What Should I Eat Before and After Exercising?

AFS EducationAFS Education Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner admin
edited October 2019 in Knowledge Base
Overview: This is a topic of much controversy. What should be consumed around the workout? Is anything necessary? Does it really help? The answer, based on a lot of research is: yes, it absolutely does. Having a small amount of sugar pre-exercise and some protein and carbs post-exercise can provide more energy for your workout (based on what you eat before) and provide recovery after (based on what you eat after). This video goes into greater detail about what to have before and after exercise and when to have it. If you’re looking for a way to get more out of your workouts through some simple nutritional changes, watch the video to find out more!
Additional Resources:


  • Darcy BlakemoreDarcy Blakemore Member Rank ✭4✭

    Thanks @Mike Stack very helpful. I have been struggling with this for awhile now. I just started trying 1 hour before workout to eat a Banana and almonds might throw in some Turkey jerkey and a half hour before workout I drink a Pre workout drink and BCAA drink.

    After workout I have been eatting Tuna with Spinach or I switch it up with eggs and spinach and crumbled turkey sausage mixed.

    I have found in the last 4 weeks I gained muscle and lost Body Fat. I jumped for joy literally in my Inbody Assessment with @Cody Mikuska. I'm still dialing it in. Any suggestions would be great!

    PS....I do have my 3 meals a day and 2 snacks (mainly fruit) every day and a lot of water. My lunch meal is my biggest with more protein and natural carb based to give me the energy for my evening workouts.

  • Mike StackMike Stack Member, Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin

    Thanks @Darcy Blakemore ! Congrats on your last assessment as well, very cool. Do you plan to make any changes to your pre- or post-workout nutrition based on this video? If so, I'm curious what they might be.

    Michael E. Stack, BS CFP CSCS*D CPS
    AGENT OF CHANGE, CEO, & Exercise Physiologist

  • Andrea SpanglerAndrea Spangler Member Rank ✭5✭

    Thanks! Extremely helpful - I now have some great ideas for pre/post workout snacks!

  • Darcy BlakemoreDarcy Blakemore Member Rank ✭4✭
    edited November 2019

    @Mike Stack I am playing with it right now. I am looking for dairy free gluten free protein bars to eat 2 hrs before. I am keeping a log book of what I try so I will share it here weekly. I am trying to go more natural with my Protein. Thank you again for the video. It is very helpful! Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the Nutrition part if things!

    @Andrea Spangler we can do this. Can you share what you find works for you? I'll share mine too.

  • Mike StackMike Stack Member, Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin

    You're very welcomed @Darcy Blakemore! I'm glad I could help simplify all the information that is out there, it certainly can be confusing! In terms of a suggestion on a protein bar, there are some good options that are out there on the market. I've put some links below for you to check them out. If you find you like in particular please report back to us, we'd definitely like to know which one(s) you liked. I'm sure you're not the only client who is looking for gluten-free/dairy-free protein bars.

    Here are the best options on the market (at least in my opinion):

    Garden of Life Organic Sport Protein Bar

    NuGo Nutrition, NuGo Dark, Protein Bars

    Oatmega Protein Bars

    no cow Bar

    I hope these are helpful. Like I said, let us know how these work out!

    Michael E. Stack, BS CFP CSCS*D CPS
    AGENT OF CHANGE, CEO, & Exercise Physiologist

  • Darcy BlakemoreDarcy Blakemore Member Rank ✭4✭

    @Mike Stack Thank you for the links. I will try them. I think they have Garden of Life at Better Health. I will stop tomorrow after the race. 🙌 I will definitely try the others also and report back.

  • Mike StackMike Stack Member, Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin

    Sounds great Darcy! Let us know.

    Michael E. Stack, BS CFP CSCS*D CPS
    AGENT OF CHANGE, CEO, & Exercise Physiologist

  • Kelsey IcenogleKelsey Icenogle Member Rank ✭3✭

    I really appreciate these videos! I do have a few questions though. I think this probably lands under individual circumstances, but just in case...

    I have a few autoimmune conditions where I’ve found my symptoms are much more controlled following a NSA diet/ diabetic friendly/ blood sugar stable even though I’m not diabetic. I eat good carbs, but try to stick to under 45g per meal and snack and always with protein. When my blood sugar isn’t stable I’ve seen lab evidence that my antibodies for the respective conditions go up. In addition to the two autoimmune conditions, eliminating sugar and blood sugar spiking sweetener from my diet I’ve also decreased fibromyalgia pain by at least 80%! I’ve also done some allergy testing and found a bunch of food sensitivities that I’m working on taking out for 6 months and bringing them back (oats, cucumber, butter lettuce, celery, apple, banana, avocado). I few of these allergens have caused anaphylaxis (I have mast cell activation syndrome). I do enjoy sweet foods at home using stevia, erithritol, xylitol, chicory and monk fruit. Any time I eat sugar I experience the pain.

    That being said, I don’t want to spike my blood sugar before a workout because of the adverse effects on my personal health situation, but I’d still like your thoughts on specific foods to try. I use a whey protein with ingredient integrity (https://store.trimhealthymama.com/product/pristine-whey-protein-powder-16oz-bag-chocolate/) and have a piece of sprouted toast and a clementine, but I struggle with the allergens and not wanting to consume sugar. Also- bonus if the recommendation has salt. I also struggle with salt depletion (and regularly need iv infusions at the hospital) despite salt supplements (pots syndrome).

    Sorry for the long post- and thank you again for the great content!

  • Sawyer Paull-BairdSawyer Paull-Baird Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin
    edited January 2020

    Hey @Kelsey Icenogle sorry for the delay in getting back to you on this.

    I want to preface this message by saying that it sounds like your situation is quite complicated and unique with your medical history. Outside of @Bella Diaz , giving medical nutritional advice is outside of our team's scope. That said, in regards to looking for foods to eat before a workout that would minimize blood sugar spike generally speaking, my thoughts/questions are below.

    1) How far before a workout do you generally eat? How far before can you eat?

    If your goal is to limit a big blood sugar spike, any foods that you'd normally eat pre-workout are probably not good for your specific situation. Foods that have a lot of fiber, protein, fat etc. that take longer to digest typically are not recommended in the pre-workout period as they take a lot of time to digest, and when you workout bloodflow is directed away from your digestive system and to your skeletal muscle, which can lead to stomach aches or nausea during workouts if undigested food is sitting in the stomach. For this reason, mixed meals are generally not recommended within ~90 minutes of a workout (and thus why fast digesting snacks, drinks etc. are recommended, although this doesn't sound like an option for you). Thus, it might actually be better for you to focus on your whole day nutrition, and not eat in the pre-workout window.

    2) What benefit are you looking for, or what problem are you looking to solve with a pre-workout snack? Are you lacking energy in your workout? Are you looking to build muscle? Are you hungry during your workout? Knowing the precise problem you want to solve might help me/us provide advice.

    3) Have you ever tried BCAA (branched chain amino acid) supplements? This could be an option for you as they generally do not have added sugar, may lower blood sugar levels, and can help with muscle repair and energy during a workout.

    Let me know your thoughts/answers after reading that above.


    Sawyer Paull-Baird BS CSCS ACSM-EP PN-Lvl1
    Agent of Change / Fitness Innovation & Education Coordinator
  • Mike StackMike Stack Member, Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin

    @Kelsey Icenogle, I'll piggyback on here with a quick question for you regarding your nutrition needs pre-exercise and also ask a question regarding your condition (through the lens of physiologically what happens with pre-exericse sugar).

    My question first. Do you feel like you're sluggish during your workouts or having issues maintaining your intensity? I ask, because if it's not broke with respect to your workout performance you may not need to fix anything. To be more specific with my question, what are you looking to get from pre-exercise nutrition. In your case the right answer may be to do nothing at all.

    To expand from a physiological standpoint, an acute spike in blood sugar pre-exercise "should" not cause many adverse events as that sugar would be use quickly by skeletal muscle that is active during your workouts. Indeed consuming sugar throughout the day is very different than timing sugar immediately before you workout. I say should in quotes above b/c I don't know your medical history and there may be, in your case, some kind of adverse reaction to increases in blood sugar pre-exercise. In most cases though, this isn't an issue because the sugar gets used so quickly by your muscle, as I said above.

    Much like @Sawyer Paull-Baird said, I'm most curious about what you're looking to get out of pre-exercise nutrition (and if you're noticing certain symptoms or issues in your workout you're trying to address). You might find that focusing on good healthy nutrition during your day is the best strategy to ensuring you get the most out of your training and not do anything pre-exercise. Let us know and we can expand a little further.

    Michael E. Stack, BS CFP CSCS*D CPS
    AGENT OF CHANGE, CEO, & Exercise Physiologist

  • Kelsey IcenogleKelsey Icenogle Member Rank ✭3✭

    Sorry- I’m newish to this forum and don’t have notifications on or something.

    So, despite playing college volleyball, I don’t know a lot about the science behind fueling your body and in the past few years have learned a lot about nutrition.

    I don’t feel nauseous or hungry during a workout. I try to do something with protein and a small carb like a protein bar and small fruit or a protein shake and toast or sugar free peanut butter toast on the way to a workout/ about 20 minutes before. I generally feel good, until after the workout when my heart rate is coming down, I start to get really low blood pressure.

    I really struggle with salt and my heart rate/blood volume in POTS syndrome. So, the main problems I have are that even in strength class my heart rate is quite elevated, so it’s not unusual for me to burn 500-900 calories in an hour long session with rates in the 150-185 area anytime there is orthostatic change. My cardiologist is aware FYI, no worries. When I’m done breastfeeding they want me to start a beta blocker.

    Pots syndrome patients typically have 1/3 less blood volume than healthy individuals. Our autonomic nervous systems don’t quite work right and we lose salt and water easier than most people. Despite drinking a gallon of water daily, I’m dehydrated. Despite massive salt intake, my sodium gets depleted easily. Additionally the blood vessels in the abdomen and legs don’t squeeze together to hold the blood in the upper half of the body when I stand up, so my heart has to work really hard to get that blood pumped up to my brain. My main goal for strength classes is to strengthen (everything obviously) specifically the legs and core to help the muscles compensate for the vessels that don’t work correctly.

    In addition, POTS causes rapid deconditioning, so if I take even a few days off it’s really hard to get rehabilitated. A few of the other conditions Mayo just diagnosed make this pretty hard- myalgic encephalomyelitis, systemic exercise intolerance, fibromyalgia, Hypermobility, chronic fatigue syndrome....

    Anyway, strength training has really been key to getting better. 80% of people with pots are on disability, and I don’t want to be in that statistic. At one point last year I was coming 4 times a week and off all meds! Unfortunately I got pretty sick and had to take a month off and I’m struggling again.

    Back to your question- specifically I want to avoid a post exercise dizziness. I sweat really bad (again, pots syndrome & dysfunctional autonomic nervous system - dysfunctional sweating, BP, heat intolerance, heart rate, digestion, etc) and lose sodium. As soon as my super high heart rate starts to come down post workout, I start to have issues with low BP (related to salt loss). I usually have a salt supplement with me so that I can bring my BP / salt up high enough to feel okay, but I wondered if there would be something better. I can’t do a ton of salt before-hand because it makes me nauseous and I hate having a “salty mouth” during a workout because it makes me thirsty. The dizziness could also be from burning so many calories, even though I’m usually not hungry after a workout, I always do a protein shake and sometimes eggs.

    I recently discovered LMNT, recommended to me by my cardiologist, but I was fascinated by your pre-workout information and wondered if you had any thoughts on my complicated situation. FYI I can’t have too large of meals because digestion also brings blood to the gut and causes it to pool and the heart to work hard to bring the blood to the brain.

    If you aren’t comfortable with recommendations it’s cool, I understand. I always run major suggestions by my cardiologist anyway.

    I hope I was clear and answered all the questions. Thank you again for this great resource!

    @Mike Stack

    @Sawyer Paull-Baird

  • Sawyer Paull-BairdSawyer Paull-Baird Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin

    Thanks for the added context here, Kelsey. It is awesome that you're not allowing your medical situation to stop you from exercising and improving your health. Also your intricate knowledge of your medical situation is awesome as well.

    It sounds like any pre-workout meal or supplement you'd take should be:

    -Low in sugar/carbohydrate in general to avoid blood sugar spike (although as Mike said, it is possible that this spike would be counteracted by the quick uptake of glucose into skeletal muscle that happens during exercise- this is something you could talk to your doctor about before experimenting with- basically seeing if you notice the same negative health effects after a blood sugar spike if that spike comes pre-workout and is quickly reduced by exercise// if that's the case, added carbohydrate could be helpful in your overall exercise intensity, and even perhaps dizziness IF any of that is a result of hypoglycemia as opposed to blood pressure [although it sounds likely BP related])

    -High in electrolytes to counteract whats lost by sweat due to high heart rate

    A BCAA supplement could help with muscle recovery and replace electrolytes. You'd just have to make sure the sweetener is not one that would give you any issues with your specific situation. Generally I would not be worried about any sweeteners, but with your unique situation, you may want to consider that. This product here is a solid one that could work for you

    The sodium supplement you mentioned already is another thing that seems to make sense given your specific situation.

    Other supplements that could possibly improve performance give your situation, such as beta alanine or a nitric oxide booster (or beet root supplement) would be something I would 100% consult with a doctor on given your unique situation. You can read more about those specific supplements at the links above in case they are something you'd want to consult with a doctor on.

    Hope the above information helps =).

    Sawyer Paull-Baird BS CSCS ACSM-EP PN-Lvl1
    Agent of Change / Fitness Innovation & Education Coordinator
  • Mike StackMike Stack Member, Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin

    @Kelsey Icenogle, thanks for the clarification, very helpful. As @Sawyer Paull-Baird said, it's awesome that you're not letting this stop you from doing your workouts. That's very inspirational for sure!

    I'll only add a little on to what Sawyer said. First and foremost, we do know that consuming protein and carbs during a workout aids in sodium (and water) retention, basically the small intestine pulls in more sodium and water with the nutrients (protein and carbs) and by doing that aids in maintaining blood volume (that is the case of a normal circulatory system, I'm not sure if that would be the case given your condition, to my knowledge, there's no existing research on it, in your case).

    Keeping that in mind introducing some intra-workout protein and carbs might not be a bad idea in terms of diminishing blood volume loss due to sweat (I know this works with athletes exercising in the heat and with people that sweat more during exercise). Again (as I said above), I can't imagine there would be any negative effects of that sugar consumed during exercise, as it would be utilized right away by skeletal muscles active during the workout. I think this might be able to influence the post-exercise dizziness issue to some degree. The mechanism here would be two-fold: (1) increased blood volume due to reduced water loss in the form of sweat, and (2) increased blood sugar levels to better help fuel the central nervous system (which is fueled pretty exclusively by carbs, this MAY play a role the in the dizziness as well). With the latter, I wonder what (if any) role that lower blood sugar post-exercise plays in your dizziness as well. That could be a factor too.

    That being said, I think what I would suggest is as follows. Try a little during workout sugar and protein (rather than pre or post, I think there is less risk with doing this). Using the amino acids Sawyer recommended with about 8oz of Gatorade might be a good starting point (you may need to dilute the Gatorade/Amino Acid mixture a little bit as it could be too sweet when you mix the two together). Starting with this small of a dose will allow you to see if your body can tolerate it and if it makes any noticeable difference in performance or dizziness. If it does, you can certainly try to increment the dosage up a little more (maybe to 12-16oz of Gatorade) and see if that makes a bigger difference.

    I think this could be a worthwhile experiment to run. Saying all of that, you likely want to check with your doctor first to see if there are any contraindications here. I don't believe there will be, but there's enough complicating medical factors going on that I'd want to be certain this won't cause any issues.

    If you do decide to give this a try, please let us know what the outcome is. I'm very curious to hear if it makes a difference.

    Michael E. Stack, BS CFP CSCS*D CPS
    AGENT OF CHANGE, CEO, & Exercise Physiologist

  • Kelsey IcenogleKelsey Icenogle Member Rank ✭3✭

    @Mike Stack @Sawyer Paull-Baird Cool! Thanks for the tip. When I get some time I will dig in the supplements and check out the ingredients. I have some food allergens that I need to avoid (wouldn’t want to go into anaphylaxis mid workout 😂😉). I know for sure I can’t have beet root or beet root sugar, but I’ll check out all the links. I will test blood sugar post workout too when I start to get the dizzy spells. Good thought.

  • Mike StackMike Stack Member, Administrator, Moderator, Practitioner, AFS Staff admin

    @Kelsey Icenogle, yes no anaphylaxis during workouts that would be bad!! That's the opposite effect we're going for. As I said, please keep us posted. I'm curious to hear where this leads for you. If you have any other questions, please let us know.

    Michael E. Stack, BS CFP CSCS*D CPS
    AGENT OF CHANGE, CEO, & Exercise Physiologist

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