10 Unexpected Foods to Fuel Your Workout

Keep these groceries handy the next time you head to the gym.

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September 13, 2019

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Choosing the right foods to eat before and after a workout is easier than you might think. Sports nutrition professionals know there is a time and place for fancy performance foods, but some of the absolute best edible fuels for performance are probably in your own kitchen.

Most importantly, fueling workouts is all about timing. If you have 3 to 4 hours before exercise, there’s time for a complete and balanced meal with all the proper components: heathy carbs, fat and protein.

As activity approaches, it’s wise to focus on more easily digestible foods, as you have less time to digest and convert them into energy. Post workout needs are just as important: This is the best time to scarf both carbs and protein to replenish energy stores and give tired muscles the power to replete. Let’s break down some of the best and likely unexpected foods to help before, during and after exercise.

applesauce in bowl


applesauce in bowl

Photo by: CGissemann



Quick, portable and fast-digesting, slurping down natural sugars from applesauce can be a great way to boost performance. Reach for applesauce before beginning your activity or during longer workouts (think more than 90 minutes) where you might need a calorie boost. The abundance of pouches on the market make it extra easy to transport, so you can always keep some fuel nearby. Look for brands like Treetop and SantaCruz with no added sugar.


Photo by: skhoward/Getty Images

skhoward/Getty Images


Don’t listen to the noise that potatoes aren’t good for you. Spuds are a secret weapon for elite athletes around the world. Take advantage of the naturally-existing nutrients found in spuds as a pre-workout fuel or post-workout tool for energy repletion. Potatoes are filled with healthy carbohydrates, a key energy source for muscles, plus potassium (more than a banana) for proper muscle, cardiovascular and nervous system function.


Photo by: Brian Macdonald/Getty

Brian Macdonald/Getty

Rice Cereal

Rice is a user-friendly, all-purpose grain that most folks tolerate well. Rice cereal can be perfect for a quick breakfast or afternoon snack. Whether it’s a bowl of Rice Chex with milk or in trail mix or a Smash Crispy Treat at half time of the soccer game, rice can be optimal fuel.

Glass with water


Glass with water

Photo by: ratchanida thippayos

ratchanida thippayos


Nothing complicated here: Water is fuel. While it has no calories, it’s the medium through which all performance happens. The more you sweat the more you need to replace, and even relatively slight levels of dehydration can negatively impact your performance. Find out how much you really should be drinking.

Rolled oats in wooden bowl on old wooden table. Rustic style. Healthy eating, healthy lifestyle, dieting and fitness menu concept


Rolled oats in wooden bowl on old wooden table. Rustic style. Healthy eating, healthy lifestyle, dieting and fitness menu concept

Photo by: Arx0nt



Another healthy carb option that can fuel performance as well as post-workout recovery are oats. This grain offers up plenty of hunger fighting soluble fiber, iron and magnesium. Whip up a batch of overnight oats to munch before an early gym sesh or make some crunchy granola to sprinkle on Greek yogurt for a well-balanced recovery snack.


Who would have thought mashing healthy ingredients into balls of goodness would be so trendy? Many recipes for “energy bites” and “power balls” live up to the hype, offering a snackable combo of dried fruit, nuts, seeds, coconut, grains and even chocolate — the possibilities are essentially endless. Find your perfect bite recipe or even mail-order tasty bites from Daily Harvest or simplyFUEL (created by a sports dietitian).

Photo by: Daniele Jesus / EyeEm

Daniele Jesus / EyeEm


A jolt from a cup of java can give you a performance edge. The most important thing to remember is that this benefit is extremely short-lived unless accompanied by calories from food. Too much caffeine can do more harm than good (hello jitters!), but there’s nothing wrong with a small cup of coffee before a workout if it’s your thing.

White Bread

Another jaw dropper: Pre-workout is the time to reach for a lower fiber bread. Spread with a little peanut butter or a bit of smashed avocado and you have handheld pre-workout snack to go.

Bowl of Greek yogurt


Bowl of Greek yogurt

Photo by: AlexPro9500



Yogurt may seem like an obvious choice but the type of yogurt should correspond with your exercise routine. Lower protein, traditional yogurt is the best pick before a workout and higher protein Greek yogurt should be your target for post-workout. Thankfully, both offer tummy-pleasing probiotics and bone-building calcium. It is worth noting that most varieties of Greek yogurt don’t contain vitamin D, so check labels to be sure.


Photo by: Meighan Makarchuk/Getty Images

Meighan Makarchuk/Getty Images

Beet Juice

Sip on beet juice and beat your opponents! Beets are bursting with cell-protecting antioxidants, plus they are a natural source of nitrates, which may help increase blood flow and improve both muscular and cardiovascular endurance. You can find beet products like canned beet juice blends from Juice Performer. Enjoy beets and beet juice in smoothies and salads. If you aren’t a huge fan of the earthy flavor, combine it with citrus!

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