Being a fitness enthusiast, surely you have goals. You may want to be able to run a mile, lose a pound or do 10 push-ups. In order to improve performance and achieve your goals, you need to properly fuel your body. Similar to why a car needs fuel to run from point A to point B, your body needs the energy to get the most out of your workout routine and reach your goals.
Food gives you the energy needed during a workout but can also cause discomfort. I personally have felt nauseous during exercising and soon learned it was caused by eating too close to exercise time.
In this article, you’ll find out what food you should eat before a workout. On top of that, it is important for you to know when to eat before a workout. So, read on…
Pre Workout Meal Time
Timing is key. While preventing any stomach discomfort during a workout, you’ll also need the energy to work through your routine.
In general, it’s recommended to eat a full meal 2-3 hours before a workout but in some cases, a specific timing may not be attainable. It may have passed 3 hours before you start your workout. In this case, you’ll need a decent pre-workout meal or snack.
Depending on what time of the day your workout is, here are the general timeframes as a guide.
Early morning workout. Eat a small snack 30 minutes before working out. When you wake up in the morning, your body has not received any food, that’s energy, for some time. Hence, it needs something to get it started.
After a full meal. Rest 2-3 hours before the workout. You need to give your stomach time to digest.
In between meals. Eat a snack 30-60 minutes before working out. It will give you the energy needed.
That’s just a guide. You need to understand each individual is different hence the timeframes may vary between individuals. You’ll need to take a bit of trial and error to find a time that works best for you.
For example, should you need a snack before your workout, start with a 30-minute mark. If you feel unwell during your workout, add 10 minutes to your start time.
Good Food to Eat Before Workout
It is not only food in general, but good food as in good nutrition is important as it can help your body perform better and recover faster after each workout.
When it comes to nutrition, there are macronutrients and micronutrients.
In this topic, let’s look at the “big 3” macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein and fats. Each of these macronutrients has a specific role to play and the ratio needed depends on individuals plus type of workouts.
Your body uses carbs to make glucose for energy and they are essential when working out.
Simply put, when you eat carbs, they break down into glucose, enter your muscle cells and give you fuel to exercise. Your muscles store glucose in the form of glycogen hence it is from the glycogen stores you’re getting all the energy.
That is to say, you need carbs during a workout to keep you going until the end.
During short, heavy exercise, glycogen stores are your muscles’ main source of energy. However, for prolonged, submaximal exercises, the degree to which carbs are used depends on the intensity, duration and types of the exercise, plus the diet previously consumed. (1)
Well known in the world of fitness, protein plays a major role in repairing and strengthening muscle tissue after exercise.
When you do strength-training exercises such as lifting weights, you may cause small tears in your muscle fibres. At rest time, your body repairs those tears, building stronger and bigger muscles and it needs protein to do it.
For that reason, make sure what you eat has a fairly good amount of protein to help maintain muscle mass.
Should you eat fats before a workout? Yes, or No? Mostly no but yes you may.
While glycogen is used for short, heavy exercise, fat is the source of fuel for prolonged, moderate-to-low intensity exercises.
Let’s put it this way. You’re not working out at all hours of the day and neither running a marathon. Hence, you don’t really need fats in your pre-workout meal.
Fats take time for the body to digest, so any you consume before a workout won’t pass through the system fast enough to provide energy for your workout. Now you see why it’s good for prolonged workouts?
Having said that, it does not mean you should stay away from eating fats. Healthy fats I’m talking about.
A small serving of healthy unsaturated fats is all right when combined with carbs and protein.
Read more on the benefits eating healthy fats here. Fat in food does not necessarily make you fat.
So, What Food Should You Eat Before a Workout
Many people ask, “what’s the best food to eat before a workout?”. I say, there’s no such thing as the best food but your favourite food.
You can choose to eat your favourite healthy food based on the “big 3” nutrients mentioned above. Together with the proper timing of your pre-workout meals, you’ll be on the right track.
If you’re eating 30-60 minutes before, it is recommended to eat a high carb, moderate protein and low-fat snack.
- Granola bar
- Greek yoghurt with fruit
- A handful of nuts and raisins or trail mix
- A piece of fruit such as a banana or apple
If your workout starts within 1-2 hours, eat a slightly heavier snack but not too much such as:
- Nut butter whole wheat toast
- Fruits and yoghurt-based smoothies
- Whole-grain cereal or muesli with milk
- A cup of oatmeal topped with banana and almonds
If your workout starts within 2-3 hours or more, you should eat a high carbohydrate, high protein, and low-fat meal.
- Lean protein and roasted vegetables with brown rice
- Lean protein whole-grain sandwich with a side salad
- Avocado on whole-grain toast with an egg omelette and a cup of fruits
Always keep in mind that the sooner you eat before your workout, the smaller and simpler the meal should be. Ensure not to eat too much so you don’t get an upset stomach halfway through your workout. You may feel sluggish too, exercising with a heavy stomach.
In a Nutshell
You put in effort and time in a good workout to achieve the goals you’ve set. It may be a small goal of simply staying healthy and in good shape or something challenging such as preparing for a 5/10k marathon. No matter small or big goals, you need to eat healthily to sustain energy during the workout. And pre-workout meals timing is important too.
The two main nutrients you want to consume before workouts are carbohydrates and protein, and perhaps a few fats. While carbs give you energy, the few fats you’re eating is a source of energy for prolonged exercises or, if your workout starts within 2-3 hours or more. As you may have known very well, protein is what you need for building, repairing and strengthening your muscles.
The timing of your pre-workout meals is dependant on your tolerance. Some of you may feel just fine exercising on an empty stomach or vice-versa. Ultimately, you want to feel good exercising and not feeling sluggish or with a discomfort stomach. Your fitness goals are your aim.
What food should you eat before a workout isn’t complicated. It should not be. Simple and easy to digest plus nutritious food is all you need.
I hope the above information is useful for you to maintain your workout routine. What is your workout routine like? And what do you usually eat pre-workout? Tell us in the comments section below. We may pick up some tips from you.
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I like to add. Do not let “when to eat” before a workout controls you. I understand with a busy, hectic lifestyle, it is difficult to find time for exercising. And when you do, do not let an empty stomach get in the way. Or “I’ve just eaten not too long ago” be the reason not exercising. Knowing you’ve got a planned workout schedule ahead, choose light nutritious food.
It is always a good idea to have healthy carry-along snacks in your bag at all times. For example, granola bars, trail mix or even a pack of raisins.
Get Started Already
For US readers, look what I’ve found for you on Amazon US.
These Clif Energy Bars are made with organic rolled oats and contain 9–11g of plant protein alongside fast-acting and longer-lasting carbohydrates. A perfect snack to fuel up before or during long, moderate-intensity activities.
Each SIS Go Energy Bar contains 35g of easily digestible carbohydrates to fight fatigue and 10g of soy protein isolate to prevent muscle breakdown.
This may not be as popular as other well-known brands but worth takes a closer look
Perfect snack for a workout. Power Up Trail Mix is made from only the best, most premium whole nuts, dried fruit and seeds, and does not contain sulfites or other preservatives. Project Verified Non-GMO, No Artificial Ingredients, Gluten-Free, Vegan, Certified Kosher.
Raisins make for a great nutritious snack on the go. Sun-Maid Organic Raisins are Certified Non-GMO and Certified Kosher.
You can read more about raisins vs sultanas here.
Before that, check out Sun-Maid Organic Raisins
For my fellow Malaysians, shop on Shopee or Lazada. There is an excellent selection with thousands of customer reviews.
A range of granola bars on Shopee. Or, nuts and trail mix you may like.
Should you prefer shopping on Lazada, here you go – granola bars | nuts and trail mix.
Happy shopping and thanks for reading.
Me YourHealthy Corner – Stay in Good Health, Healthy Eating Habits
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Medical Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or medical professional, and this post should not be taken as medical advice. Please do your own research. The material on this blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is general information that may not apply to you as an individual and is not a substitute for your own doctor’s medical care or advice.
4 thoughts on “What Food Should You Eat Before a Workout”
Thanks for this helpful article about when and what to eat before a workout. This is not only great advice for athletes, but I think I can also apply this to my meals and snacks on days when I have a vocal performance. It’s always been a challenge to find a balance between getting the right types and amounts of food to provide energy without feeling full or sluggish.
You’re right, Aly. This is not only for athletes but for anyone who does light exercises or goes for walks can follow the guide.
Thank you for tips regarding what food to eat before a workout. It is important if you want to lose weight, you look at the foods you eat and like you said a person will notice when you eat a lot that you do not have much energy to exercise or not even the mood. For me, small healthy snacks helps a lot if you want to train in 30 minutes time. But with big meals an hour is enough waiting period for me. If I go in too early my body shuts down too quickly and I do not even enjoy the exercise.
Do you perhaps have guides for healthy eating but also enjoying the food you can eat? That will help a lot for my health goal.
Healthy eating should not be boring or bland. Try to spice up your food with herbs and spices to enhance the flavour. Colours play a role too, making food look more appealing and appetizing.
For example, turmeric. It gives your food a bright yellow colour and has many health benefits including keeping blood sugar levels steady and fight inflammation.
Another example. Oatmeals are known to be healthy but maybe bland. Top up with colourful and healthy fruits such as strawberries, blueberries or bananas with nuts and seeds to give it a good crunch and texture.
Read more about healthy oatmeals or muesli.