People have been asking me what I recommend to eat before a workout, so here are my suggestions, along with some important things to consider for your pre-workout snacks!
Timing is super important for pre-and post-workout nutrition, but it doesn’t have to be as complicated as people make it seem. You have two good choices.
You can eat a good meal 2-3 hours before your workout. The meal should contain mainly protein and veggies, and have a little bit of carbs and fat, too. This Precision Nutrition article has a really good “plate” you can follow.
Men want to shoot for:
- 2 palm-sized portions of protein (meat, cottage cheese, greek yogurt, eggs, etc)
- 2 fist-sized portions of veggies (kale, peas, broccoli, carrots, etc)
- 1-2 cupped handfuls of carbs (wild rice, quinoa, potatoes, oats, etc)
- and 1-2 thumb-sized portions of fat (avocado, olive oil, mixed nuts, etc)
Women want to shoot for:
- 1 palm-sized portion of protein
- 1-2 fist-sized portions of veggies
- 1 cupped handful of carbs
- and 1 thumb-sized portion of fat
- (see examples above)
Your goals, body, and the type of workouts you do would change these slightly. You should tweak these portions based on how you feel after trying them for a few workouts. You want to be fueled but not full, and you don’t want to feel hungry or weak.
Choice 2 is today’s focus. This is just a quick, simple pre-workout snack eaten 30-60 minutes before you workout. This snack is smaller than the meal mentioned before, and is something that can get into your bloodstream quickly. This option is good for those who workout first thing in the morning.
Consider Your Goals
To choose the best pre-workout snack, you need to think about what you’re working toward!
Pre-workout Snacks For Gaining Muscle and Endurance Exercise
If you’re trying to gain muscle or keep up endurance for longer (> 1 hour) workouts, you want to eat more carbohydrates beforehand. You might want to have a protein and carbs drink or BCAA drink (branched-chain amino acids) handy during your workout as well.
Physique and Sports Goals
If you’re focusing on specific physique goals or playing sports, you’ll want to eat normally before, and consider a protein and carbs drink or BCAA drink during your workouts.
Pre-Workout Snacks For Fat Loss
If fat loss is your goal, you want to eat normally before your workout, and have only enough carbs to get you fueled. If you don’t feel like you had enough energy during your workout, add a few more carbs in your next pre-workout snack, or consume a BCAA drink during exercise.
Health and Fitness
If you are exercising for general health and fitness or have modest weight loss goals, you probably don’t need a specific strategy. You want to focus on eliminating any nutrient deficiencies, portion control, and finding snacks or pre-workout meals that work for your body and workouts.
You shouldn’t have to calculate your macros unless you’re a pro, but being aware of what your body needs will help you get results.
Protein is a really important part of your pre-workout snack. It helps maintain or increase muscle size (more muscle = higher metabolism), and helps repair any muscle damage that occurs naturally during exercise.
Examples: Protein powder in shake, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, string cheese
- Read More: Your Protein Needs, Simplified!
Carbs help fuel your workout by preserving energy stores in your muscles, which also helps maintain muscle mass or increase growth. When combined with protein, they help prevent protein breakdown and promote muscle recovery. More carbs are needed when your workouts are high intensity or they last longer than an hour. For a modest I-want-to-fit-in-my-pants workout, you would only need a small amount of pre-workout carbs. Excess carb consumption is usually stored as body fat, so be mindful!
Examples: Oats, granola, bread, fruit
Fats don’t necessarily help or hurt your workout performance. They help slow digestion- which for some people means their body maintains glucose and insulin levels, and for others it means a full, sick belly during a workout. Fat is good overall, though, and helps produce hormones and transports vitamins and minerals. It might be best to eat fat in your regular meals instead of right before a workout, but if your body can handle it then go for it!
*This of course isn’t the same for people following the ketogenic diet or something similar.
Here are 10 simple and convenient workout snack ideas:
- Peanut Butter + Apple or Banana
- Greek Yogurt (1/2 cup) + Cereal (1/4 cup) + Fruit (1/4 cup) – can tweak for your own needs
- Greek Yogurt + 1/2 cup fruit (if your Greek yogurt has fruit already then you don’t need more! Opt for plain + adding your own fruit!)
- Peanut Butter + Ezekiel Bread or Organic Waffle (like Nature’s Path)
- Fruit + String Cheese
- Trail Mix or Mixed Nuts (check for added oils and sugar content- you want dry roasted and low sugar)
- Hard Boiled Egg + 1/4 cup Dried Fruit
- Cottage Cheese + Crackers (small handful)- stick to organic whole wheat, nut or rice based crackers
- Protein + Carbs Drink – you could mix about 15g (usually one scoop) of protein powder with chocolate almond milk, juice, or fresh or frozen fruit. Ideally it would be about 15g protein + 30g carbs.
- Granola Bar (beware of lots of ingredients- shoot for granolies made from real food, and not a crazy amount of carbs or sugar– or make your own!)
It’s worth mentioning that caffeine can boost athletic performance, helping you run faster, lift more weight, and burn more fat! Try drinking coffee (or put coffee ice cubes in your Protein + Carbs drink!) about 30 minutes before your workout!
- Read More: 7 Health Benefits of Coffee
Here are some things I had lying around that would be great pre-workout snacks:
Listen To Your
If you’re training for a fitness competition or marathon, you might need to pay more attention to nutrient timing and measuring everything out. If you’re just an average person working towards improved health and a rockin’ body, just experiment and go with what works for you.
I recommend writing down what and when you ate and how you felt during exercise for a week or two. During this time, you can experiment with different snack or meal combos as well as timing and amount, and see what works.
I’m always dealing with clients for whom these recommendations don’t work– if you feel better on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, go for it. If you can eat something immediately before a run, do it. Some people swear by their “pre-workout routine” and others cite research on how it’s unnecessary. Do what works for YOU.
Find what works in your schedule. Bring a small cooler with snacks or portion out trail mix for every day of the week. Try to plan ahead enough that “not being fueled” is never a reason to skip a workout! Now you have some ideas on recommended snacks and timing so you can find out what will help you get your BEST workout!
Get In Great Shape
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Please post questions or your fave workout snack in the comments! Stay tuned for post-workout snack ideas ;)