Best Foods to Eat Before and After Exercise

Written by Vicki Ma (Accredited Practising Dietitian and Sports Dietitian)

Feeling hungry and tired after your workout? Chances are you may not be having the right nutrition.

Just like a car needs fuel, your body needs energy to function and exercise. The amount of energy required is different depending on each individual. The three main foods that provide our body with nutrient and energy are carbohydrate, fat and protein.


Provides fuel to the body and is an important energy source for exercise. Starting a workout without carbohydrate foods can lead to early fatigue, slower recovery time and a reduced ability to train hard.

Remember not all carbohydrate foods are equal, some are better than others. Ensure to choose low glycaemic index (GI) foods as these are broken down slower in the body – providing you with longer lasting energy. These include whole grain breads and cereals, muesli bars, yoghurt as well as fruits such as apple, banana and orange.


Is really important for building and repairing muscles so they can get bigger and stronger. It can also keep you fuller for longer, helping to curb your appetite. Our body breaks down protein into amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids, eight of which are essential and must come from the diet. The best sources of protein come from animal based products such as meat, fish, chicken, eggs and milk. These are considered as High Biological Valued (HBV) proteins as they contain all of the essential amino acids required by the human body. Plant based proteins such as lentils, tofu and nuts only contain some of the essential amino acids and are considered to be of Lower Biological Value (LBV).


Small amounts if dietary fat is essential for our body. Try to choose good sources of dietary fats such as monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, these are also beneficial for our heart. Good fats are found in food such as avocado, nuts, fish, olive oil and olive oil based margarines.

Nutrition and exercise: 

Eating the right foods before and after exercise can make a significant difference to your training and performance goals. To get most out of your work out, you should eat a combination of protein and low GI carbohydrate foods to help you stay energise, build lean muscle and speed up rate of recovery.

What foods to eat before and after exercise: 

There is no one “best” pre or post-exercise meal option. It really depends on what your requirements and individual goals are, but I do have a few ideas to get you started!

Pre-exercise snack/meal options:

  • 200g natural yoghurt with fruit
  • 1 slice of fruit toast with ricotta cheese
  • Tuna with 4 x Vita Weat biscuits
  • Banana with handful of almonds
  • Fruit smoothie (250ml low fat milk, 2 tablespoons yoghurt, ½ cup frozen berries)

Post-exercise snack/meal options:

  • Ham/chicken/turkey/tuna salad sandwich (wholegrain bread)
  • Spaghetti bolognaise: 1 cup cooked pasta + ½ cup mince sauce and 2 cups salad
  • ½ cup baked beans with scrambled eggs on 2 slices of toast (wholegrain bread)
  • Baked sweet potato with ham, corn and cottage cheese filling
  • Chicken or beef stir-fry with 1 cup cooked basmati rice

When should you eat? 

The timing of protein and carbohydrate is also important. For maximum recovery and muscle resynthesis, make sure you have your post-exercise meal within 30 – 60 minutes after your workout. Don’t miss this window of opportunity!

To avoid unnecessary calorie intake, make sure your recovery meal is the next meal. This will mean you are not eating an extra meal / snack on top of your recovery meal.

By having the right nutrition at the right time, it could potentially help your body to adapt and become fitter, faster and stronger.


Burke, L. Deakin, V. (2015). Clinical Sports Nutrition 5E. Australia: Mcgraw Hill, pp.

Sports Dietitians Australia. Eating and Drinking During Exercise [cited 2017 July 10]. Available

Australian Institute of Sport. Recovery Nutrition [cited 2017 July 10]. Available