One of the topics we see a lot of questions about is what to eat before working out so that you have enough energy to complete an intense routine, but don’t feel sick or bloated from the wrong type of meal before hitting the gym.
With five experts weighing in on the topic, hopefully you’ll find a suggestion that will work for you if you’re searching for that perfect combination to fill you up and keep you going healthy before you exercise!
Before a workout, consider fueling your body with easily digestible foods that fill up your glycogen stores to provide quick energy. Fruit is an excellent, healthy source that has fiber to help satisfy your hunger as well. As a runner, my pre-workout go-to snack is a banana. It’s easy on my stomach and gives me the energy I need to feel good throughout my workout.
I think the best pre-workout meal depends on several factors that include (1) timing, (2) fitness goals, (3) digestibility, (4) type of workout. I wrote about these factors in more depth in my pre-workout meal article. In my opinion, the pre-workout meal boils down to giving you energy for your workouts while not making you feel bloated. Regarding timing, if I have lunch at 12:30pm and I’m not working out until 4:30pm, I may have a normal lunch of 1 cup of fibrous carbs like veggies, 6 ounces of lean meats, and a starchy carb – let’s say a wrap with lettuce, tomato, grilled chicken, and avocado. Then right before the workout I may have an apple if I feel hungry, or nothing at all.
I don’t stress much about pre/post workout because the reality is that it’s max 5-10% of results, and that’s being generous. Yes it’s important, but your lifestyle 24/7 is what makes the impact. Every meal, every workout, every night of sleep matters, so when you look at the overall picture, the perfect pre-workout meal is not as critical to long term success.
– Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT
Depends – An apple pre-workout has been shown to increase strength for up to an hour.1
If I’m going super low-carb, then a tablespoon of coconut oil (cold-pressed, virgin, organic).
Nothing, if I’m keto-adapted and training in the morning.
Those above are not meals – Favorite Pre-workout meal: Grass-fed beef with sweet potatoes and onions. The grass-fed beef has healthy fat sources, while the beef and sweet potatoes allow for a slow-release of insulin, while having accessible carbs and enough BCAA’s to help block the central fatigue factor of serotonin being made.2 At times, I’ll replace the sweet potatoes with a serving of nuts. I tend to eat my carbs post-workout, not pre.
– John Levya, CSCS, CPT
It depends. For most of my clients I recommend eating something that they know won’t upset their stomach and is made up of mostly carbs and protein. Basically just something to keep you satiated so you are not starving half way through your training. A light sandwich without the heavy spread, yogurt, a smoothie or meat and veggies are all good options but realistically any protein/carb meal will work.
Personally, I stick to a pre and post workout protein shake (just whey and water) and maybe a piece of fruit (I always keep raisins on hand for quick energy). This is for both ease of digestion as well as convenience. I am a busy guy so downing a protein shake is an easy way to get in extra protein and quality calories. This is my idea of ‘fast food’.
As a side note, if eating before your workout always upsets your stomach then don’t eat before your workout. Try eating your healthy meal a couple hours before or if you train early in the morning train before you eat breakfast. As long as you are eating the right amount of calories for the day it shouldn’t matter too much. Just don’t starve yourself before your workout. Everyone is different so you have to slowly test different methods to see what works best for you.
– Stephen Bergeron, CSCS, CPT
A great choice is a turkey/chicken breast, spinach & tomato omelet, with a small serving of steel cut oats 2 hours before workout. An ideal pre-workout meal should consist of 20-30 grams of protein to keep your body in an anabolic state to prevent muscle breakdown during your workout.
Along with the protein, 20-30 grams of low glycemic carbohydrates is also advisable. Low glycemic carbohydrates such as spinach and steel cut oats will be converted to energy and used as fuel during your workout. Low glycemic carbohydrates will keep your insulin from spiking which can lead an energy crash mid-workout. This meal is also low in fat and fiber, which will make it easy to digest.
2 whole cage free eggs
½ cup spinach
½ turkey/chicken breast
¼ cup dice tomatoes
½ cup cooked steel cut oats with cinnamon and blueberries
Nutritional Facts: Calories-400, Protein-30 grams, Carbohydrates-30 grams, Fat-6 grams, Fiber-8 grams
I like to workout in the mornings so the first thing I do when I wake up is start off with a great breakfast that has an adequate source of protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and fat. The protein will ensure there is no muscle breakdown and give your body a steady stream of fuel and amino acids through your workout. The carbs will be converted to energy while the fiber and fat will keep you feeling full throughout the pre-workout/workout period. Adequate hydration is also vital to prepare you body for a successful workout. Ensuring your muscles are hydrated will prevent cramping and optimize performance. Whatever you do make sure you have a steady stream of energy to you can power through a tough workout.
If you find a favorite meal from among these, please let us know what worked for you.