Energy-Boosting Superfoods: What to Eat Before and After Exercise

A nutrition expert and personal trainer shares her tips for pre- and post-workout fuel

Everyone needs energy. From the elite athlete, to the recreational exerciser and even the occasional gym-goer, it’s an essential part of existence.

As you most likely already know, we get our energy from food. But in the same way that your car will probably run better if you fill its gas tank with premium fuel, some foods provide our bodies with more optimal forms of energy than others.

Maybe you’ve heard them referred to as “superfoods” before. Certified raw food nutritionist Sophie Jaffe says that these are nutrient-dense foods considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.

Jaffe is also a raw food chef and the creator of Philosophie raw food supplements. She spells the idea out simply when she says that our bodies and brains work most efficiently when we give them the proper nutrients each and every day.

Related: The Best Ways to Boost Your Metabolism

Whether you have lofty athletic goals that you’re working hard to achieve or you’re simply aiming to improve your overall well-being, nutrition should be an essential part of your focus.

“Nutrition and fitness go hand in hand! You can’t fully obtain your goals without taking both seriously,” says Jaffe. “Oftentimes athletes overlook the power of good fuel and nutrition. It can make a huge difference in a runners speed, endurance and recovery time. Proper fueling can help body builders make huge gains. And for those with weight loss goals, it can really help them trim down effectively.”

Eating the right types and amounts of food before and after your workouts can make a significant difference in your performance gains, but what your meals should consist of all depends on what your workout is like.

“If you’re doing a light workout, maybe going for a walk, a light hike, jogging a mile or two, I would have something low calorie that’s quickly absorbed by the body,” says Jaffe “A piece of fruit is a great choice.”

On the other hand, if your exercise session is going to be more vigorous like a long distance run, strength training or sprinting, Jaffe recommends eating a more filling meal about an hour or two beforehand.

Related: What is Clean Eating?

“Maybe some healthy fats to keep you sustained, like avocado or nut butter, and some slowly absorbed carbs like quinoa or brown rice,” she said. “Remember, ‘energy’ means calories but you don’t need to overdo it. I would stick to 200 calories or less for a less intense workout and 300 or less for more intense one.”

Especially after intense exercise like the examples mentioned above, replenishing your body with essential nutrients and minerals is an important part of proper recovery.

“Post-workout nutrition is vital to ensure all the work you just did actually benefits the body,” says Jaffe. “By saturating your body with nutrients within an hour after your workout, your muscles recover much faster and are rehydrated.”

She says that the best foods for after a workout are high in protein and also hydrating.

“I like having coconut water based smoothies with tons of water dense fruits like watermelon and leafy vegetables,” she said. “I usually always add a banana to sweeten the smoothie naturally.” She also noted that bananas will help replenish potassium and prevent cramping.

“Of course, I always add in my superfood protein powder, too. Any of the three blends are all 10 grams of protein per tablespoon, so I usually add two tablespoons per smoothie,” she said.

Jaffe also reminds us that we don’t need an extreme amount of protein or calories after workout. “Just enough to help your muscles and body recover and rehydrate,” she said. “Aim for between 10 to 20 grams of protein and drink at least 16 ounces of water per hour you sweat.”

For more healthy (and delicious) fuel suggestions from Jaffe, see The Amazing Health Benefits of Raw Foods.”