Jessica Matthews by Jessica Matthews

So you've got your fitness routine down, but are you still unsure what or when you should eat to maximize your workouts? Registered dietitians and sports nutrition experts weighed in with some suggestions. No matter what time of day you exercise or what schedule you may have, these time-inspired pre- and post-workout snack ideas will help ensure that you remain on top of your game.

What to Eat After an Early Morning Workout

Pre-Workout: 1 medium banana and 4-ounce non-fat plain yogurt

While you may not feel much like eating first thing in the morning, proper fueling is essential to maximize your early morning sweat session. ACE Senior Fitness Consultant Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD, CSSD, recommended consuming this relatively small carbohydrate and protein snack 30 to 60 minutes before exercise. According to research, it helps to increase glucose availability near the end of the workout, and decrease exercise-induced muscle protein break down. If you're unsure about whether or not this will sit well so early before hitting the gym, Muth said that "the best food (choices) will be low in fat and fiber to minimize GI distress during exercise."

Post-Workout: Graham crackers, peanut butter and low fat chocolate milk

Internationally known sports nutritionist and habitual early morning exerciser, Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD, opts for this easy snack after exercise because she finds it's the perfect combination of carbs needed to refuel muscles, and protein that helps repair and rebuild muscles.

If you're looking for something heartier to get your day started right, Clark recommends her almost daily favorite — a peanut butter and honey sandwich on whole grain bread with a glass of low-fat milk. "The milk is not only for high-quality protein, but also calcium for my bones," said Clark, a board certified specialist in sports dietetics.

Lunchtime Workout

Pre-Workout: An apple with a hard-boiled egg

If you're always on the go, then you're a lot like The Nutrition Twins®, Lyssie Lakatos, RD, and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RD, authors of the book "The Secret to Skinny." Having readily available foods that can be easily consumed will ensure you're fueling during a busy schedule. "Eating an apple is a great way to top off carbohydrate stores and the perfect way to get an energy-reviving boost pre-workout. Plus, it settles well in our stomachs," said the pair. When you add a hard-boiled egg to the mix, you've got a snack with a little more staying power that's perfect about an hour before your next cardio session.

Post-Workout: Yogurt, an orange, and a red bell pepper

What do these three foods have in common? They're all items you'll find prepped, peeled, cut and ready to eat inside The Nutrition Twins® fridge at any time. "These are some of our favorite foods and they're easy to grab since we are always on the go and hustling off to our next appointment," said Lakatos and Shames. And aside from the convenience, there are some very good reasons these registered dietitians reach for these snacks after breaking a serious sweat. According to the pair, each of these foods is high in water, making them both hydrating and refreshing. "The red bell pepper is packed with water and antioxidants, which are needed to help repair damage done to muscles and tissues during the exercise session. The yogurt is a great way to get both energy-reviving carbohydrates and muscle-building protein, in addition to a great source of bone-building calcium and potassium to prevent muscle cramps." As if that wasn't enough, including the orange adds a sweet element to this snack that's jam packed with potassium and vitamin C, which the twins said is critical for preventing some of the oxidative damage done to tissues and muscles by the free radicals created during exercise.


Evening Workout

Pre-Workout: Banana with 1 tablespoon peanut butter

About an hour before you leave work for the day, reach for this small snack so that you can focus your time at the gym on your workouts and not on your grumbling stomach, suggested Kristen Carlucci, Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Expert for Pitney Bowes, Inc. "I look for foods that will keep my energy high (carbohydrates) and satisfy my hunger (protein and/or healthy fats) to fuel me through my workouts," she said.

Post-Workout: Mini-meal smoothie (plain nonfat yogurt + mango + pineapple + cinnamon + a touch of toasted wheat germ)

Washington, D.C.-area registered dietitian, Emily Ann Miller, MPH, RD, recommended this mini meal because it encompasses the three important elements of refueling — fluids (provided by the water-rich fruits), carbohydrates (in fruit and yogurt) and protein (in yogurt and wheat germ). "Fluids are needed to replace what's lost through sweat, while muscles need carbohydrates to replenish the glycogen that was used during exercise," said Miller. She whips up this satisfying combo 30 to 60 minutes after an intense hour-long workout. And while the protein in this smoothie helps you to feel full and is believed to possibly enhance muscle recovery, Miller said the protein does not replenish glycogen stores. To do that, it's important to make sure your post-workout snack or meal contains about three to four times as many calories from carbs than from protein.

For more great healthy pre- and post-workout meal ideas and helpful advice from food and nutrition experts, check out this helpful guide, jam-packed with 300 simple and mouth-watering recipes! And be sure to check back next week for activity-based pre- and post-workout snacks.

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