Pre-Workout Snacks for Better Results

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You may be working out to burn calories, but fueling up properly can make your workouts do more for you. Fueling up may give you more energy during your workout so you can go harder, effortlessly. It can also:

  • Stave off hunger so you can focus on your workout, not your stomach.

  • Add necessary nutrients to your diet.

  • Keep your metabolism going strong.

What should you eat before your workouts? When should you eat it? Everyone is different, but these are some guidelines on planning pre-workout meals and snacks to feel your best.

 

Timing and Size


The timing of the workout and the pre-workout snack affect how much to eat. For an early-morning workout before breakfast, a light snack about 30 minutes before starting can be right. A small snack might also be the right choice if you are planning a pre-lunch or pre-dinner workout and you know you tend to be hungry around that time.

Alternatively, a slightly larger snack can be just the thing if you are planning to eat 1 to 2 hours before a workout. Or, you could try having a light meal 3 or 4 hours before the workout. Each person is different, and has different needs and tolerances for eating before a workout.

A longer, harder workout may require a slightly larger snack than a shorter, easier workout. 

 

Types of Foods


The best choices before a workout are high in nutrients and easy to digest. Generally, some healthy carbs with some protein and maybe a bit of healthy fat are the best choices. The carbs provide fuel, while the protein helps support muscle recovery, and the healthy fat stabilizes blood sugar and energy levels during the workout.

These are some potentially good choices.

  • Whole wheat bread, rolls, and English muffins.

  • Oatmeal, whole grain cereal, and cooked brown rice or pasta.

  • Beans, sweet potatoes, acorn squash.

  • Fruit.

  • Nuts and seeds.

  • Skinless chicken, tofu, tuna, other fish, yogurt.

Of course, experiment with what works for you. Some people have trouble, for example, with broccoli, beans, or dairy products before a workout, while others have no difficulty. 

On the other hand, sugary, refined starchy, and greasy foods may not be the best choices. Sugars and refined starches can lead to spikes in blood sugar followed by drops in blood sugar and energy levels - not what you need right in the middle of a workout! Greasy foods can lead to feelings of heaviness and possible stomach discomfort during the workout.  

These may not be the best choices before a workout, as they do not provide many nutrients, may lead to swings in energy, and may give you stomach troubles.

  • Sugary foods, such as candy, cake, and ice cream.

  • Sugary drinks, such as fruit drinks and sports drinks.

  • Carbonated beverages, such as sparkling water and soft drinks.

  • Fatty foods, such as fried foods, fatty meats, and large amounts of cheese.

Type of Snack Small Snack
(100-200 calories)
Large Snack
(200-400 calories)
Small Meal
(300-500 calories)
Time before workout
30 minutes before
1 to 2 hours before
3 hours before
Occasions when you might have it
Morning workout before breakfast, mid-day workout before lunch, if hungry before workout but without time to digest a larger snack.
Mid-day workout before lunch, late afternoon workout before dinner.
Mid to late-afternoon workout, mid to late-morning workout
Examples
  • 1 packet regular oatmeal plus ½ cup yogurt
  • ½ apple plus 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • Hard-boiled egg and ½ banana
  • Cottage cheese with cantaloupe
  • Baked sweet potato and ½ oz. pecans
  • 1 brown rice cake with almond butter
  • Whole-grain English muffin with tomato, lettuce, avocado, tuna
  • 1 cup fresh fruit salad with ½ oz. nuts
  • Fat-free refried beans with melted cheese and avocado
  • Strawberry banana peanut butter smoothie with tofu or yogurt
  • Grilled diced chicken with ½ cup cooked whole-wheat pasta, tomatoes, olive oil
  • Broiled salmon with broccoli and brown rice
  • Hummus on a whole-wheat pita
 

Hydration


Just as worthy of attention as what you eat is how much you drink before a workout. Being well-hydrated can prevent fatigue and reduce the risk of cramps. In addition to staying hydrated all day by being on track to get in 8 to 10 glasses of water, another cup or two an hour before the workout can help.

Water is the best choice for hydration, but not the only one.

  • Hot or iced decaffeinated tea or coffee

  • Caffeinated tea or coffee if you are used to it and it is a morning or early afternoon workout

  • Sports drinks are usually high in sugar or sugar substitutes, and are not usually necessary for regular workouts.

That pre-workout snack has the potential to make your workout great, so it is worth taking a few minutes to plan for it. Rather than adding empty calories, a pre-workout snack can help you get more from your workout while providing needed nutrients. Lark can offer guidance on nutritious foods to choose any time of day.

 

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health