Exercising on an empty stomach never quite feels right. When it comes to helping our bodies feel good before and after workouts, most of us would agree we should start with a healthy plate of food.

“Carbohydrates are the primary and most important source of energy for the body,” says Liz Pearson, author of Broccoli, Love and Dark Chocolate (coming in Spring 2013) said in a press release. “Many people today have developed a phobia of carbs, but the truth is that carbs are actually good for us and we need to consume them every day, particularly when we’re active.”

While many do skip out on carbs or try low-carb diets, Dietitians of Canada recommends people -- working out or not -- should never skip breakfast, but instead, should try controlling portions and eating high-carb veggies and fruits that also contain rich nutrients and minerals.

But there are bad carbs to watch out for. "Getting carbs from refined grains such as white breads and pasta, or cereals, cakes and cookies made with white flour, as well as highly-processed sugary drinks, candy and desserts, can increase the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, macular degeneration and some cancers,” Pearson says. And it's not that hard to find alternatives. Luckily for you, most major retailers carry foods that can easily replace white pastas with whole grain noodles and vegetables.

But some studies have shown that opting for heavy carbs before workouts can actually do more harm than good. A 2010 study from the University of Leuven in Belgium claimed skipping pre-workout snacks could help you burn more fat, according to The Associated Press.

So what should we be eating? Foods like brown rice, whole grain pancakes and pastas are the best to eat three to four hours before your workout, according to Pearson, while cereals, crackers and breads work better eaten30 minutes before. Post-workout foods include chocolate milk and yogurt.

Check out the full list of must-have carbs before and after your workout session and why they're good for you:

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  • 3-4 Hours: Whole Grain Spaghetti

    Even though many stay away from pastas during diets, whole grains are a great source of <a href="http://www.askmen.com/top_10/fitness_top_ten/24c_fitness_list.html" target="_hplink">complex carbs, which can store energy in our muscles for a longer period of time. </a>

  • 3-4 Hours: Stir Fry On Brown Rice

    Another great grain, <a href="http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=128" target="_hplink">brown rice is full of fibre</a> and can decrease the risk of colon cancers.

  • 3-4 Hours: Whole Grain Pancakes

    Easy on the syrup! Whole grain pancakes are full of fibre and taste great with fresh fruit and honey.

  • 30-60 Minutes: Whole Grain Cereal

    For those of you who love morning cereal, a <a href="http://www.oprah.com/health/What-Is-the-Best-Meal-to-Eat-Before-a-Workout" target="_hplink">bowl of fibre-filled whole grain cereal is an easy way to get full</a>. Trying to keep it healthy? Opt for skim milk.

  • 30-60 Minutes: Whole Grain Crackers With Dip

    Unsalted whole grain crackers also <a href="http://www.livestrong.com/article/58800-preworkout-foods-eat/" target="_hplink">fuel your body with energy</a>.

  • 30-60 Minutes: Lean Protein On Whole Grain

    A diet including whole grains can decrease your risk of <a href="http://www.oprah.com/health/Health-Benefits-of-Whole-Wheat-Bread#ixzz1ypb5a4yG" target="_hplink">cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and even gum disease. </a>

  • 30-60 Minutes: Fruit Smoothie

    The most versatile thing about smoothies is that they allow you to add in your own ingredients. Don't be afraid to use<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/25/summer-smoothie-recipes_n_1624136.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-living" target="_hplink"> fresh veggies, flax seeds and even green tea</a> along with your favourite fruit.

  • Post-Workout: Chocolate Milk

    If you're trying to avoid dairy, chocolate milk can easily be made to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/meghan-telpner/milk-health-risks_b_905988.html" target="_hplink">fit your needs. </a>

  • Post-Workout: Yogurt

    Yogurt is rich in calcium and full of protein but it also lets you experiment with add-ons like granola and fresh fruit.

  • Post-Workout: Whole Grain Energy Bar

    Again, customize your own bar and fill it up with fibre and protein. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/energy-bars_n_1056949.html" target="_hplink">Check out this recipe</a> by Kate Slate.

  • Recipe: Penne Rigate Bruschetta Pasta

    Preparation time: 15 minutes Cooking time: 10 minutes Servings: 4 <strong>Ingredients:</strong> 1 pkg ( 375 g ) whole wheat penne rigate 1/2 cup ( 125 ml ) chopped sweet or white onion 1 cup ( 250 ml ) loosely packed, chopped fresh basil leaves 1/2 cup ( 125 ml ) loosely packed, chopped fresh parsley leaves 1 tbsp ( 15 ml ) sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar 1/2 tsp ( 2 ml ) each salt and pepper 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped 2 1/2 cups ( 625 ml ) chopped, ripe, on-the-vine tomatoes 1 tbsp ( 15 ml ) extra virgin olive oil Instructions: Toss the tomatoes with the onion, basil, parsley, vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic. Let stand for at least 10 minutes. Cook the penne according to package directions. Drain well and toss with the reserved bruschetta mixture. Toss mixture with olive oil and adjust seasonings before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature. <a href="http://www.wholegrainpasta.ca/" target="_hplink">Recipe courtest of Catelli</a>

Three To Four Hours Before:

Whole Grain Spaghetti
Even though many stay away from pastas during diets, whole grains are a great source of complex carbs, which stores energy in our muscles for a longer period of time.

Brown Rice
Another great grain, brown rice is full of fibre and can decrease the risk of colon cancers.

Whole Grain Pancakes
Easy on the syrup! Whole grain pancakes are full of fibre and taste great with fresh fruit and honey.

30 to 60 Minutes Before:

Whole Grain Cereal
For those of you who love morning cereal, a bowl of fibre-filled whole grain cereal is an easy way to get full. Trying to keep it healthy? Opt for skim milk.

Whole Grain Crackers
Unsalted whole grain crackers also fuel your body with energy.

Lean Proteins On Whole Grain Bread
A diet including whole grains can decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and even gum disease.

Post-Workout:

Fruit Smoothies
The most versatile thing about smoothies is that they allow you to add in your own ingredients. Don't be afraid to use fresh veggies, flax seeds and even green tea along with your favourite fruit.

Chocolate Milk
If you're trying to avoid dairy, chocolate milk can easily be made to fit your needs.

Yogurt
Yogurt is rich in calcium and full of protein but it also lets you experiment with add-ons like granola and fresh fruit.

Energy Bars
Again, customize your own bar and fill it up with fibre and protein. Check out this recipe by Kate Slate.