The Best Workout Foods for Running, Spinning, CrossFit and More

The jury is still out on whether snacking is indeed necessary or whether we can survive on the whole "three square meals a day" regimen. But fortunately for all the snack-lovers out there, experts agree that grazing before and after your workout definitely shouldn't be skipped. "Especially when you eat before, you discover that you have more energy, you enjoy the workout more and have more fun than if you are training on empty and just thinking about when you can finish and eat," says Nancy Clark, RD, a sports nutritionist in Boston and author of Sports Nutrition Guidebook. But not all snacking is created equal. Just as you wouldn't show up in a bathing suit to your CrossFit class (well, most of us that is), not every snack is suited for every workout. For better results and recovery, here's how to fuel up before and after your preferred fitness routine.


Whether you're hitting the pavement outside or clocking in time on the treadmill, you'll want to fuel up on the right kind of carbs. "Complex carbohydrates such as pasta, beans and and sweet potatoes are slow absorbing and will set up glycogen stores and keep up endurance," explains Liz Josefsberg, a New York City-based nutrition exercise specialist and weight loss expert. "This is especially important if you're heading out for a run longer than three miles." Choose steel cut oats with walnuts or rice and beans. Running a longer race such as a 10k or training for a marathon? "You'll want to have an easily digestible sugar during your run to help you power through," says Clark. She likes sports beans, gels or even gummy bears or butterscotch.

Hot yoga

Sweating through 90 minutes of poses in 105 degree heat can take its toll if you're not properly hydrated. "My biggest recommendation is to hydrate before, during and after class," says Josefberg. Water works well, but a sports drink or coconut water can help replenish lost electrolytes. Skip large meals up to two hours prior to class to avoid tummy troubles and nausea. "A great option before hot yoga is Greek yogurt, a few whole grain pretzel sticks and at least 16 ounces of water," suggests Susan Kundrat, MS, nutritional sciences program director at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "This snack contains the extra sodium, potassium, carbs and fluid that will prep your body for the heavy water-loss and help keep it hydrated." Rehydrate after class with at least 32 ounces of water or coconut water to reboot muscles and prevent dehydration and cramping. Also nosh on hydrating produce: spoon two tablespoon of hummus on cucumbers, celery, green peppers, all of which are more than 90 percent water.


An intense pedaling session calls for something small beforehand so you won't feel woozy during those back-to-back 60-second sprints. "A light snack with a mix of carbs and protein will energize your muscles," says Kundrat. Her favorite is half of a whole grain pita with 2 tablespoons of hummus and half a cup of fresh pineapple or melon, both of which are very hydrating. After you've cycled your heart out, she suggests a big bowl of vegetable soup, which has all the key vitamins and minerals to recharge and will keep you feeling lean and light. 


CrossFit, one of the most popular types of high-intensity interval training, will definitely make you sweat, so it's super important to hit the right balance of nutrients. "Eating something carb-based is crucial because it will be stored as energy and released as glycogen, helping you push yourself harder an avoid a crash mid-workout," says Josefsberg. She likes a whole grain waffle with ricotta cheese and lite syrup or a sweet potato and three ounces lean turkey or rotisserie chicken. Be sure to eat early — about 60 to 90 minutes before — to avoid nausea. 

Weight Lifting 

Even if your workout is not cardio based, you'll need to prep your muscles before lifting weights. Grab a 10/20 punch (10 grams of protein and 20 grams of carbohydrates) 30 to 60 minutes beforehand, advises Kundrat. Try a banana with 2 tablespoons of nut butter or half a turkey sandwich on whole grain toast. After your iron-pumping session, graze on a 20/40 recovery mix. "The protein in this bigger combination will help repair muscle tissue, and the higher amount of carbs [will] refuel muscle glycogen."  Good 'ol chocolate milk does the trick, or try a shake with one cup of soy, almond or regular milk, 1/2 scoop whey powder, 1 banana and 1 cup of blueberries.

Image: Warren Goldswain/Fotolia 

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