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The Best Pre-Workout Foods to Eat

author image Judy Bruen
Judy Bruen is a private certified personal trainer and wellness coach. She holds dual master's degrees from Boston College in clinical social work and pastoral ministry. She currently works with individuals on fitness, health and lifestyle goals.
The Best Pre-Workout Foods to Eat
Salmon pasta in a bowl. Photo Credit: al62/iStock/Getty Images

Fuel your body before exercise and get the most out of your workout. Types of food and timing of meals affect energy levels during exercise. Heavy, high-fat foods can cause indigestion, sluggishness, fatigue and diarrhea during a workout. Eat too little before a workout and you might not have the energy, concentration or muscular capability to finish your routine. Eat the right foods before your workout and provide your body with the energy and resources it needs to excel during exercise.

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About 3 to 6 hours before a workout, eat a meal that is mostly made up of complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates contain glucose, the body's main energy source for muscles during exercise. Easily digestible, carbohydrates help the body use fat during exercise. Complex carbohydrates provide lasting energy to the body and include whole grains, brown rice, couscous, millet, quinoa and bulgur. About 1 to 2 hours before a workout, eat a snack that is high in carbohydrates (simple or complex). Examples include fruits, whole-grain pretzels, crackers and granola. Avoid eating high-fiber carbohydrates, such as lentils and broccoli, during the preworkout snack; they can cause gas and indigestion during a workout.

Protein and Fat

While protein and fat are not the body's chief suppliers of energy, they do contribute to satiation, and fat provides fuel for endurance exercise, such as running and long-distance biking. Add lean sources of protein and healthy fats to the meal (3 to 6 hours before exercise). Lean sources of protein include flank steak, salmon, chicken breasts, lean ground turkey and tuna. Healthy fats include canola oil, walnuts, almonds, olive oil and flaxseed oil. During the preworkout snack, add small portions of fat and protein to your carbohydrate snack. Small portions include low-fat cheese, yogurt, peanut butter and low-fat milk.


Preworkout hydration is as equally important as preworkout nutrition. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and a loss of coordination. According to the American Council on Exercise, exercise performance can decline if a person's hydration level decreases by just 2 percent during a workout. Exercisers should drink 16 to 24 oz. of water an hour before workouts and drink 8 oz. of water every 15 minutes of exercise.

Snack Combinations

Low-fat combinations of carbohydrates and protein include cereal and low-fat milk, raisins and almonds, crackers and low-moisture cheese, yogurt and granola, a shake made with fruit and soy milk and apples with peanut butter.

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