what to eat before physical therapy

What to Eat Before Physical Therapy


If you’re a patient in physical therapy starting to recover from an injury or surgery, or looking to move and function more effectively without pain, you’ve already taken an important step in the right direction. So, let’s make the most of your time in the clinic by eating foods that fuel your body and encourage recovery. Here are our recommendations for what to eat before physical therapy.

Keep it Light

Physical therapy typically involves exercises to build strength, improve balance and coordination, and increase range of motion. The bottom line? You’re going to be moving! Exercising on a full stomach can be uncomfortable.

Try to eat a well-balanced meal comprised of complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats 2-3 hours before your appointment to give your body time to digest. Then, have a light snack around ½ hour before physical therapy to give you energy for activity—without making you feel full or sluggish.

Power Up with Protein

Protein serves many functions within the human body. Protein strengthens the immune system, triggers metabolic reactions, and helps It also works to maintain proper pH and fluid balance.

If needed, protein can be a key source of energy during intense physical activity, or when your calorie intake is low. Upping your lean protein intake right before physical therapy (and throughout your day) will keep you energized and promote muscle recovery after your session. Lean meats, tofu, eggs, cottage cheese, beans, and plain Greek yogurt are a few examples of light and lean proteins.

Include Complex Carbs

Carbohydrates are micronutrients found in many foods. They have three components: starch, fiber, and sugar. The body breaks down carbohydrates and turns them into glucose which is used as energy for cells, organs, and tissues.

But not all carbohydrates are alike. Complex carbohydrates are found in foods like whole grains, pasta, cereals, legumes, and certain vegetables like peas corn, and potatoes. They are considered more nutritious than simple carbs. If you combine a healthy complex healthy carbohydrate with a lean protein before physical therapy, you will feel satisfied and ready to exercise—without a frustrating sugar crash.

Say No to (Some) Sweets

Just like carbohydrates, there are good and bad sugars. In fact, sugars are essentially carbohydrates in their simplest form, which makes them a source of energy. The body processes natural sugars more efficiently than sugars that have been chemically processed.

Natural sugars are found in whole foods like oat, fruits, and dairy. On the flip side, processed sugars that have been chemically produced and added to foods and drinks provide little nutrition (and increase the risk of chronic disease.)

Sweetened juices, bagels, baked goods, and white pasta are all high in refined grains and sugars. These aren’t ideal because they cause a sugar spike and drop that will leave you feeling “meh” instead of motivated.

Avoid Inflammatory Foods

When the body encounters something it doesn’t recognize, like a chemical or foreign particle, it goes into overdrive, sending out inflammatory cells to attack invaders and heal damaged tissue. This is known as inflammation.

Some inflammation is necessary, but long-term inflammation, or inflammation that occurs when there is no damage to the body can lead to problems in the body. Systemic inflammation can affect tissue causing muscle atrophy—which goes against what you’re working so hard to accomplish in physical therapy.

Certain foods are shown to contribute to increased inflammation and should be avoided before physical therapy, and really—as much as possible. Foods containing refined carbs, processed meats, friend foods, snack foods like chips and cookies, and sugary drinks are all inflammatory foods.

Healthy Snack Options Before Physical Therapy

Now that we know what not to eat before your next physical therapy appointment, let’s inspire you with some simple, healthy, delicious pre-PT snacks:

  • Plain Greek yogurt with fresh berries
  • Tuna on whole grain crackers
  • Avocado toast with a slice of tomato
  • Sliced apples or bananas with nut butter and honey
  • Oatmeal with skim milk, fruit, and cinnamon
  • Green smoothie with almond milk, spinach, and frozen fruit
  • Egg white muffins with diced vegetables

Physical therapy goes beyond the exercises you do with your therapist. Diet is a big part of our comprehensive approach to helping patients feel better in every way, especially those with specific health conditions.

Your physical therapist is a great resource for information about foods that will help you achieve your goals and enhance your health and wellness at every age and stage of life.  Find a physical therapy clinic near you.

Share this article

Schedule an Appointment

You might also like

Postpartum Physical Therapy

Postpartum Physical Therapy

During pregnancy, the body undergoes immense changes to accommodate the growing fetus. For many, these changes are quite painful. After pregnancy, many individuals find their...

how to relieve neck pain

How to Relieve Neck Pain With Physical Therapy

Have the stresses of everyday life or the attachment to your screens become a literal “pain in the neck?” Nearly three-quarters of people experience some...

Different types of wrist pain and what they mean

Different Types of Wrist Pain and What They May Mean

Wrist pain can be caused by trauma to the hand, repetitive stress, or systemic conditions that inflame the joints. The location, duration, and type of...