Article written by Heather Walker and edited by Jemma Walsh
At Study Active, a regular topic that is discussed among trainers is the best pre and post workout snacks. Is pre workout snacking a good idea? Should you consider a post workout snack? And what healthy workout snacks will help your performance? Today we have spoken with Personal Trainer and Study Active Assessor Heather Walker about her top healthy workout snack advice from peanut butter to consuming times, we have all the tips!
NOTE: The ideas in this article are purely opinions of the person being interviewed and should not be taken as direct advice. Everybody is unique, so most of all listen to your body and always contact a clinical nutritionist or dietician for specific and tailored advice.
Why is a pre workout snack important?
Any type of physical activity requires energy to fuel the activity. If you try and workout when your fuels supplies are low, your workout will be more difficult, and there is the potential for injury. The body is fuelled by glycogen, which is essentially what the food we eat is broken down into. The best source of energy typically comes from carbohydrates so by consuming a healthy pre workout snack, you will be filling your glycogen stores and ensuring your body has enough fuel to sustain the workout.
What is the best pre workout snack and when would you have this?
It is a good idea to consume about 50g of carbohydrates in the two hours prior to a workout, as this will help top up your glycogen levels and make sure you have sufficient energy for your workout.
Our suggestion for the best pre workout snack is rice cakes with peanut butter (I also like to add some banana to mine!). This will provide you with carbohydrates to fuel your workout, as well as unsaturated fat (which is another good source of energy), and a bit of protein.
Some pre workout snack ideas could include:
- Rice cakes with peanut butter (as described above – a delicious and healthy combination and a great pre exercise snack!)
- Oatmeal and fruit (e.g. a banana topping on oatmeal works well as a good pre workout snack)
- Whole grain cereal (a great snack before a workout but go for low sugar option and certainly do not add sugar!)
- Protein smoothie (smoothies are popular pre-workout snack ideas but again careful that the smoothie is low sugar)
- Wholemeal toast with peanut butter (or use almond butter as an alternative healthy workout snack)
However, the closer to the workout you eat, the smaller the snack needs to be. If you are eating close to exercise then choose an easy to digest carbohydrate snack, e.g. a banana or maybe a couple of crackers.
Why is a post workout snack important?
During exercise our energy stores are depleted, so it is important to refuel after exercise and refill the energy stores. A good pre workout snack to refuel on is carbohydrates. It can take about 2 hours for carbohydrates that are consumed to be converted into glycogen, so the longer you wait to eat post workout, the longer it will take to refuel.
It is also important to consume protein post workout, as this will help the muscles recover and repair from the stress of a workout. You can read more about what to eat for muscle recovery on our blog.
What is the best post workout snack and when would you consume this?
A good post workout snack would be something that has a high - to moderate glycogen index as this will help refill glycogen stores quickly.
1g of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight within one hour is recommended, with ideally the first intake of carbohydrate being with 15 minutes. Adding some protein is also important as this will help stimulate carbohydrate storage and help with faster repair of muscles. You should also consider eating a high carbohydrate snack every 2 hours, at least until you are able to eat a full meal.
Some good post workout snacks could include:
- Yogurt and fruit (check that the yogurt is low sugar as many have hidden sugars!)
- Eggs and toast (wholemeal toast is always the best choice for an exercise snack due to lower glycaemic index)
- Omelette (a good post workout snack due to some decent protein – go for free range eggs if possible!)
- Stir fry with vegetables and protein (go easy on the oil when frying up this tasty post workout snack!)
- Turkey sandwich on wholemeal bread (best to avoid any pickles but okay to add some light salad to this after workout snack!)
How long before a workout should you eat a full meal?
You shouldn’t eat a full meal too close to exercising, as your body needs time to digest the food and convert it into glycogen to fuel the workout. You can read our ‘What is the best pre workout meal?’ blog to find out about the best meals and times to consume more than a snack before exercise. When you exercise, blood is diverted to the working muscles, and away from the digestive system, which means less food is digested right away. Eating too much before a workout could also cause you to feel sick and sluggish, which will negatively affect your workout.
Ideally you should consume a full meal at least 3-4 hours before a workout. It should include some low to moderate GI carbohydrates, such as spaghetti, brown rice, porridge or couscous, as these will release energy more slowly over a longer period.
Is there benefit to having a small pre workout snack right before a workout?
A small snack before a workout can be beneficial if you haven’t eaten anything for a while, however, if you are going to have a snack right before a workout, it needs to be something small and easily digested, for example a banana or apple.
If you eat too much right before a workout this can cause stomach ache or cramps, especially if it is something hard to digest, as when you workout blood is directed to the muscles rather than to the digestive system. However, if you keep your pre workout snack small, then it will help provide you with energy to sustain your workout.
How long after a workout until you have a meal?
Ideally you should consume a meal within 2 hours of finishing exercise, and it should contain carbohydrates and protein if possible. You can read more detail about ‘What to eat after a workout’ on our blog.
Post-exercise you should also increase antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin A, C and E to help detoxify the by-products of making energy.
Should you have a quick after workout snack right after a workout?
It is up to you, if it is going to be a while before you can have a full meal, then an after-gym snack is important to start refilling your glycogen stores and will help with muscle recovery and repair, it can also help control your hunger levels until you are able to have a full meal. If you are going to have a meal not long after, then it is not important unless you are hungry from your workout.
Summary of the best pre & post workout snack ideas
To summarise, Heather recommends both a pre and post exercise snack. Any physical activity you may be undertaking requires energy and this only comes from a source of food. Whether you choose to eat a full meal 3-4 hours before your workout or simply consume a small pre workout snack, both methods are effective to fuel your workout. The best pre workout snack would be something high in carbohydrates – Heather suggests rice cakes with peanut butter and banana if this is to your taste!
Post workout, Heather suggests either again consuming something small to reduce hunger and refuel your body after all its hard work or if you can consume a full meal within 2 hours its most beneficial. A good post workout snack should again contain a high amount of carbohydrates and sufficient protein to help your muscles recover, this can be anything from fruit and yoghurt to a turkey sandwich on wholemeal bread.
We hope this blog has given you some ideas and suggestions for your workout snacks, happy training!
Interested in studying nutrition with Study Active? Check out our RSPH Level 4 Nutrition course