What’s all the buzz about a pre-workout snack?
As Registered Dietitians, we know that diet is crucial for athletic performance. Imagine that your body is like a sports car. A fancy sports car needs premium fuel in order to reach maximum horsepower.
If you give it the regular-grade gas, the car will still run, but it won’t accelerate as quickly and your gas mileage will go down. Our bodies work in a similar way. If you fuel your body with poor-quality food you still get energy and can run, lift weights, and shoot a basketball, but you won’t truly reach your maximum athletic performance until you fuel your body with top-notch fuel.
Your pre-workout snack or meal turns into the energy that you use during your performance. I know, sometimes it might seem like you’re too busy, but that shouldn’t stop you from grabbing a snack – there are tons of options for a pre workout snack on the go!
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What Should I Eat Before a Workout?
Protein and carbohydrates are your two main ingredients for a powerful pre-workout snack. Carbs are going to be your quick energy to burn during exercise and having protein in your system will help repair muscle tears faster and speed up recovery.
Components of a Good Pre-Workout Snack
Carbohydrates, or carbs, are a key ingredient for a pre-workout snack. Protein usually gets all of the glory when it comes to sports nutrition but carbs are just as, if not more, important!
Carbs are digested very quickly and get turned into energy for your muscles.
Even your brain needs carbohydrates! Without enough carbohydrates in your diet, you can start to feel sluggish and unmotivated.
Protein is necessary for maintaining and building muscle mass. This is because you create tiny tears in your muscles during exercise and protein helps build new tissue to repair those tears. As a result, we get muscle growth! More muscle means more strength and a faster metabolism.
We all hear about eating protein after a workout but it’s also beneficial before a workout so that protein is already in your system and ready to repair your muscles.
Pairing Foods for Sustainable Energy
To avoid an energy crash, we recommend pairing a protein source with your carbohydrate. Check out some of our favorite pre-workout snack ideas below that do just that!
Try These Ideas for Healthy Pre Workout Snacks for Energy:
- Banana + Peanut butter
- Apple + Peanut butter
- Fruit + Greek yogurt
- Granola + Greek yogurt
- Toast + Peanut butter
- Oats + Peanut butter
- Toast + 1 egg
- 1 slice of whole-grain bread + 2 slices of lunch meat
- Cereal + milk
- Low-fat granola bar with at least 7g of protein
- Milk + whey protein powder
These snacks earn their title as best pre-workout snacks because they’re affordable and have enough carbohydrates and protein to keep you full but they aren’t too heavy to slow you down.
Super Quick Energy Workout Snack:
If you are on your way to the gym or practice and need super quick energy, you can try eating just a simple carbohydrate source. These have fast-acting carbohydrates and are easily digested.
If you have more time to digest, definitely make sure to try one of the snacks above, but we all need something super quick sometimes!
- Gu gel*
- Fig Newton’s
- Swedish Fish
Remember to eat the appropriate serving size because quick energy sources tend to be high in sugar!
A quick note on Gu: Stomach cramps, GI distress, or vomiting can result from use without proper hydration.
Packaged Foods for Pre Workout Snacks:
If you exercise after work or in between classes, it may be easier for you to pack a shelf-stable pre-workout snack.
This type of pre-workout snack is great because it can be eaten on the go.
- KIND Healthy Grain Bars*
- Fresh fruit + Justin’s peanut butter packet*
- Sargento Balanced Break snack packs
- Dry cereal + 1 handful of pistachios
- 1-2 oz of jerky + dried fruit
How Much Do I Need to Eat?
Your goal is to eat enough to give you energy to sustain your workouts but not too much to cause a stomach cramp. How much to eat in your pre workout snack (or meal) depends on the length of your workout and where your workout falls in your schedule.
Length of Workout
The longer your workout is, the more energy you’ll need, right?
So, the longer your workout, the more carbohydrate (quick-energy) you should eat.
If you’re eating…
Time before workout
Grams of carb
|1 – 2 hours||
|2 – 3 hours||
The goal is not to eat too much to slow your workout because:
- You are likely going to feel uncomfortably full
- Your body will not be able to use the energy from this food yet (because it is still being digested)!
When Not to Eat a Pre Workout Snack
Pre workout snacks are crucial if your last meal was over 4 hours ago.
However, if you ate a balanced meal for lunch at 1 pm and you’re working out at 4 pm, an extra pre workout snack may not be necessary. Also, if you aren’t hungry and ate more than 3 hours ago, consider topping off the tank with some electrolyte mix or juice to fuel the workout.
Or, if you are waking up at 5:00 am to squeeze in a morning run before work, eating a snack before can slow you down. In this situation, it would be better to focus your nutrition in your post workout meal.
What Should I Eat to Lose Weight?
You may think that not eating before exercise will help lose weight. But actually, if you don’t fuel enough before an exercise and start your workout hungry, your performance suffers and you end up not burning as many calories during your workout.
Having a light pre workout snack will get you through your workout and you won’t be starving after exercise which could lead to overeating!
What Not to Eat Before a Workout
We don’t see dietary fat as a part of the pre workout snack equation because fats take longer to digest, so if we eat a meal high in fat right before a workout it could result in an unpleasant stomach cramp.
A small amount of fat is okay before exercise, like the fat in 1 tbsp of peanut butter, because it will be just enough to keep you full but not uncomfortable.
Fiber also takes longer to digest and can lead to discomfort if eaten right before exercise, so it’s best to aim for low-fiber carbohydrates.
Remember to hydrate throughout the day, and especially the hour before your workout!
Interested in more sports nutrition blogs? Check these out!
If you have any questions about fueling for an activity or sport, contact us or call us at 301-474-2499 to meet with one of our wonderful dietitians for personalized nutrition help!
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-Blog reviewed and updated by Blair Solberger MS RDN LDN May 2022
Haley is currently an intern at Rebecca Bitzer & Associates. She is a dietetics major at the University of Maryland, College Park, class of 2021. She is the assistant to our social media director. In her free time, she enjoys training for marathons and cross country races.