Nutrition for Weight Loss and Exercise

Woman eating in exercise gear
Getty Images/David Jakle

Whether your goal is weight loss, muscle gain or getting in shape, what you eat before exercise can make the difference between an energetic, perhaps even peppy, workout and a tired, looking-at-your-watch-every-five-minutes workout. Follow these basic guidelines for the best nutrition for weight loss and exercise.

Early Morning Munchies

If you like morning workouts (before your body has a chance to protest), try to nibble on something to avoid feeling dizzy and hungry. Exercising on an empty stomach, despite rumors, doesn't necessarily mean you burn more fat, especially if you're too hungry to workout.

Make sure you allow enough time to digest so you avoid a side-stitch or, worse, nausea. Try the following:

  • If you're exercising within an hour after you wake up, eat around 100-300 calories. Try a smoothie, a yogurt-granola parfait, oatmeal or, if you can't stomach much in the morning, try orange juice or a sports drink.
  • Avoid too much fat or protein, since these take longer to digest. Simple sugars (like juice) are absorbed the fastest but can cause a quick rise and fall in blood sugar, which could make you tired.
  • Best bets for morning meals: Whole grain bagels, raisins, bananas, or a liquid meal like a sports drink or a high-carb beverage. My favorite: a low-fat granola bar with a little peanut butter 30 minutes before my morning run. You may think peanut butter is fattening, but the monounsaturated fat is good for the body and will keep you full, which helps with weight loss.

Lunchtime Workouts

By lunchtime, breakfast is probably a faint memory. In order to avoid hunger pains and fatigue during your noon workout, try this:

  • One or two hours before your workout, eat a balanced meal that's around 300-400 calories.
  • Again, avoid high fat and/or high protein foods, and stick with something that has around 60% carbs, 20% protein, and 20% fat.
  • Best bets: Meal replacement shakes or bars, yogurt, fruit (fresh or dried), oatmeal or a turkey cheese sandwich. My favorite: yogurt mixed with fresh fruit and topped with granola. Yum!
  • If you're having a snack before your workout, make sure you eat a balanced meal after your workout to repair your body and restore your energy.

After Work

(Yawn). You're on the way to the gym and you're hungry. Does your steering wheel mysteriously turn your car in the direction of the nearest Burger King? That's because lunch was a long time ago and your body is out of gas. Try this:

  • 2-3 hours before you leave work, eat a small, balanced meal that's around 400-500 calories.
  • Best bets: Cheese and crackers, cottage cheese and veggies, fruit with a whole grain muffin, or a Snickers bar (oops... how'd that get in there??). My favorite: String cheese with low-fat Triscuits and a small can of mandarin oranges.

After the Workout

When you're finished exercising, you need to replace the fluids and nutrients so your body can recover from your workout. Scientific studies can be confusing on exactly what to eat, but generally suggest that eating a balance of carbs, protein, and fat in your post-workout meal will help your recovery.

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ormsbee MJ, Bach CW, Baur DA. Pre-exercise nutrition: the role of macronutrients, modified starches and supplements on metabolism and endurance performanceNutrients. 2014;6(5):1782–1808. doi:10.3390/nu6051782

Additional Reading
  • American Council on Exercise. ACE Personal Trainer Manual, 3rd Edition. San Diego: American Council on Exercise, 2003.