How To Choose A Healthy Pre-Workout Snack

If working out is a priority for you, you know that it’s a must to provide your body with the best fuel possible before you hit the gym. But do you know what to eat before you work out?

A lot of people don’t. In this article, we’ll explain what your body needs before a workout. We’ll also give you some ideas of healthy pre-workout snacks to give you the energy and stamina you need to achieve your fitness goals.

best pre workout snack

Nutritional Needs Before a Workout

Let’s start by talking about nutrition. The food you eat prior to a workout has a direct impact on how much strength and stamina you have during a workout. In other words, working out is a situation where the adage “you are what you eat” applies.

You may have heard of elite athletes engaging in carb-loading before an event, but is there any scientific evidence to support the idea that carbs can help fuel a workout?

We found one study that looked at a group of students who were given either a carbohydrate bar or a lipid (fat) bar before they worked out. After tracking a workout without a snack, the researchers then gave the students a snack 45 minutes prior to a second workout.

The results showed that the students who ate a high-carbohydrate snack before their workouts performed more repetitions and completed more lifts than the students who ate a high-fat snack instead.

pre workout food

The American College of Sport Nutrition, the International Olympic Committee and the International Society for Sports Nutrition have released guidelines for athletes to help them choose the best pre-workout snacks. Here’s a summary of what the guidelines say.

  1. The best fuel for athletes is food that contains carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and essential micronutrients.
  2. Habitual carbohydrate intake is a must for athletes and should be timed to provide appropriate energy for workouts and competitions.
  3. Protein requirements are high for those training for speed, strength, and endurance and must be adjusted accordingly.
  4. Athletes have similar fat or slightly higher fat requirements than the average person. It’s important for them to get adequate fat, including essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins.

The guidelines note that they have not yet confirmed the ergogenic effect of most micronutrients. (The word ‘ergogenic’ is defined as “intended to enhance physical performance, stamina, or recovery.”) They also note that, while the use of nutritional supplements is widespread, athletes should weigh the potential risks before adding a supplement to their daily fitness regimen.

Macronutrients and Workouts

We’ve talked about carbohydrates before a workout, but the decision of what to eat as a healthy pre-workout snack is more nuanced than that. It’s important to consider the type of workout you’ll be doing when you choose a snack.

Not eating enough carbs can lead to glycogen depletion. Glycogen is the stored form of glucose. When you work out, your body converts glycogen to glucose to use as energy. If you eat a low-carb diet and you want fuel to work out, you’re going to need to make sure to replenish your stores of glycogen before you get to the gym.

The best carbs to eat before a workout are simple carbohydrates. Things like fresh or dried fruit, granola, Greek yogurt, or whole-grain crackers can be good sources for the carbs you need.

pre-workout foods to eat

Protein also plays an important role and is essential for anybody who’s training for endurance or who wants to build muscle. You can eat protein alone or with carbohydrates. In fact, there are multiple studies that found that the best combination to eat before a workout was a combination of protein and carbohydrates because it stimulates an anabolic response in the muscles.

Good protein options before a workout include eggs, Greek yogurt, and protein powder.

If your plan is to engage in long, moderate-to-low activity exercise, then it’s especially important to incorporate healthy fats into your pre-workout snack. The best fats to include are healthy options like avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish oil.

The pre-workout snack you choose will depend upon your fitness goals and your workout. You may want to consult with a trainer or nutritionist if you’re training for a big event.

How Long Before a Workout Should You Snack?

The question of timing is one that looms large. There are some people who recommend snacking immediately before a workout, but it’s not a good idea to have a big meal right before you work out.

You should aim to have your snack at least an hour before you work out. However, if you plan to work out a few hours after a meal, you may not need an interim snack. Here’s a rough timetable to consider:

  1. If you’re eating 3 hours before a workout, you should have a meal that includes lean protein, simple carbs, and some healthy fat. An example might be a turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread with avocado and some veggies.
  2. If you’re eating about 2 hours before a workout, a slightly smaller snack is in order. One example might be a cup of oatmeal with fruit and nuts.
  3. If you need a snack an hour before you work out, stick to something small like some yogurt and fruit or a nutrition bar.

The proper timing of your pre-workout snack or meal will ensure that your body is fueled and ready to go when you hit the gym.

pre workout meal for weight loss

Our Favorite Pre-Workout Snacks

Want to ensure you’ve got the right nutrition for your workout? A good way to achieve that goal is to plan your snacks in advance. If you shop with your pre-workout nutritional needs in mind, you’ll be sure to have what you need. Here are some of our favorite pre-workout snacks for you to try.

  • A nut butter and fruit preserve sandwich on whole grain bread. The nuts provide both protein and healthy fat. If you’re not a peanut butter fan, try cashew butter, almond butter, sun butter, or even walnut butter.
  • An omelet or scrambled eggs with a piece of whole grain avocado toast and some fruit.
  • Hot oatmeal with protein powder and blueberries. Oatmeal is a nutritious whole grain that provides carbs and some protein. Boosting it with protein powder can add flavor and additional protein, while the blueberries add carbs and antioxidants.
  • Rice cakes and hummus. Hummus has tons of healthy fat and it’s a great source of protein. Rice cakes provide easily accessible carbohydrates to fuel your workout. There are tons of hummus flavors available – for example, we’ve seen spicy avocado hummus and basil hummus.
  • Chicken thighs, brown rice, and steamed veggies. You could choose a chicken breast, but the thighs have more flavor and more fat. White rice may be acceptable, too, but it does have a higher glycemic index than brown rice.
  • A smoothie with yogurt, banana, berries, and protein powder.
  • A granola bar. (Just make sure to choose an option that doesn’t have a ton of added sugar and packs a protein punch.)

what to eat 30 minutes before workout

There are a few foods that are best to avoid before a workout. Here they are:

  • Leafy greens may cause some gastrointestinal discomfort. However, if you’re accustomed to eating them and they don’t upset your stomach, you can feel free to include them.
  • Beans and legumes can cause flatulence in some people. If you have an issue digesting them, save them for after your workout.
  • Raw seeds and nuts are another food that may be problematic. Many nut butters use roasted nuts and are easy to digest.
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage are also known to cause gastrointestinal gas and may be best avoided before a workout.

It may take a bit of trial and error to arrive at a healthy pre-workout snack combination that’s perfect for you and your workout.

Choosing the right pre-workout snack is essential

Without the proper fuel, you won’t be able to build stamina and strength and achieve your fitness goals. The key is to stick to healthy options and stay away from foods with a lot of added sugar. If you do that, the rest will fall into place.