What Foods to Eat Before a Workout(So You Get the Best Results)

Your choice of pre-workout fuel plays a significant role in your physical performance, as food affects everything from your energy levels during a workout to your recovery post-exercise. For best results, fuel up with the right foods before partaking in physical activity. The best way is to factor the size and timing of your meals to give your body the nutrients it needs to maximize performance.

When to Eat

female in ponytail in spots bra drinking from water bottleRemember the adage about waiting 30 minutes after eating before getting into the pool? Despite this being a myth, the general philosophy behind giving your body time to digest food properly before physical activity is spot-on. After eating, blood flows to the digestive tract to aid the digestion process. Similarly, when you exercise, blood goes to your muscles to help you power through your workout.

If your body is trying to digest food and support your muscles during a workout, one or both events may suffer – resulting in digestive troubles or reduced energy and performance during your workout.


It would help if you ate anywhere between one to three hours before a workout to give your body enough time to process the food. Everyone’s digestive system processes at different rates, so experiment with the time frames for pre-workout meals to determine which one produces the best results. 

Eating Before Exercise

The amount of food you consume before exercising will vary depending on the length and intensity of your workout. The more prolonged and more intense the activity, the more fuel your body needs.

Snack-sized portions about an hour before your workout should suffice for activities like 30-minute runs, Pilates classes, or elliptical training. For more extended and intense training periods, you will need to increase your intake. Training for a marathon with a two-hour run (or longer) or going on a 50-mile bike ride will require a heartier meal two or three hours before your workout. 

Listen to your body. You want to feel satisfied and energized after a pre-workout meal, not stuffed. If you think you have overdone it with your pre-workout meal, it’s best to postpone your workout until your body digests the food.

Carbs and Lean Protein

Since people tolerate foods differently, there is no hard general rule about what to eat before a workout. However, experts agree that a combination of complex carbohydrates and lean protein is the key to optimizing exercise performance. 

Complex carbohydrates – Whole-grains are an excellent source of fiber and starch. They provide consistent energy over an extended period. Consuming whole grains and fiber maintains your stamina during a long or intense workout.

Lean Proteins – The USDA defines lean protein as having less than 10 grams of total fat per 3.5-ounce portion; foods like white-meat poultry, low-fat dairy, and eggs fit the bill. Lean protein is one of the best pre-workout fuels for building muscle and burning calories.  Protein also keeps you feeling full and satisfied for extended periods.

healthy foods to consume

Food and Beverages to Avoid

  • High-fat foodsAvoid high-fat foods like avocados and butter before a workout. These are harder to digest and can remain in your stomach for a while, resulting in discomfort, cramping, and decreased energy levels. 
  • High-fiber foods – While fiber has a lot of health benefits, it is difficult to digest, and too much of it before a workout can cause gut distress. You may opt to eat foods like beans and hummus for a healthy and nutritious choice after your workout is complete.
  • Alcohol – Alcohol is a major dehydrator. It impairs performance and increases your risk of injury. If you are planning on indulging in a mimosa or two at brunch, try waking up early to get your workout in before the drinking begins.
  • Carbonated beverages – While carbonation is not bad for you per se, it can cause gas and bloat – making for an uncomfortable workout. Hold off on the LaCroix until after you are finished exercising.

What to Eat Before a Workout

The key is to consume easily digestible foods that will help keep your energy up while you are exercising. Since everybody’s different, experiment with varying combinations of complex carbs and lean proteins to decide what works best for your body. Check out these pre-workout meal ideas packed with the nutrients you need to crush your next workout:  

  1. Banana with peanut butter

Bananas are easy to digest and are a reliable source of antioxidants and potassium. These nutrients help prevent muscle cramps during and after a workout. The peanut butter is an excellent source of protein that will keep you full from start to finish. 

  1. Oatmeal with fruit

A hearty bowl of oatmeal is just the fuel your body needs before a workout. Oatmeal contains vitamins and minerals. It is a low-glycemic carb that provides lasting energy. Top it with your favorite fruit for added nutrients and antioxidants.  

  1. Water

Water is not a meal replacement, but it’s just as important to drink it before a workout as it is during and after. It helps regulate your body temperature, lubricate your joints, and transport nutrients throughout your body to give you energy and keep you healthy. Aim to drink 15 to 20 ounces of water two to three hours before you start your workout to ensure you are staying hydrated.

  1. Grilled chicken breast and sweet potato

Chicken breast and sweet potatoes are a great choice later in the day. The protein from the chicken breast combined with the carbs from the sweet potato will give your body the energy and stamina you’ll need to power through even the toughest workouts.

  1. Eggs and whole-grain toast

Eggs are high in protein and aid in muscle building. Pairing them with whole-grain toast is an excellent way of intaking complex carbs that will help your body replace the energy lost while exercising, making this a complete and nutritious pre-workout meal.

  1. Greek yogurt with berries

Greek yogurt packs a protein-filled punch, possessing nearly double the amount of protein as regular yogurt. Grab a bowl and top it with a handful of blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries – the carbs in the fruit break down quickly and fuel your workout. Your body stores the protein a little longer and then uses it to prevent muscle damage.

  1. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich 

The peanut butter in this classic childhood staple provides you with a healthy dose of protein, keeping you full throughout your workout. The whole-grain bread and jelly provide the energy your muscles need to perform well. As an easily prepared and, for many of us, nostalgic snack, PB&Js are a simple and familiar source of energy.

  1. Smoothie

Smoothies are easy to digest, making them a great pre-workout snack packed with vitamins and nutrients. Plus, they are hydrating! Combine any milk or water with your favorite fruits and veggies, then add peanut butter, Greek yogurt, or protein powder for long-lasting energy.

Eating healthy is vital to maintaining your energy and stamina for various activities throughout the day. Knowing what to eat before a workout will impact your performance, results, and overall well-being during and after your workout.