are different depending on their goals and activities, you actually don’t need to eat much to work out for 60 minutes or less, says Seebohar, so keep these in mind for your longer sweat sessions.
The body builds muscle and recovers 24/7, not just at the gym. Smartly timed snacks can give the body the fuel it needs to build muscle, burn fat, and recover as best it can.
If you prefer to eat before exercising, or if your workout will last longer than an hour, Seebohar suggests grabbing a snack about 45 to 60 minutes in advance and keeping it small (think a palmful of carbs, a half palmful of protein, and a quarter palmful of fat).
We’ve rounded up 24 ideas for pre-workout eats, from breakfast-y options, to vegan and high-protein muscle-building snacks, to keep you going strong.
A parfait sounds fancy, but it’ll only take you three minutes to throw together this combo of Greek yogurt, granola, and berries.
Avocado toast never fails. When you have a heartier appetite, try this pre-workout version and add a hard-boiled (or fried) egg on top for added protein. There are a lot of ways to get fancy here, but we’re big fans of this classic combo before a morning run.
Cottage cheese gives this parfait a light and creamy texture and adds a little extra fat, which will keep you feeling satisfied longer.
PB and banana is the perfect on-the-go snack. For a longer workout, spread both on one slice of whole-wheat toast and add a sprinkle of chia seeds for a pop of extra nutrition and crunch.
Waking up early on the weekend for a long run? These protein-packed waffles will seem like a treat, but they’re the right balance of nutrients to fuel your body for the long haul. Have one half of a waffle before and save the other for after your workout.
These are also freezer friendly, so you can stash the extras and pop them in the toaster later.
This banana bread-inspired parfait is not nearly as complicated as baking up a sweet treat. You can pre-make a few and then pop them in the fridge for a grab-and-go snack on busy days.
Omelets are one of our favorite any-time-of-day meals. You can load them up with tons of your favorite veggies and — since you’re working out — splurge with full-fat cheese. This baked style makes it easy to portion out snack sizes, or you can make them in a muffin pan.
By mashing up eggs and a banana, then topping them with apples, almond butter, and coconut, you’ll get a grain-free oatmeal of sorts. This is a great one to make the night before and eat in a travel cup on your way to your favorite morning cardio class.
The classic apple-and-peanut-butter combo gets an upgrade with raisins and chia seeds. If you’re in a rush, skip the extras and just grab an apple with PB. Try stashing some to-go packs of peanut or almond butter in your gym bag so you can chow down on your way to indoor cycling class.
We love smoothies, but first — coffee. This recipe combines both. It’s perfect for an early-morning workout since the hit of caffeine will perk you up before you hit the gym.
Make these no-bake peanut butter balls ahead of time, and you’ll have some healthy treats ready to fuel a week’s worth of sweat sessions. Seem like too much effort? Grab your favorite bars (we love CLIF Bar’s nut butter-filled ones), cut in thirds, and then roll into balls for smaller bites.
Protein shakes can be boring, but when there’s coffee and chocolate involved, we’re big fans. This recipe suggests adding an extra tablespoon of sugar, but we’d suggest skipping it for an even healthier (and easier!) recipe.
These crunchy buckwheat bars are essentially a healthier, protein-filled version of Rice Krispies treats. If made ahead, they’ll last up to 2 weeks in the fridge or 2 months in the freezer.
If you have time on your hands, mix up these DIY energy bars and stash the extras for later. All you’ll need for this no-bake recipe are a food processor and a few ingredients.
Short on time? Stock up on some store-bought bars with high-quality ingredients and a 1:1 or 2:1 carb-to-protein ratio (as in, look for 10 grams of carbs and 10–20 grams of protein), Seebohar says. One of our favorites is RXBAR, which lists ingredients right on the front of the wrapper.
If you’re gluten-free or just not big on toast, this is a great way to get your nut-butter snack in while adding healthy carbs to power you through. Plus, rice cakes don’t go stale as quickly as bread, so you can always keep a pack on hand in your pantry.
Oats are a classic morning staple, but if you don’t want to clean up a pot before heading to the gym in the morning, try this one as an afternoon snack. The recipe serves two, but we suggest dividing it into three portions and refrigerating the extras for smaller snack-size servings.
It doesn’t get much easier than blueberries, bananas, yogurt, almond milk, and ice. Just be sure to swap out the suggested nonfat yogurt for a partial- or full-fat version — it’ll give you more fuel to crush your workout.
Getting in some fuel for your workout can be as easy as heating up a small portion of leftovers from the night before. Try making an easy meal-prep combo like this chipotle chicken, sweet potato, and green bean dish. Set aside a snack-size amount for an afternoon snack.
A wrap may sound like a meal, but this mini version is the perfect size for a pre-workout bite. The gluten-free “wrap” is actually just turkey wrapped around some avocado with shredded carrot for added crunch. It’s the perfect use-what-you-already-have-in-your-fridge kind of snack.
Hummus and carrots is a classic snack that works perfectly fine before a workout. This blogger makes a homemade version of the Mediterranean dip with a cauliflower base, but feel free to grab prepackaged hummus and baby carrots at the store.
This Italian-inspired avo toast trades mozzarella for low-cal, high-protein cottage cheese. If you’re on the go, swap out the bread for a few whole-grain crackers.
Whip up this chicken salad for a snack, stuff it in half a pita pocket, and then use the remainder for lunch or dinner.
Avocados are good. Avocados stuffed with the makings of a BLT are even better. Use full-fat Greek yogurt in place of mayo for this quick and hearty snack.
Refueling your body is important for recovery after a hard workout, particularly if it lasts longer than 60 minutes. If your workout is strength-based, the food you eat can help your muscles rebuild and repair.
Seebohar suggests looking for a combo of about 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates, up to 20 grams of protein, and just a bit of fat (5–8 grams).
The best time to eat? If your workout is short or moderate, just wait until the next meal. If it’s high intensity, strength-based, or lasts over 2 hours, the window for glycogen replenishment is the first 30–60 minutes after your workout, Seebohar says.
Whether you’re refueling around breakfast, lunch, or dinnertime (or prefer something a little sweeter), here are a few dozen tasty options.
This recipe is the perfect breakfast sandwich for anyone in a hurry on the way to work. Wrap it up and stash it in your gym bag, then simply nuke it when you get to the office.
It’s rare that you crave a big salad after a hard weights session, so sometimes drinking your greens is just easier. This recipe includes spinach, apples, and bananas for a shake full of nutrients.
Combine the protein of egg whites with the nutrients of spinach to refuel your body after a sweat session. Halve the recipe to make a smaller, snack-size portion.
Think you’ve seen it all when it comes to avocado? You may be surprised by this parfait that combines everyone’s favorite healthy fat with fresh tropical fruits and Greek yogurt. Cut the recipe back to a single serving for an easy-peasy post-workout snack with intriguing flavor.
Protein pancakes are a perfect way to get some quality protein in a sweet treat. Pick a protein powder of your choice (Seebohar recommends whey isolate with no artificial sweeteners) and get cooking. Trust us, these are a lot tastier than chugging down chalk water in a shaker bottle.
This smoothie is a tasty option for vegans — a rare find when so many protein shakes use milk-based protein powders. The fruity combo is great for your sweet tooth without any added sugar.
Who doesn’t love a classic breakfast sandwich? This one uses an English muffin and will remind you of your favorite fast-food guilty pleasure — just way healthier.
Sweet potatoes, avocado, and eggs are three of our favorite healthy foods, so this is the perfect post-workout bite. You can even make it for dinner (brinner) the night before and save some leftovers.
One often overlooked source for a great post-workout snack: Last night’s dinner. A meal based on protein and some complex carbs (like this one) is ideal, so if you have a small portion of leftovers from dinner, don’t throw it out — wrap it up!
Another protein-packed make-ahead: Avocado tuna salad. Prep a big batch on the weekend and use it for lunch, dinner, or smaller after-workout snacks.
Sweet potato in a protein bar? Count us in. These are great because they’re high in micronutrients like vitamin A and potassium, you can use whatever protein powder you like, and a whole batch takes just 20 minutes.
This snack is easy, simple, and super tasty. Combine bananas, Greek yogurt (use partial- or full-fat after a workout), and peanut butter, and there you have it — carbs, protein, and fat all in one snack.
Sometimes the simpler the recipe, the better. Not only is this one super easy to make (you just cut things!), it will also keep you full after your workout. Skip the added sugar for an even healthier option.
The beauty of this one is that it’s simple and straightforward. If you don’t have time to whip up a fancy snack, combine veggies with hard-boiled eggs for protein, and nuts for healthy fat.
Another leftover-friendly recipe, this chicken hash is perfect for any meal and packs in nutrients to help your muscles rebuild.
Black beans bring plant-based protein to this zesty salsa, while fresh veggies add antioxidants and complex carbs. Grab some tortilla chips and dig in!
Whether you’re in the peanut or almond camp, nut butters make an easy and high-protein snack option. Spread your preferred nut butter (we like to use a big, healthy serving) on a small whole-wheat wrap, throw on some bananas, add a dash of cinnamon, and then roll it up.
Another simple choice: Hummus and pita bread (or carrots, celery, or whatever else you have on hand for dipping). Just check your hummus ingredients and choose one with as few ingredients as possible. No added sugars!
The great thing about homemade trail mix? You get to choose what’s in it. Whip up a big batch and divide it up into mini snack bags for the whole week.
Shakes are great because they’re quick and easy, and this one takes the cake (or the pie). You get the extra nutrients and a hint of sweetness from the sweet potatoes, plus the protein you need after a hard workout.
This shake will totally curb your sugar cravings. The recipe uses casein protein powder, which is great before bed since your body digests it slowly overnight. If you want to skip the casein, sub in any whey or plant-based protein powder.
If you’re not into chocolate or peanut butter in your protein shakes, this is the pick for you. The flavor is subtle, and the banana and clementines pack plenty of nutrients.
Rice cakes are a great vehicle for whatever wacky and delicious topping combo you come up with. Post-workout, try topping the fluffy cakes with nut butter, banana, cacao nibs, and crumbled sea salt potato chips (yes, really!) to replenish sodium loss.
This post-workout snack legit looks like a candy bar, and it basically tastes like one too. Make a whole batch of these in advance so you can grab them on your way out the door. If you don’t have time to make them at home, try something comparable, like a CLIF Builder’s protein bar.
Store-bought muscle “milk” may sound like an appealing option, but it can also be packed with added sugar. Make this homemade version and save some money while you’re at it.
In the mood for something cold? Try one of these recovery fudge pops, which are the perfect treat after a hot and sweaty workout. Use skim milk in place of half and half for a healthier alternative. As with any treat, eat these in moderation.