What should you eat before and after exercise?


3 minutes

09 November 2021

A young woman eating a healthy salad after a workout

A sports dietitian explains a few things you should know about fuelling your workout with healthy, nourishing food.

Good nutrition is important for keeping your body feeling and functioning at its best.

When it comes to exercise – depending on the type, intensity and duration, as well as your individual goals and preferences – this can be especially true.1

“By eating well, we’re making sure our body can perform,” says Bethanie Allanson, an accredited sports dietitian from Sports Dietitians Australia. 

“It means we’ve got the energy to fuel the exercise we’re doing, and we’ve got all the nutrients we need for recovery and keeping our body healthy.”

So what does that look like? Here, Allanson shares a few expert tips.

In this article

Before exercise: fuel up with carbs

Before a workout, it can be a good idea to fuel up with some easy-to-digest carbohydrates – for example, toast or a fruit smoothie.2

“If you were going to go for a jog, for example, I would encourage you to top up your fuel stores with a carbohydrate snack,” Allanson says.

“One of the biggest things we see is people wanting to do some exercise after work, but they haven’t eaten since lunchtime – so that can make them feel pretty flat and low, and just not well fuelled.”

So how soon before your workout should you eat?

Allanson says it’s very individual, but generally one to two hours before exercise can be a good time for a small, healthy snack. 

“It depends on how it feels to you and how it settles in your stomach,” she says. If you find it gives you indigestion, you may need to wait longer.”

After exercise: replenish and recover

For some exercise sessions, you may not need to do anything special to recover. For example, if you’re exercising just once or twice a week, you may be able to meet your nutrition goals through a regular healthy, balanced diet.1 

But after more intense or frequent exercise, you may need to make a more conscious effort to refuel and rehydrate your body.1

To replenish your energy stores and promote recovery, a few key nutrients to focus on include:

  • Protein. “Protein is really important for promoting the regeneration and repair of muscle fibres,” Allanson says. Some good protein sources include lean meats, poultry, fish, legumes, tofu, eggs and dairy.
  • Carbohydrates. Foods rich in quality carbohydrates – like wholegrain breads, cereals, rice and other grains – can help replenish muscle fuel stores.1

For most people, you don’t need fancy products or supplements for post-exercise recovery, Allanson says.

“We encourage people to look inside your fridge and see where you can get good nutrition from whole foods,” she says. 

A few delicious and healthy ideas she suggests include: 

  • Muesli with some yoghurt and fruit on top
  • Wholegrain crackers with cheese
  • A fruit smoothie
  • A sandwich or wrap with protein and vegetables

Stay well hydrated

Before, during and after exercise, it’s important to keep your body hydrated by drinking water.3

During exercise, your body loses water through sweat – and if you don’t replace it, you can become dehydrated and fatigued.3

“Our bodies really function better when they’re hydrated,” Allanson says.

“Sometimes after exercise we forget to replace the fluid we’ve just lost, so we really encourage people to remember to drink plenty of water.”

Listen to your body

Your body is good at telling you if you need to pay more attention to your nutrition, Allanson says.

“Notice how you’re feeling at the time of exercise,” she advises.

“If you're feeling tired and flat, it can be a sign that you may be under-fuelling, and you might want to take a closer look at what you’re eating and when and how.”

There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ 

When it comes to nutrition, what works best for one person may not necessarily be right for you.4

“It’s important to understand that we’re all individual. There are lots of factors that will determine what the best nutrition choices are for us,” Allanson says.

If you need more guidance, a dietitian can give you personalised advice, based on scientific evidence, to suit your needs and goals.4

How can HBF help?

  • HBF extras cover for nutrition and dietetics can give you benefits towards visits with a dietitian – a nutrition professional who can give you personalised healthy eating advice to support your workouts and you overall health.
Diet and nutrition cover to nourish your health

With benefits for dietitian and nutritionist visits, HBF extras cover can help you feel your best.

Find out more


  1. 1Sports Dietitians Australia – Recovery nutrition
  2. 2Sports Dietitians Australia – Eating and drinking before exercise
  3. 3Sports Dietitians Australia – Why is hydration important? The effect of dehydration on performance
  4. 4Dietitians Australia – What dietitians do


This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.