You lace up your sneakers, don your effects, and rush out the door to get to you workout. You start exuberantly, motivated, and energetic… but halfway through, you start to slow, and feel there’s just no wind in your sails. Or you finish, and you’re famished, entering that “hangry” state.
Did you skip a pre-exercise meal or snack?
The topic of what to eat before exercise can be confusing. A multitude of different organizations, from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to the American College of Sports Nutrition, or Dietitians of Canada, and more, all have their own recommendations for what you should consume before you go workout, down the specific gram of carbs/proteins/fat to kilograms of your body weight. (We can dive deeper into that another time. The focus here today is just on some baseline ideas.)
Thankfully, they all agree on one important point: do what feels best for you! And it may take some trial and error.
“Training Low,” or intentionally training in a carb-depleted or fasted state, is starting to be studied more. But currently, it is not a typical recommendation. (Speak to your coach or dietitian to see if this is an individualized approach that can safely be done for you, if you are interested) Normally depleted stores are associated with fatigue, reduced work rates, impaired skill and concentration, and increased perception of effort. So generally it is recommended that you consume some proper foods before physical activity to help fuel you towards your goals of weight loss and/or muscle gain.
Having something to eat before going to workout can greatly enhance your efforts. Eating some carbohydrate-rich foods will give you more fuel in your body to help push harder in your workout. A little bit of protein will help with muscle feeding and repair. Hydration is also key, as even mild dehydration can cause drops in your performance, which usually means fewer calories burned or less weights moved. Why not get the most bang for your exercise buck?
It is the amounts, timing, and form of food that are highly dependent upon your own preferences and tolerances. The goal is to provide enough food and fuel before your workout that you can achieve a top-notch effort without feeling hungry, but not too much nor too close to the workout time as to cause cramping, nausea, or other stomach distress.
If you eat 3-4 hours before you exercise, you may do better with a more meal-sized intake. If you eat only 1-2 hours before, a snack will usually do. If you don’t have time to eat well ahead of the activity, a small snack or liquid form may sit best. Just make sure you’re not undoing your weight goals by consuming excess calories! Simply plan ahead to spread your food out around your workout time.
Pre-workout Meal Ideas:
- Bowl of oatmeal with fruit or honey
- Brown Rice and Veggie Stir Fry
- Whole grain bagel with chicken and avocado
- Salad topped with beans and corn or quinoa
Pre-workout Snack Ideas:
- Handful of almonds and a cheese stick
- Fruit and a ½ cup of yogurt
- Slice or two of wheat toast with nut butter
- Wheat pita and hummus
Pre-workout Drink Ideas:
- Low fat milk (some people like chocolate milk, but there is added sugar, so decide if that is right for you)
- Small fruit, protein powder, and milk/milk substitute smoothie
- Meal-replacement drink that includes 15-30g Carbohydrate
Bonus Boost: having coffee about an hour before a workout has been shown to boost results! Caffeine is a common aid to help increase time to exhaustion in aerobic endurance exercise bought, decrease ratings of perceived exertion, and improve physical performance even during periods of sleep deprivation.
American College of Sports Medicine, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, a Joint Position Statement. “Nutrition and Athletic Performance.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. (2016) 543-568. Print.
Campbell, Bill I., Spano, Marie A. NSCA’s Guide to Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Human Kinetics. 2011. Book.
Dunford, Marie; Macedonio, Michele. “A Step-by-step Process for Helping Athletes Achieve Optimal Performance Weight and Body Composition.” Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo. Nashville, TN. 4 Oct 2015. Conference Presentation.
Patgieter, S. “Sports Nutrition: A review of the latest guidelines for exercise and sport nutrition from the American College of Sport and Nutrition, the International Olympic Committee and the International Society for Sports Science” S Afr Journal of Clinical Nutrition 26.1 (2013). 6-16. Print.
“Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance” Journal of the American Dietetic Association. March. 109.3 (2009): 509-527. Print.
10 thoughts on “Fuel Up! Pre-Workout Eats”
If I’m working out in the morning I would have a half a cup of tea (need some boost – and not a coffee drinker) and half a banana. Seems to work for me at 5 am.
heck yeah! Whatever feels best for you! I find it also depends on the workout. I like a little more protein if I’m going to be doing heavy lifting; and coconut if I’m doing cardio.
Didn’t think of course coconut for cardio. (Btw, I hate cardio!)
If I’m working out first thing, I chug some water (12-16 oz) and have either a hard-boiled egg or an egg + toast, depending on the intensity of my workout. Definitely agree that you have to do what works best for you! Listen to your body!
I can’t believe how thirsty I feel most mornings when I wake up – so I always start with 2-4 cups of water. Right now, my favorite pre-workout mini meal is 1/4 cup oatmeal, 1 scoop collagen protein, 1 Tbs coconut oil, a dash of salt, a pinch of cinnamon, and enough hot water to mix it all together. I have this with 1 Tbs fresh almond butter, about 90 minutes before my workout, and usually feel amazing!
Love the coffee tip! I recently started doing that, especially when I was lacking energy before a workout and it really does seem to help.
I love it! I wake up at 4:30am with a 7am workout, so coffee is a must for me! I’ve also gotten into “coffee naps” as well.
I feel like if I eat before I workout, I am more sluggish. However, I also experience the ‘training low’ that you mentioned after my workouts. I do drink coffee with collagen and MCT oil before I workout, but maybe I’ll try to add a little more protein to it and see if that helps! Thanks!
How have you food trials gone? I have actually had some cool coffee drinks lately that I’m trying. I wish I could remember what they’re called… but they are in the grocery stores. It’s coffee with MCT oils and some whey protein. I just started trying to have that as a pre-workout for my lunch-break workouts if I’m doing cardio. Seems helpful so far!