Pre & Post Workout Eating

It’s one of the most common questions when it comes to exercise and weight loss — what and when should we eat to sustain our exercise and training, that will help us to lose weight?


The first thing to consider is the type of exercise we’re planning to embark on — be it a long distance run or a HIIT workout (high intensity interval training), a brisk walk or yoga.

If it’s the former, then what and when we eat is much more likely to impact our ability to perform. Eating too close to a workout may mean our body hasn’t finished digesting, so we can’t tap into the energy we hoped to utilise during exercise, or we might get an upset stomach by interrupting the digestion process, as our body diverts its resources from digestion to exercise. On the other hand, if it’s been too long since we last ate, then we may have already used up those calories and our energy levels may plummet during the workout, resulting in a sluggish, unproductive session.

So, as a general rule of thumb, eating a light snack as much as 1 hour prior to exercise, and a main meal from around 3 hours prior to exercise will set us up with the best levels of energy for our workout.

When engaging in exercise, it’s important to include some carbohydrate in our diet. The primary fuel for our muscle cells is glucose, which is the breakdown product of carbohydrates. Our muscles can store small amounts of glucose in their cells, in the form of glycogen, but these stores get used up quickly. When eating closer to a workout, easily digestible carbohydrates that will release energy faster are going to be more beneficial. But it’s important to incorporate a little protein and good fats into this snack too, ensuring we stay satiated during our entire workout, with some slower releasing energy also.

Pre-exercise snacks:
2–3 hours before working out:
Tom & Luke’s Bliss Balls
Fresh Start Snack Pack oaty apricot/raisin cookies 
Yoghurt with fruit & a sprinkle of granola or muesli
1 slice of Vogels topped with ½ banana

1 hour before working out:
Fruit like bananas, kiwifruit or apple 
Serious Co. Lightly Salted Popcorn


As we exercise, damage to muscle cells is inevitable, in fact it’s the breaking down of muscle cells that we’re trying to achieve with a strength-based workout and it’s the rebuilding and repair of these muscle cells that makes them stronger. Our muscle cells require sufficient protein to be available. Our body can do some of the protein synthesis on its own, but to ensure our muscle breakdown doesn’t exceed our rate of muscle tissue synthesis (which will result in loss of muscle mass), we must provide the body with additional protein through our diet.

It’s also important to replenish the depleted glycogen stores in our muscles with some fast release carbohydrate (high GI — think fruit, milk or yoghurt) to ensure they can start the rebuilding process quickly. Normally, we recommend eating low GI carbohydrates (such as wholegrains or legumes) to reduce the effects of an insulin spike, however after exercise, your muscle cells will readily uptake the glucose. Including some healthy fats will also provide a slow release energy to help us get through the remainder of our day.

Although we may be exercising and burning calories, we will need to practice our portion sizes and mindful eating, so we remain in a calorie deficit and continue to lose weight if that’s our goal. Stick to eating whole foods and think of these as the premium fuels — fruits, veggies, dairy and wholegrains, rather than sugary energy drinks and highly processed snack bars.

Post-exercise snacks:
– Nuts and seeds
– Avocado or poached eggs on toast
– Smoothie — try our smoothie builders for a protein boost 
Fresh Start dinner

Key points

  • Eat a light snack at least 1 hour prior to exercise, and a light meal 3–4 hours prior.
  • Carbohydrates are used as fuel for your muscles (for exercising AND recovering), so include in your pre and post workout snack/meal.
  • Make sure to have sufficient protein after a workout (at least 15g of protein — e.g. 2–3 eggs, protein powder smoothie, canned tuna and brown rice ‘sushi’ bowl salad).
  • Continue to practise moderation and portion size when eating around exercising — keep practising those Fresh Start habits.

Meet the Nutritionist

Emma ‘Edamame’

Our in-house nutritionist Emma ‘Edamame’ was born and bred in mid Canterbury and has the health and wellbeing of Kiwis in mind at all times. As an NZ registered nutritionist (NZ Nutrition Society) with a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Food Science from the University of Auckland, she makes sure we’re all getting our fresh dose of local veggies and our meals are full of nutritious substance – thanks for having our back Em (and our waistlines!). When it comes to New Zealand produce, Emma is a whizz, with fresh berries being her absolute fave. Intrigued to know what food this nutritionist couldn’t live without? Fresh fish and seafood, delivering on both flavour and nourishment. As well as ice cream, especially real fruit ice creams, in the summer time! Life’s all about a tasty balance, right?

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