Jan. 12. 2018
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder and CEO

A common question I receive from clients and readers is “what do I eat around exercise time?”.

This is such an important topic to consider, whether you’re starting a new workout routine in 2018 or continuing a tried-and-true fitness regimen. It’s proper nutrition around a workout that will help you perform better, recover faster, and further your results.

So today, to get you started, I’m sharing 9 foods to eat to fuel your workouts, which can serve as a great place to begin to understand healthy workout nutrition. After reading, be sure to check out this in-depth article for the Society; we get into the nitty-gritty of the role that each food plays in muscle development and recovery, as well as what you should eat before and after a workout.

You want to focus on consuming carbohydrates that can help increase glycogen stores (1), healthy fats and protein to help with muscle recovery (2). While today’s list is by no means an end-all-be-all list, it’s a starter guide to foods that will get optimize your hard work. Keep in mind that this information should be applied general terms since everybody has different genetic makeups, fitness goals, lifestyles, and metabolisms.

9 Foods to Fuel Your Workouts

1. Banana

A banana is a simple, effective food to eat before, after, or during a prolonged intensive workout. (3) They can help you perform better and longer thanks to their nutrient makeup of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and mainly carbohydrates! Fruit contains simple carbohydrates (i.e. sugar) that your body uses quickly for energy, bananas pack about 30g of sugar per banana so one before a workout is more than enough for most routine exercises. I recommend about half a banana if you’re workout is short and intense, or longer in duration and lower intensity.

Try It: Start the morning with a Banana Blast Smoothie Bowl before working out or post workout.

2. Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes are incredible sources of complex carbohydrates and contains digestive-friendly fiber that helps you feeling full, free radical fighting vitamin A and vitamin C, electrolyte balancing potassium which plays a big role in muscle control, and minerals like copper, manganese, and B vitamins that keep our blood sugars balanced and our bodies fighting inflammation.

Try It: Meal plan on batch cooking day so you can enjoy this Simple Sweet Potato & Greens Bowl throughout the week for a post-workout meal.

3. Apple

Eating an apple before a workout can give you a quick boost of energy, thanks to their natural fructose and glucose content. They help your overall performance by increasing stamina and cognitive ability. (4) The glucose helps replenish the body and support muscle recovery.

Try It: Eat an apple as a quick snack before working out, or enjoy slices on a simple salad.

4. Quinoa

Quinoa, found in several varieties of colors like red, black, and yellowish-white, contains all amino acids making it a complete protein. It also contains fiber, carbohydrates, fatty acids and zinc, iron, copper, B vitamins and vitamin E. All varieties make a great base for roasted or stir-fry vegetables, in burgers to bulk up the patties, in grain-based salads or as flour for gluten-free baking. It can be used with a savory or sweet flavor profile, making it incredibly versatile when cooking.

Try It: Make this Healthy Warm Breakfast Bowl in the morning, or enjoy the Warm Quinoa Salad for dinner after your daily workout.

5. Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are little powerhouses of protein, vitamin E, and healthy fats. They have a neutral flavor and are tiny in size, making them perfect for adding to salads, smoothies, soups, blended into dressings, desserts, seed butters, porridges, sauces, granola, etc. for a boost of protein. They’re one of my favorite high protein plant-based proteins. Just 3 tablespoons of hemp seeds contain about 10 grams of protein.

Try It: Sprinkle some hemp seeds into your morning smoothie.

6. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a “superfood” in my book because it contains heaps of B vitamins, protein, and fiber in a very small volume. It’s an inactive form of yeast that’s used as a food and provides a dairy-free cheesy flavor on salads, quinoa blends, rice, potatoes, popcorn, roasted vegetables, etc. It contains about 8-10 grams of protein in just 2 tablespoons.

Try It: Make a Massaged Kale Salad for lunch before your afternoon workout.

7. Spirulina

Spirulina is a blue-green micro-algae that’s been used for centuries as a food source thanks to its potent nutrient content. Just 2 tablespoons pack 8 grams of protein. It also has an array of health benefits, from antioxidants that fight inflammation, boost immunity, protect the liver, reduce allergic reactions, improve muscle endurance and oxidative stress, and so much more. (5)

Try It: Add spirulina powder to an antioxidant-rich smoothie.

8. Grapefruit

Grapefruit gets special attention as a pre-workout food and is in the Nutrition Stripped Pantry. I always have them on hand for a quick snack or pre-workout — and I love them juiced in the Citrus 4 Juice. They make a good snack in the morning, juiced, or sliced and added to a salad for a boost in vitamin C. Read more here about the health benefits and an important disclaimer about a compound it has, and potential risks for some individuals.

Try It: Enjoy grapefruit by itself as a simple pre-workout snack.

9. Berries

Berries, whether that’s blueberries, strawberries, raspberries or blackberries, are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Studies suggest that eating them can reduce risk factors for certain cancers, inflammation, cardiovascular disease and more. Blueberries, in particular, can help speed up muscle recovery after a hard workout. (6)

Try It: Snack on a bowl of fresh berries when they’re in season! Otherwise, enjoy berries as part of a nutrient-dense smoothie bowl for a quick boost.


  1. Kerksick, C., Harvey, T., Stout, J., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C., Kreider, R., . . . Antonio, J. (2008, October 03). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: nutrient timing.
  2. Lowery, L. M. (2004, September 01). Dietary fat and sports nutrition: a primer.
  3. Nieman, D. C., Gillitt, N. D., Henson, D. A., Sha, W., Shanely, R. A., Knab, A. M., . . . Jin, F. (2012). Bananas as an Energy Source during Exercise: A Metabolomics Approach.
  4. Meeusen, R. (2014). Exercise, Nutrition and the Brain.Ku, C. S., Yang, Y., Park, Y., & Lee, J. (2013, February).
  5. Health Benefits of Blue-Green Algae: Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.
  6. McLeay, Yanita,  Barnes, Matthew J., Mundel, Toby, Hurst, Suzanne, M., Hurst, Roger, D., Stannard, Stephen, R. Effect of New Zealand blueberry consumption on recovery from eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage.


Learn more about workout nutrition by visiting these additional resources:

  1. Workout Nutrition, Explained, Nutrition Stripped
  2. Fuel Your Fitness, Nutrition Stripped

Let’s Hear It

Did anything make the list that surprised you? Do you have a go-to workout snack or meal? I’d love to hear—and so would others in the community!—in the comments below. Connect with NS on Instagram @NutritionStripped #NutritionStripped to continue the conversation.