As the saying goes, you have to eat clean to train mean — or at least to have your best training session. While pre-workout nutrition isn't the be-all, end-all (your diet as a whole matters much more), fueling your body with proper nutrients can help improve your performance in the gym and promote muscle recovery after your workout.
While plenty of packaged protein bars and energy drinks promise positive results in the gym, don't be swayed by marketing. Keep your meals and snacks simple with these trainer-approved, easy-digesting options before your next session at the gym.
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1. White Rice With Lean Beef
When she has a few hours before her workout, Carolina Araujo, certified personal trainer and IFBB professional athlete, likes to eat white rice and lean ground beef or steak. While it may seem simple, there's some strategy behind it.
"White rice is easily digested and the sugar is quickly transported to the bloodstream and then the muscles," she says. "Meanwhile, red meat has creatine, a compound that allows for even greater energy production within the muscle cells."
When Araujo has less time before hitting the gym (about 45 to 60 minutes), she opts for a smaller snack of rice cakes, peaches, pineapple or apricots. She sets aside this time before exercising to fully digest, and she makes sure to guzzle plenty of water.
"Make sure not to eat too close to your workout to allow for proper digestion," she says. Give yourself at least 30 minutes. "If you are still digesting, your body will focus all of its energy and a big portion of your blood flow towards your organs, leading to less energy and decreased performance during your training session."
2. Bread or Dates
Phil Timmons, program manager at Blink Fitness, likes to fuel his workouts with high-glycemic carbs like bread, dates or even corn flakes, as they're more easily digested and prevent him from feeling too full during his workout. At the same time, these foods spike blood sugar and provide the energy he needs for peak performance.
And Timmons always tries to prioritize actual food first and supplements second. "I always try real foods as my first option and only supplement when that's not available or a realistic option at the time," he says. But when in doubt, he recommends consulting a qualified dietitian for advice that's tailored to you.
3. Banana and Peanut Butter
There's nothing quite as delicious as the PB and banana combo — but this pair also provides some great pre-workout benefits. Sarah Buie, coach and director of talent for solidcore, likes this meal before her workout for the clean boost of energy. While bananas provide potassium, which may help in preventing muscle cramps, the peanut butter helps promote satiety.
If you decide to give this snack a try, consider experimenting with different nut butters like almond butter or cashew butter or even tahini. Nuts are full of healthy unsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids and fiber, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Just be sure to watch your portion size, as nuts and nut butters are usually high in calories. Or, try a powdered peanut butter (reduced fat) if you just can't get enough of the flavor.
4. Whey Protein Shake
If you prefer to hit the gym early in the morning, like Kirsty Godso, Nike master trainer and founder of Made Of protein powder, a snack as simple as some whey protein isolate mixed with water can give you just the energy you need to power through your session. Personally, Godso likes to mix in some cold brew for an added jolt.
"I prefer to work out on a light load in my stomach," Godso says. "That means when I get into the gym, anything is an option! I might go into the gym with a solid strength workout in mind and find myself doing series of anaerobic intervals on the ski erg."
Although she sometimes likes to toss in a banana, too, Godso prioritizes consistency in her pre-workout meals so that her food is signal to her body that it's time to work out. While Godso prefers whey protein isolate, there are plenty of plant-based protein choices out there, too. As Godso suggests, find what works for you and stick with it.