One of the top questions I get as a trainer is, “What should I eat before my workout?” I have to remind you that I’m not an RD, but I do know some great ones if you feel like you could benefit from a different perspective on food. These are my pre-workout snack recommendations from my personal experience and from my experience as a personal trainer.
1. Have a snack before you work out. This is not a drill. Really. Have a snack.
In a few very rare cases, I might recommend a fasted workout; in general, I recommend eating something to fuel your workout. You will be able to work out harder and get much more out of your time in the gym or studio than you can if you work out while feeling hungry and wimpy.
2. If you’re snacking about 2 hours before your workout…
My typical recommendation is to consume a snack that’s between 200 and 300 calories and includes a mix of carbs, protein, and a little fat. Protein bars are great for this, as are bananas with almond or peanut butter, hummus with veggies and a few whole grain crackers, string cheese and berries, Greek yogurt and grapes, half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole grain bread…getting the idea? Your body should have time to digest this by the time you work out, and you should get a steady supply of energy and nutrients to power through your workout.
3. If you’re eating 30-60 minutes before your workout…
I recommend a snack that is primarily carbs, and about 100-200 calories. A plain banana or another big piece of fruit, a fruit smoothie, some oatmeal, a sweet potato with cinnamon, a big bowl of peas (don’t judge me!), or a handful of whole grain crackers or cereal can all do the job. Your body doesn’t have as much time to digest before your workout, so by keeping your snack in the realm of carbs you will be fueling your workout without diverting too much of your body’s resources to digestion.
4. If you are snacking right before your workout (less than 30 minutes)…
Don’t worry! There are snacks for that, too, but you might not think of them. This is when 50-100 calories of sport drink or specially designed sport chews can come in really handy. They’re very sugary, but they are also designed to get energy into your body that can be consumed right away. Gatorade chews are pretty palatable and available at most grocery stores, as are Clif Shot Bloks and Jelly Belly sport beans. Yes, this stuff is basically candy, but at least the sport candy contains a modicum of science and a sprinkling of vitamins. And you won’t faint at the gym.
5. Experiment to see what works for you.
There is no one-size-fits-all snack, so try different things until you find something that your body likes! For me, bananas and sweet potatoes are awesome before tough strength workouts, but I can’t handle them before running. Gatorade chews are my go-to quick energy, but Shot Bloks make me queasy…unless it’s cold outside, when they reverse roles. Pay attention to how you feel during your workout after each snack (easy to do if you track your food in MyFitnessPal!), and if a snack causes you tummy troubles or other unpleasantness during your workout, take it off the list and move on to a new option!!
Bonus: what not to eat before a workout
I really recommend against heavy, fatty foods before you work out. Eggs, butter, fried foods, and foods with lots of oil all take significant resources to digest – which means your muscles will be getting less bloodflow during your workout. Also, having lots of fat in your stomach can lead to digestive distress, especially if you’re running or doing plyometrics…and it can be sudden and unpleasant, if you follow my train of thought.
Similarly, foods with lots of fiber (beans, dried fruit, certain vegetables…) can be problematic before workouts if your body isn’t used to them. Snack wisely, snack often, and snack on things that you enjoy!