What to Eat Before a Workout

Health Professional

If you workout it's extremely important to eat well and have healthy snacks. Eating regularly throughout the day will help maintain energy levels, ensuring that your body has sufficient stores of energy to keep hunger at bay, and also helping you stay focused throughout your workout.

How much is too much?

It's important to get the balance right, since eating too much prior to exercise can be counter effective. Why? Our bodies are not as efficient at digesting food during exercise since they are doing a number of different things at once: requiring blood supply, energy to digest the food, and also providing fuel to keep our muscles active. Therefore, overeating prior to a workout can make you feel sluggish, or can cause stomach cramps.

At the opposite end of the scale however, not eating enough can also have undesirable consequences. If our blood sugar levels drop too low we can begin to feel weak, faint or tired, and this can also affect our mental ability, and reduce reaction times.

When should you eat?

  • If you're having a larger meal, eat 4-6 hours prior to exercise.
  • If you're having a smaller meal, eat 2-3 hours before exercising.
  • If you're having a small snack, depending on the content, eat around
  • ½-1 hour before exercise.

What are suitable meals or snacks pre-workout?

Try to choose foods that are:

  • High in carbohydrate - this is the preferred source of fuel for our bodies, and it is easily digested, making an excellent pre-workout meal, or snack.
  • Low in fat - choose foods with up to 3 grams of fat per 100 grams. Remember, fatty foods take longer to empty from the stomach, and should be avoided.
  • Low in fibre to ease gastric emptying.
  • Contain a moderate amount of protein to satisfy hunger.
  • Low in simple sugars - choose foods with up to 2 grams of sugar per 100 grams.
  • Low in salt - choose foods with no more than 0.1 grams of salt per 100g.
  • Start refuelling as soon as possible after exercise.
  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, as well as during and after exercise.

There are however, no hard and fast rules per se, and what works for one individual, may not work for another. Therefore, it's important to experiment with different foods, and snacks to find out what works best for you.

15 pre-workout snack ideas:

  1. A small bowl of oatmeal, with semi-skimmed milk and a banana.
  2. 1 bagel spread with low fat cottage spread.
  3. 1/2 cup of nuts and dried fruit.
  4. Wholegrain crackers with cheese and tomato.
  5. Plain popcorn with chopped dried fruit.
  6. Fresh fruits, such as an orange, apple, mixed barriers, banana, or a pear.
  7. 3/4 cup of low fat yoghurt with a handful of berries.
  8. 1 slice of wholegrain toast, with non-hydrogenate peanut butter.
  9. Half a sandwich, with wholegrain bread, salad, and lean meat.
  10. A smoothie made with semi-skimmed milk, and fresh, frozen or canned fruit.
  11. Glass of milk, or pure fruit/vegetable juice.
  12. Wholegrain pita bread with reduced fat hummus and a mixed leaf salad.
  13. Raw vegetables with reduced fat hummus.
  14. 1 hard-boiled egg.
  15. 3 fig cookies.