It’s essential to understand that your pre-workout meals are not just about satisfying your hunger; it’s about giving your muscles the fuel they need to perform at their best. By choosing the right foods, you can significantly enhance your energy levels, endurance, and strength during exercise. In this article, we will explore the essential foods that can give you the energy boost you need before hitting the gym.
Whether you’re an avid gym-goer or just starting your fitness journey, nutrition plays a crucial role in optimizing your workout. Many people make the mistake of either skipping pre-workout meals or fueling their bodies with the wrong foods, resulting in decreased energy levels and poor performance.
Benefits of pre-workout meals
Pre-workout meals play a crucial role in enhancing exercise performance and promoting overall fitness. Here are some key benefits supported by scientific research:
- Improved Performance: Consuming pre-workout meals rich in carbohydrates has been shown to improve exercise performance by providing readily available energy. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel during high-intensity activities.
- Enhanced Endurance: Including a combination of carbohydrates and proteins in pre-workout meals can contribute to increased endurance. The protein helps sustain energy levels and supports muscle function during prolonged exercise.
- Optimized Muscle Protein Synthesis: Consuming protein before a workout can stimulate muscle protein synthesis, promoting muscle growth and repair. This is particularly important for individuals engaged in resistance training.
- Reduced Perceived Exertion: Adequate pre-workout nutrition can lead to a decrease in the perceived effort during exercise. Carbohydrate intake has been linked to a lower perception of effort, making workouts feel less challenging.
- Maintained Blood Sugar Levels: Consuming a balanced pre-workout meal helps regulate blood sugar levels, preventing fluctuations that can lead to fatigue and dizziness during exercise (Stevenson, E. J., et al., 2009).
- Minimized Muscle Damage: Pre-workout meals can assist in minimizing muscle damage during intense training sessions. Antioxidants present in certain foods help combat oxidative stress and inflammation.
- Faster Recovery: Nutrient intake before exercise supports faster recovery by providing the body with the necessary building blocks for muscle repair and glycogen replenishment.
- Increased Nutrient Delivery: Consuming pre-workout meals enhances nutrient delivery to muscles, ensuring a steady supply of nutrients during the workout. This can positively impact performance and recovery.
What Should You Eat Before Workout?
Carbohydrates are sugar molecules that are converted into glucose, your body’s primary energy source. There are a few distinct types of carbs, but experts generally recommend that the bulk of your total carb intake be in the form of “complex” carbohydrates.
- Complex carbohydrates are a great source of sustained energy. Opt for whole grains, oats, sweet potatoes, or brown rice.
- Aim for a moderate intake to prevent bloating or discomfort during exercise.
|Brown rice, quinoa, oats, barley, whole wheat bread, bulgur
|Bananas, apples, oranges, berries, mangoes, grapes
|Sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, bell peppers, tomatoes
|Lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, edamame
|Low-fat yogurt, milk, kefir
|Cereals and Snacks
|Whole-grain cereal, granola bars, whole-grain crackers
|Oat-based bars with minimal added sugars and natural ingredients
|Sports drinks (for prolonged or intense workouts), coconut water
Proteins, also known as “the building blocks of life,” are found in every cell of your body and are required for cell repair and regeneration. During digestion, your body converts protein from food into amino acids, which are necessary for overall health. Your body naturally manufactures some kinds of amino acids.
- Protein helps support muscle function and repair. Include lean sources like chicken, turkey, Greek yogurt, or plant-based options such as tofu or beans.
- Consuming protein before a workout may enhance muscle protein synthesis.
|Chicken breast, turkey, lean beef, fish (salmon, tuna)
|Tofu, tempeh, legumes (lentils, chickpeas, black beans)
|Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, low-fat cheese, milk
|Hard-boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, egg whites
|Nuts and Seeds
|Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds
|Whey protein, plant-based protein, casein protein (if tolerated)
|Shrimp, crab, mussels, oysters
|Edamame, soy milk, soy-based products
Fats, like carbohydrates, were formerly unfairly maligned, yet they are essential to your general health and, yes, workout performance. During your workout, your body first burns the calories from carbohydrates you’ve consumed for energy, but after around 20 minutes, it switches to fat calories to assist in fueling your activities. Experts recommend getting the majority of your fat from unsaturated sources like olive oil, avocados, seeds, and almonds.
So, now that you know everything about macronutrients, which food category is ideal for pre-workout snacks? Again, it depends, and the optimal meals to eat before a workout will change for each individual. However, the closer you get to your workout window, the more you should focus on faster-digesting carbs and proteins, as fats take the longest to digest and may leave you feeling sluggish if consumed right before exercise.
- While it’s best to keep fats moderate before a workout to avoid digestive issues, a small amount of healthy fats can provide a sense of satiety.
|Healthy Fat Sources
|Nuts and Seeds
|Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds
|Peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter
|Sliced avocado or guacamole
|Olive oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil
|Salmon, mackerel, trout
|Full-fat Greek yogurt, cheese
|Dark chocolate (moderate amounts with at least 70% cocoa)
|Including the yolk for healthy fats and additional nutrients
|Coconut milk, coconut flakes
|Nori sheets, seaweed snacks
Hydration is an important aspect of your fueling strategy. To avoid the unpleasant and potentially harmful effects of dehydration (such as weakness and exhaustion), you’ll need to hydrate throughout the day, not just before exercising. “Hydration should never just happen at the moment; it’s about staying on top of your needs,” Schehr said. “So, for example, if someone is getting up at 5 AM on Thursday to work out, they need to be drinking an adequate amount of water on Wednesday.”
- Staying well-hydrated is crucial. Drink water throughout the day and consider having a glass before your workout.
- If engaging in intense or prolonged exercise, you may include an electrolyte-rich beverage.
Timming to Eat Before a Workout Routine
Not only should you consider what you eat before working exercise, but also when you eat it. Fitting in a well-balanced meal or two before exercising is not an issue for certain afternoon or evening workouts. Morning exercisers, on the other hand, may find timing more difficult. Regardless of when you’re working out, here are some general guidelines:
- If you have three to four hours before your workout, eat a meal that includes carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
- If you have one to two hours before your workout, go for a carbohydrate-rich snack that may contain some protein. If you’re not sure where to start, O’Malley suggests snacks like half a sandwich, pretzels and hummus, or peanut butter and banana.
- If you’re going to start a workout and need something to fuel your body, easy-to-digest carbs are your best option. “The closer you get to your actual workout, the more quickly you want to be able to digest the food, and the carb-heavy it should be,” O’Malley explains, citing bananas, oats, and other fruits as good examples.
Foods that make you feel exhausted before working out
- High-Fat Meals:
- While healthy fats are crucial for overall health, consuming a large amount of fat before a workout may slow down digestion and lead to feelings of heaviness and discomfort.
- High-Fiber Foods:
- Foods high in fiber, such as beans, lentils, and cruciferous vegetables, can cause bloating and gas. These effects may be uncomfortable during physical activity.
- Spicy Foods:
- Spicy foods can irritate the stomach and may lead to heartburn or indigestion, especially during activities that involve bending or jumping.
- Dairy Products:
- Some people may be sensitive to dairy, and consuming it before a workout could lead to bloating or gastrointestinal discomfort. Opt for lactose-free alternatives if you enjoy dairy but experience digestive issues.
- Sugary Foods and Drinks:
- While a small amount of carbohydrates can provide energy, foods high in refined sugars may cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels, followed by a crash, leading to fatigue.
- Large Meals:
- Consuming a heavy or large meal too close to your workout can divert blood flow to the digestive system, making you feel sluggish and potentially causing stomach cramps.
- Alcohol can dehydrate the body, and its sedative effects can negatively impact coordination and reaction time. It’s advisable to avoid alcohol before intense or demanding workouts.
- Caffeine Sensitivity:
- While some people benefit from moderate caffeine intake before a workout, others may experience jitteriness or an upset stomach. Pay attention to how your body reacts to caffeine.
- Processed and Fried Foods:
- Highly processed and fried foods are often high in unhealthy fats and may lack the nutrients needed for sustained energy. These can contribute to feelings of sluggishness.
- Energy Drinks with High Sugar Content:
- Some energy drinks are loaded with sugar, which can lead to a quick energy spike followed by a crash. Opt for alternatives with lower sugar content or consider natural sources of caffeine.
Simple pre-workout meals
Greek Yogurt Parfait
Ingredients: Greek yogurt, berries (e.g., blueberries, strawberries), and a sprinkle of granola.
Instructions: Layer Greek yogurt with berries and top with a small amount of granola for a mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber.
Banana with Almond Butter
Ingredients: Banana and almond butter.
Instructions: Spread almond butter on a banana for a quick and portable snack that combines carbohydrates with healthy fats and a bit of protein.
Whole Grain Toast with Avocado
Ingredients: Whole grain toast and avocado.
Instructions: Spread mashed avocado on whole-grain toast for a satisfying combination of complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.
Oatmeal with Fruit
Ingredients: Oatmeal and your choice of fruit (e.g., sliced banana or berries).
Instructions: Cook oatmeal and top it with fresh fruit for a fiber-rich and energizing pre-workout option.
Hard-boiled eggs and Whole Grain Crackers
- Ingredients: Hard-boiled eggs and whole-grain crackers.
- Instructions: Pair hard-boiled eggs with whole-grain crackers for a convenient source of protein and complex carbohydrates. 4
Smoothie with Protein
- Ingredients: Banana, spinach5, protein powder, and almond milk.
- Instructions: Blend banana, spinach, protein powder, and almond milk for a quick and nutrient-dense smoothie.
Simple pre-workout drinks
- Combine water or milk with your favorite protein powder for a quick and convenient way to get protein before your workout.
Coffee with Banana
- 1 cup of black coffee (adjust the strength according to your preference)
- 1 ripe banana
Although each athlete has different dietary requirements, if you want to increase your strength, endurance, output, or any other aspect of your fitness, there’s no reason not to consume pre-workout meals if you have the time and can handle at least a little snack. When choosing your pre-work meals or snacks, take into account your preferences, the type of exercise you’re undertaking, and the time of day.
Recall that maintaining good nutrition and hydration is a 24/7 task, and Schehr emphasizes the significance of always putting your own needs first. “We want to do that with nutrition as well if we are going to spend the time taking care of ourselves to exercise,” the woman explains.
We’ll never feel as wonderful as we possibly can as when we pay attention to both,” the saying goes. “This includes overtraining and undereating or paying attention to food but not exercise. We would all be better able to make the proper decisions if we asked ourselves more questions about how we felt rather than what we should do.
What should I eat 30-60 minutes before a workout?
You should have more carbohydrates and less fat the closer you are to your workout. It is advised that you eat a low-fat, moderately protein, high-carbohydrate snack before working out if you are eating 30 to 60 minutes beforehand.
Can I eat 15 minutes before a workout?
Give your stomach time to digest after a large meal. Give your body two to three hours off before working out. Between meals: Your body needs some extra energy. To ensure you have enough power to complete your workout, have a snack thirty to sixty minutes before.
Is it good to eat before a workout?
Choose something containing carbohydrates, such as a banana, low-fat natural yogurt, crackers with low-fat soft cheese, a smoothie, or a glass of low-fat milk. Avoid foods high in fat or fiber, as they take longer to digest and may cause stomach discomfort when exercising.
Can I eat eggs before a workout?
It’s high in proteins and amino acids. They provide energy to the body and promote muscle growth. Eating eggs before exercise will help you gain energy and stamina. For this, consume boiled eggs or an omelet 30 to 40 minutes before your workout.6
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10054587/ ↩︎
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7696145/ ↩︎
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407985/ ↩︎
- https://www.saudereggs.com/blog/why-you-should-eat-eggs-pre-workout/ ↩︎
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24921623/ ↩︎
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28978542/ ↩︎