Your diet is an inextricable part of your exercise routine. “What you eat before and after you work out is a balancing act of giving your body the right amount of fuel at the right time,” says Sandi van Zyl, registered dietitian at Virgin Active SA.

She says if you follow some simple dietary guidelines you can really optimize any exercise session.


Van Zyl recommends eating a light meal 1-2 hours before your workout. However, if you’re short on time, a snack just before you work out will also do.

Choose something that is relatively low in fibre and fat, so that you don’t feel too full/bloated during your exercise session,” she adds.

If you’re able to whip up a quick meal, go for oats with half a cup of berries. This will give you a good dose of carbs, needed to give your body enough energy to burn during the session.

If you’re looking for a quick snack, try a ¾ cup of full fat Greek yoghurt with a spoon or two of granola and half a cup of berries. For those mornings when you have a larger appetite, try adding a few raw nuts to the mix.

Not a morning person? No need to fuss with assembling ingredients. Grab a handful of raisins and a banana. It’s super simple and packs an energy punch.


“For optimal recovery post-workout, you want to ideally try and eat/drink something within 30 to 45 minutes of completing your training session,” says van Zyl.

She emphasises that whatever you eat should contain carbohydrates to replenish the energy lost during your workout and protein for speedy muscle recovery.

If you’re unable to make a meal after your workout, a green smoothie is a good way to go. Add tofu, almond milk and chia seeds to bulk it up. If you go for a protein shake, van Zyl warns to be aware of the extra calories. Unless you are looking to gain weight, you shouldn’t consume more than you’ve burned in your workout session.

If you’re looking for a hearty meal after your session, go for lean protein, like fish or chicken, with some couscous or brown/wild rice and grilled vegetables. van Zyl advises: “You’re unlikely to need more than 1 to 1.2 grams carbohydrate/kg body weight and 0.2-0.3g protein/kg body weight as a recovery meal.”

As a rule, if you’re planning to eat a meal after your workout, you can skip the snack or shake as that could add unnecessary calories.