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What to Eat Before a Workout

Updated on 09. Nov. 2020

It is always important to eat before a workout. Ever tried driving a car without gas? Yeah, it will not go very far. It is the same with your body. Food provides the energy that fuels our muscles. If you have not eaten, you will not have any fuel for your workout. Not all food is created equal though and there are certain guidelines to what you should eat before a workout to have the best results.

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The optimal pre-workout meal is a combination of carbohydrates, proteins, and fat.  Carbohydrates provide your muscles with glucose. In short and high-intensity exercises, your body taps into the muscle and liver stores of glycogen for energy.  Complex carbohydrates like beans, lentils, whole grains and starchy vegetables are the best sources of fuel for your body. Protein is your muscles’ best friend. The amino acids in protein are necessary for cellular rebuilding and help increase your muscles’ protein synthesis. Eating protein before a workout has been shown to improve anabolic response, improve muscle recovery, increase muscle strength and lean muscle mass, and increase muscle performance. Fat provides your body with fuel for longer and helps moderate energy levels during exercise. However, fat can also slow down digestion and should be avoided right before a workout.1

What you eat before a workout will also depend on the time frame. What you eat two to three hours before a workout will differ from what you eat 15 to 30 minutes before a workout. Eating too much will make you sluggish, but not eating enough means you will not have the energy to complete your workout at your highest potential. Our friends at Popsugar and Authority Nutrition Authority Nutrition have their own recommendations of what to eat depending on how close you are to your workout. EatSmarter has compiled their findings just for you:

2 to 3 hours before your workout, you should eat a small meal of around 300 to 400 calories that contains a mixture of carbs, proteins, and fats. Keep your proteins lean and avoid gassy foods. Example: Egg Omelet, Whole-Grain Toast with Avocado or Yogurt and Fruit.

1 to 2 hours before your workout, keep your snack under 200 calories and try to make it a mixture of carbs and protein. Example: Cup of Oatmeal topped with Banana and Sliced Allmonds or a Fruit Smoothie with Protein Powder.

15 to 30 minutes before your workout, you can eat a small snack but make sure that it is easily digestible. Example: Banana or Applesauce.

Immediately before your workout, you should eat something if you have not eaten in a while. However, you should keep your carbs simple to avoid digestive discomfort during your workout.2 Essentially, the closer you are to your workout, the smaller and simpler your meal should be.

Hydration is also a key component of a successful workout! Your cellular metabolism is dependent on fluid.3 The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you should drink at least 16 to 20 ounces of water at least four hours before exercising and that you should also drink 8 to 12 ounces of water 10 to 15 minutes before exercising.4

Are you a morning exerciser? It may seem easier to simply drag yourself out of bed and head straight to the gym, but you are doing yourself no favors. It is better to get up early enough to provide your body with some fuel. Your body will have consumed the nutrients and energy from last night’s dinner and in the morning your blood sugar is quite low. Try eating some whole-grain cereal or toast alongside a banana with a glass of juice. This not only provides your body with some protein and carbs for fuel, but the juice will help to raise your blood sugar. Need coffee to function? Never fear, a cup of coffee before a workout is completely fine.5 Add some milk to your coffee and you have a nice little boost of caffeine, protein, and carbs.6

Want to know what the experts eat before their workout? Check out their recommendations here.


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1. Arlene Semeco, "Pre-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat Before a Workout," Authority Nutrition, Authority Nutrition, 04 Oct. 2016, Web, 23 Dec. 2016.; Markham Heid, "You Asked: Should I Eat Before or After a Workout?" Time, Time, 17 Sept. 2014, Web, 23 Dec. 2016.

2. Michele Foley, "Here's What - and When - to Eat Before Working Out," POPSUGAR Fitness, POPSUGAR, Inc., 15 Nov. 2016, Web, 23 Dec. 2016.; Semeco, "Pre-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat Before a Workout."

3. Heid, "You Asked: Should I Eat Before or After a Workout?"

4. Semeco, "Pre-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat Before a Workout."; Mayo Clinic Staff, "Eating and Exercise: 5 Tips to Maximize Your Workouts," Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, n.d., Web, 23 Dec. 2016.

5. Ibid. 

6. Debbie Strong, "What Nutritionists Eat Before They Work Out,", Everyday Health Media, LLC, 16 Nov. 2015, Web, 23 Dec. 2016.


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