What should you eat before a workout?

What you eat before a workout can be important to how you feel during and after your workout.

woman eating breakfast in the kitchen

I have found what you consider to be the best pre workout meal is different for everyone especially depending on the type of exercise you are going to perform.

When I get up for a quick run or steady state cardio I don’t require a lot of food. When I wake up for an early morning workout, I typically have something to drink and knock it out so that I do not have a complete empty stomach. However, if I am going to do some strength training or a longer run, I opt for oatmeal, banana or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Why should you eat before you workout?

Food is fuel for your body. If you don’t put gas in your car it is not going to go. Your body works the same way. Without the proper nutrition you will not have enough energy to complete your workout.

Whether you’re going for a run or headed to the gym to lift weights, food gives you the power to push through your workout routine.

When should you eat before a workout?

What’s the best pre workout meal for weight loss? It is a common question asked.

It’s also important to thin about what will help you with your energy levels to complete your training session.

If your workout session is first thing in the morning, eat within 30 minutes of waking up so you can jump-start your metabolism. Studies show that having at least 20 grams of protein will help you will burn more calories during the day. 

If it is in the afternoon or evening, you probably could eat more to help fuel your body. Some options include:

  • A peanut butter and banana or peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Greek yogurt with berries
  • Oatmeal with fruit
  • Apple and peanut or almond butter

Notice that each of these suggestions include some protein as well as carbohydrates. Carbs are the fuel. Protein is what rebuilds and repairs your muscles.

What types of food should you eat before a workout?

Your body and stomach may react differently to foods and drinks. I stay away from fatty foods cause I know my stomach can’t take it.

I do my best to eat a combination of protein, carbs and fiber when it is something that is a little strenuous to my body.

Oatmeal and berries

I have found one of the best pre-workout meals for me is oatmeal topped with strawberries or blueberries. It is a warm bowl of goodness.

bowl of oatmeal with strawberries and blueberries

The complex carbs in oatmeal are broken down in your system slowly, which means more sustained energy. You can up the nutrition by adding a scoop of protein powder. Fresh fruit like blueberries, raspberries or cherries contain antioxidants.

If you are short on time, making a batch of overnight oats on your meal prep days is a way to ensure you always have something to eat.

Toast with peanut or almond butter and bananas

Runners love bananas following a race. Do you know why?

Bananas are packed with simple carbohydrates, natural sugars and potassium. They can help prevent muscle cramps and can be lost through sweat. Peanut or almond butter is a healthy fat, and the toast is all about blood sugar-steadying complex carbs.

Chicken, rice and vegetables

Bowl of chicken rice and vegetables on counter

Chicken, rice and vegetables blend protein and complex carbohydrates. Plus, the fiber in the veggies helps with digestion.  You can do either jasmine or brown rice depending on your nutritional goals.

You can swap the rice out for sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes have many benefits. They are rich in fiber, vitamins, potassium, proteins and essential nutrients.

Protein shakes

Protein powder is a quick and easy way to refuel your body and get a dose of protein, which is the building block of muscle repair, There are any protein powders on the market including whey protein and plant protein.

Fruit smoothies with added protein

Try a combination of bananas, peanut butter or almond butter, oats, flaxseeds and non-dairy milk such as almond milk or oat milk. Alternatively, you can try half an avocado, frozen blueberries, banana and almond milk.

You’ll get fast-digesting carbs, plus those healthy fats and protein.

Plain greek yogurt with berries and granolad

Greek yogurt is a great source of protein, which can help with the muscle breakdown from your workout. Berries and granola provide quick-digesting carbs to fuel your workout. Stick to plain yogurt rather than fruit flavors to control the amount of sugar in your meal.

Look for a granola that contains nuts, seeds and carbs such as oats, quinoa and /or millet.

If you need some flavor, add 5 grams of sugar free jello pudding mix. My favorite is cheesecake.

Nut butter energy balls

Making your own energy balls are relatively easy to make. The no-bake energy balls options can almost be endless depending on your tastes and what you might have in your pantry.

A bowl of no bake energy balls in a bowl on a counter

You can include your choice of nut butter—peanut butter or almond butter—along with rolled/old fashioned oats, honey, unsweetened shredded coconut flakes and chocolate chips.

Protein bars

There are different protein bars on the market. It’s important to read the packaging on the back of each protein bar before you eat it. Some of the things you should be looking for on the back of the package include:

  • Protein: At least 8 grams of protein
  • Natural sweeteners: Watch for the amount of sugar in each bar. Check ingredients and choose options with natural sources.
  • Whole-food ingredients: Whether they’re used to flavor or sweeten, the best protein bars only use whole food or natural ingredients—no artificial ingredients allowed.
  • Healthy fats: Fats are essential for your body to absorb certain nutrients and they also help to keep you satiated. We prioritized protein bars that contain healthy fats from nuts and seeds rather than those that use vegetable oils as fillers and binders.


chocolate chip kodiak cake muffins recipe

A simple protein muffin is a great combination of carbs and protein. These Kodiak cake chocolate chip muffins are simple and easy to make.

Find what works for you

There is no one size fits all for pre-workout meals and that is OK. What to eat right before a workout means what’s right for you.

Also, pay attention to timing. If you’re going for a bigger pre-workout meal, aim for eating two or three hours before working out. But if you’re short on time, make your portion more of a snack and eat 30-45 minutes before your session.

Also, pay attention to how the timing affects you. Maybe you’re the 30-minutes-until-treadmill kind of eater, or it could be that your belly feels better with more digestion time.

Wrap up

What you eat for your pre-workout and post-workout meal will help you with your recovery and fitness goals. Your meals will also have a direct correlation whether or not you have weight loss goals. Your body needs to be fueled for your daily physical activity.

Remember your pre-workout meal is just one part of the equation. Your post workout meal is as important to refuel your body a meal that is high in complex carbohydrates that break down slowly and are loaded with healthy protein.

What do you eat before you workout?

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