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What to Eat Before a Workout – Our Rules for 3 Goals

Vegan Protein Bread with avocado slices - a good suggestion of what to eat before a workout
Fitness Editor
Julia is a qualified fitness trainer. She writes our articles about nutrition and fitness. She also makes free workout plans for our site.

Wondering if it’s better to eat pre or post workout? Here, we explain how fueling up before a session can give you the most energy, and what to eat before a workout for best results. Plus: Why your goals can change what you should eat beforehand, and tasty recipes to help you get exactly what you need. 

Eating before a workout is almost never a bad idea. Though some people perform better in a fasted state, many may have a better time if they fuel up with nutrients before hitting the gym. Keep reading to find out what’s best to eat depending on the different types of workouts.

Eating Before a Workout: The Basics

No matter your preferred workout, these five things are important for everyone to keep in mind.

  1. Stay hydrated.

Drinking enough fluids is even more important than eating. Don’t simply guzzle a bottle of water five minutes before a workout, though – try to sip all day long! If your workouts happen early in the morning, try to fill up on your water demands the night before so you’re ready to go when you wake up.

  1. Set your goals.

When planning your pre-workout meal, think about your overall goals. Do you want to lose weight? Or is your focus on building muscle and improving your endurance abilities? Tailor what you eat to that goal. We’ll explain how to do that a little further on.

  1. Eat something.

Eating before exercise is a great idea for some. Though training on an empty stomach can improve endurance abilities, having a snack before beginning may be just what you need to reach your weight loss or muscle development goals.

Use our Body Check to find out exactly what you need to do to be successful. It’ll give you personalized recommendations and nutrition advice tailored to your fitness level.

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  1. Find the right amount.

Eating before a workout doesn’t mean you should stuff yourself. In fact, working out on a full stomach may actually make exercise more difficult. Most people are good to go with a small protein bar.

paleo bars
©foodspring

Our tip: Our Paleo Bars are perfectly sized to give you the energy you need for your workout. Filled with protein and carbohydrates, they’ll fill you up without weighing you down. Not to mention, they taste great, too!

  1. Trust the carbs.

A solid pre-workout snack will always contain a decent amount of carbohydrates. Carbs are especially important for high intensity or cardio workouts because they provide the body with energy. Try to stick with complex carbohydrates like nuts and whole wheat bread rather than simple carbohydrates like soda and sugary snacks. Those simple carbs will provide you with a short burst of energy but leave you feeling sluggish and tired after they quickly wear off.

It’s also good to consume glucose and dextrose before high-intensity workouts.

What should I eat before training?

Eating a snack before a workout can boost your metabolism and provide you with energy you need to work your hardest. You may be able to train more efficiently and progress faster as a result.

Whatever you eat before training should be something that’s easy to digest. This could be a breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack depending on the time of day.

A pre-workout meal or snack should be…

  • low in fiber.
  • low in fat.
  • high in protein.
  • high in carbohydrates.
  • adapted to your goal.

For weight loss

Though many think that working out in a fasted state is better for weight loss, that’s not always the case. In some cases, doing this may cause your body to extract energy from fat rather than carbohydrates, but this usually only happens during moderate intensity workouts. Because your body is basically starving, it does everything in its power to retain the energy you do have, which means that you may be less likely to burn calories. You may also experience less of an afterburn effect, which is when your body continues to burn calories even during rest.

If your goal is weight loss, eating before a session will generally be more beneficial than not. If you want to be thin and strong, protein will be your best friend. Our Shape Shake is an ideal way to power up after a difficult workout. Our Shape Pack Large contains all the Shape Shakes you need, plus a 12-week training plan and nutrition program with recipes targeted to your goals.

Discover our Shape Pack Large

Your perfect recipe: Vegan Rainbow Protein Wraps

Our vegan rainbow protein wraps are the perfect pre-workout lunch to fuel you up.

Two Vegan Rainbow Wraps showing their bright insides with a rainbow of colorful fillings
©foodspring

Discover our Vegan Rainbow Protein Wraps 

For muscle growth

Eating before a workout can be great for muscle development. Carbs and protein are what’s on the menu, because carbs give you energy and protein protects your muscles. It’s better to eat more carbs than protein so that your body relies on the former for fuel rather than the latter. If your body uses too much protein for energy, there will be less left to protect your muscles.

Because proteins are the building blocks of muscle, eating it before a workout can be hugely beneficial whether it’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner. If you do, you’ll have enough amino acids available during the workout to help you body build muscle. Whey protein is a great option for these cases because it’s more easily digested than other types of protein like casein.

Consuming BCAAs (or branched chain amino acids) before exercise can also be helpful for achieving your goals. Available in capsules or liquid form, they’ll give your body more energy so it won’t need to draw on the protein and amino acids that are already in your muscles during a workout.

Learn more about BCAAs

Your perfect recipe: Vegan Protein Pasta Buddha Bowl

Though this recipe may look complicated, it’s actually super simple — and totally delicious. It’ll be ready in just 30 minutes and will stay good to eat for a few days in the fridge. Perfect for meal prep!

Protein Pasta Buddha Bowl garnished with edamame, carrots, and radishes
©foodspring
Discover our Vegan Protein Pasta Buddha Bowl

Our tip: The perfect pre-workout breakfast? A delicious protein muesli!

For running

What you eat before running depends a lot on your overall goals. If you’re training for a marathon, for example, you might be better off not eating at all. Because a marathon lasts for so long, there are undoubtedly going to be moments when your body has to subsist on no carbs at all. Training with an empty stomach will teach you how to survive during these moments. For competitions like this, it’s best to plan ahead and always have energy gel or an endurance drink on hand.

If you’re running to lose weight or improve your endurance abilities, eating a bit of carbohydrates and protein before training can go a long way. Consuming BCAAs is also a good way to protect your muscles during a run.

Your perfect recipe: Falafel Lunch Box

Packed with carbs, protein, and vitamins, this lunch box meal will give you boost and then some. Double the serving size so you can enjoy it for a couple days.

A stainless steel lunch box packed with hummus, falafel, and a tomato-cucumber salad is one of many fabulous meal prep ideas

Discover our Falafel Lunch Box

When should you eat before training?

The best time to eat before training will vary from person to person, because every body functions differently. After a low-fat, low-fiber meal, some will be ready to work out an hour later while others won’t be ready for four hours. Listen to your body and see what it can and can’t handle through trial and error.

The ideal time for a small, pre-workout snack is usually 15 to 30 minutes before starting. If you eat too early, most of your energy will be gone before the workout has even started. Be sure to choose something that doesn’t weigh you down, so that you’re not too full to train comfortably.

Not sure if it’s better to eat pre or post-workout? Find out what you need to know in this article.

Our conclusion

  • For some, having a snack before going to the gym can work wonders.
  • Eat something that’s gentle on the stomach and easy to digest.
  • Plan your meal 2-3 hours before your workout.
  • Your meal should be adapted to your goal.
Article sources
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