Athletes and fitness enthusiasts are always looking for ways to improve their performance and achieve their goals.
Good nutrition can help your body perform better and recover faster after each workout.
Optimal nutrient intake prior to exercise will not only help you maximize your performance but also minimize muscle damage.
When it comes to working out, eating before you go can keep your blood sugar steady. That means plenty of energy for cardio and strength training.
Here is everything you need to know about pre-workout nutrition.
Nutrition tip: Mix protein, healthy fats and a bit of good carbs. And sure, throw in some healthy desserts after (you’ve earned it!). Here are our top picks for what to eat right before a workout.
1. Whole grain toast, peanut or almond butter and banana slices
There’s a reason that runners love their post-race bananas — the fruit is packed with simple carbs, natural sugars and, best of all, potassium. That electrolyte helps prevent muscle cramps and can be lost through sweat. Peanut or almond butter has healthy fat, and the toast is all about blood-sugar-steadying complex carbs.
2. Chicken thighs, rice and steamed vegetables
Looking for the best meal before gym time? Consider this classic, which blends protein and complex carbs. Plus, the fiber in the veggies helps with digestion. Choosing chicken thighs over breasts is a personal preference, but dark meat has more of the good fat you need to keep from getting hangry during your workout.
3. Oatmeal, protein powder and blueberries
The complex carbs in oatmeal are broken down in your system slowly, which means more sustained energy. Up the nutrition by adding a scoop of protein powder. Fruit like blueberries, raspberries or cherries contain antioxidants — super helpful substances that help to prevent cell damage. Also: delicious.
4. Scrambled eggs, veggies and avocado
Go ahead, use the whole egg. They’re packed with high-quality protein and, if you’re including the yolk, you’ll get all eight essential amino acids. Those boost muscle building and recovery. Avocado gives you that healthy fat fix, and the veggies are nutrient-rich powerhouses, no matter which you pick.
5. Protein smoothie
Protein powder is a must — but after that, go for what you like best. Milk or almond milk, mixed berries, bananas, peanut butter, avocado, even some leafy greens are all fair game. You’ll get fast-digesting carbs, plus those healthy fats and protein.
Find what works for you
Maybe your bestie is the protein shake queen, but you try it and … blech. That’s okay. Like exercise, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to pre-workout options. 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 about 45 minutes before gym time. Then, notice 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.
Here are some examples of balanced pre-workout meals:
If Your Workout Starts Within 2–3 Hours or More
- Sandwich on whole-grain bread, lean protein and a side salad
- Egg omelet and whole-grain toast topped with avocado spread and a cup of fruit
- Lean protein, brown rice and roasted vegetables
If Your Workout Starts Within 2 Hours
- Protein smoothie made with milk, protein powder, banana and mixed berries
- Whole-grain cereal and milk
- A cup of oatmeal topped with banana and sliced almonds
- Natural almond butter and fruit preserve sandwich on whole-grain bread
If Your Workout Starts Within an Hour or Less
- Greek yogurt and fruit
- Nutrition bar with protein and wholesome ingredients
- A piece of fruit, such as a banana, orange or apple
Keep in mind that you don’t need to eat many pre-workout meals at different times. Just choose one of these.
For best results, experiment with different timings and nutrient compositions. Play around with food combos and timing, and you’ll be sure to find your best go-to meal before hitting the gym.