Whether you like to exercise first thing in the morning or prefer to hit the gym later in the day, your energy levels and performance depend a lot on what you eat before your workout.
Consider these eating tips to choose the optimal pre-workout foods and snacks to get the most out of your training session.
Include Carbs and Protein in Your Pre-Workout Meal
Carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats all provide the fuel needed for energy, but carbs, in particular, are the body's preferred fuel source for almost every type of exercise, Kristen Arnold, RDN, CSSD, a sports dietitian and cycling coach based in Fort Collins, Colorado, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
In fact, without carbs, the body must rely on stored calories in the form of fat and glycogen (aka, carbs stored in muscles and the liver, providing energy). If these stored calories are depleted and no carbs are available from food, your performance may decline.
That's why Arnold recommends eating a meal rich in complex carbohydrates and lean protein three hours before a workout. Complex carbs are made up of sugar molecules that are strung together in long, complex chains and contain vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Per the National Institute of Health, these include:
- Sweet potatoes and regular potatoes
- Sprouted bread
Protein is not the body's chief supplier of energy, but it does contribute to satiety and is important for muscle recovery and growth. Angie Asche, RD, CSSD, a sports nutrition coach and owner of Eleat Sports Nutrition, LLC., tells LIVESTRONG.com. She recommends eating a pre-workout meal with at least 20 grams of protein along with 60 to 80 grams of carbohydrates.
Lean protein is made up of amino acids and sources include:
- Lean, grass-fed beef
Then, 30 to 45 minutes prior your workout, Arnold suggests eating a snack rich in simple carbs — carbs that break down quickly — such as fruits, starchy vegetables and dairy. "When adequately fueled with carbohydrates, the body will perform to its fullest potential, burn more calories and contribute to steady energy throughout the rest of the day," Arnold says.
What About Fat?
Healthy fats also play a role in performance by helping your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and provide fuel for endurance exercise, such as running and long-distance biking, according to the Colorado State University Extension.
Sources of healthy fats include:
- Nut butter
Just be sure to keep fat to a minimum the closer you get to a workout since it takes the longest to digest. "Too much fat immediately before a workout could lead to GI distress such as bloating, gas and stomach cramping," Asche says. The same thing goes for fiber, too — no one wants to get a pesky side stitch minutes into a hard training session.
Pre-Workout Snack Combinations
Both Arnold and Asche recommend eating a pre-workout snack containing plenty of carbohydrates and protein and small amounts of fat about 30 to 60 minutes before working out to have a quick source of fuel to the bloodstream.
Some of their favorite pre-workout snack combos include:
Because dehydration can lead to fatigue and a loss of coordination, pre-workout hydration is as equally important as pre-workout nutrition.
"I recommend drinking 20 ounces of water during meals," Arnold says. "The electrolytes in the food help to hydrate the body's cells and the fluid helps to digest the food." Before your workout, drink 8 ounces 20 to 30 minutes prior to workout; then, while exercising, aim to drink 7 to 10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes, according to the American Council on Exercise.