If you are getting a workout in, what you eat before definitely matters. Why? Because food acts as fuel, so you can give that workout your all. You need to feel energized, awake, and ready to sweat it out and push yourself, and if you feel starved and low in energy or too weighed down and full, you won’t be able to perform as well as you’d like to. And that defeats the whole purpose of booking that spin session or whipping out those gym clothes!
And while the same nutrients for pre-workout grub apply no matter the time of day (think some complex carbs with a slight bit of fiber, a bit of sugar or sodium, and a little bit of protein and good fats to fill you up and settle the belly without overdoing it), the types of foods you are eating might differ a bit.
Here’s a guide to pre-workout snacks based on when you’re hitting that class or hopping on a treadmill.
If you are waking up early, you might not be very hungry. And you don’t want to give yourself too much food to eat when you’re not feeling up to it, as it could make you feel nauseated and sick.
So, what to grab? You could try a pre-workout shake, one that mixes protein powder with milk of choice (like almond or soy milk) or even just plain water if it’s flavored. And if you don’t have time to blend something up on your own, you can get a ready-made protein shake. This will help hydrate you—you wake up VERY dehydrated in the morning—so this is the best time for liquids as a pre-workout snack.
Plus, liquid is good filler to fight past the feeling of an empty stomach without filling you up.
If you are doing a lunchtime or afternoon workout, you’ll want to do it BEFORE lunch. Lunch should have a substantial amount of good fats and protein to keep you fuller for the rest of the workday until dinner (or perhaps a midday snack, based on when you eat lunch).
And if you eat a huge grain bowl with salmon and avocado before hitting that HIIT class, you might find yourself feeling fatigued, cramped in the stomach, or gassy. (And you don’t want to be the one farting in class or at the gym, do you?)
So, have a light snack before working out and then eat lunch as your recovery meal to pack in ample protein, fats, and fiber for muscle recovery and satiety.
As for the snack, you can try the new Quest Snack Bar that has some nuts to provide a little fat, protein, and fiber for fuel without being too heavy, and one that is low in sugar. That sugar will go straight to your gut and wreck your digestive tract, and if you eat it and get that surge in energy, you’ll only crash shortly after. You do not want to crash mid-workout!
You can also go for some crackers with a tiny bit of cheese, avocado, or nut butter. Avoid hummus and bean dips, which are gas producing and very fibrous.
Or you can nosh on some pretzels—the salt will provide some electrolytes—or a banana with a little nut butter—which also provides electrolytes and magnesium to reduce muscle cramping!
If you are going straight after work, you are likely the hungriest you’ve been so far before any other workout. Why? Well you just had a full day at work, it’s been some time since lunch, and instead of going straight to dinner, you are delaying it for a speedy workout. And your stomach is rumbling!
Here you need something substantial but again not too filling. And your taste buds are probably thinking less on sweet and more savory, because you are in the “dinner mode” mindset at this point.
So, try turkey slices (go for lean, uncured slices of turkey breast with no additives!), used as a roll up with some avocado or cheese. Or you can spread some nut butter on toast, too. You can even have some beef jerky if it’s okay on your stomach and not too high in sugar and salt, which can make you feel more bloated and lethargic. A plain simple one would be best. Another option? Some edamame, a Greek yogurt with some berries and nuts, or a hard-boiled egg with a handful of nuts.
You can also swap that snack bar for a protein bar, which feels a little denser and “meatier” in texture and can settle that hunger without being too filling or gas evoking.
And if you do have a sweet tooth right after work, a protein cookie will do the trick. It’s basically a cookie version of a healthy protein bar!
Late at Night
This one is tricky, since you’ll want to treat the pre-workout snack as your dinner. A late-night workout means you are eating dinner before, and then after you’ll have a tiny bit of protein and carbs to recover before hitting the sheets. That means you might have a handful of nuts with a hard-boiled egg, 2 tbsp. nut butter on a slice of low-carb toast, a cottage cheese, or a lean piece of chicken breast (like 3 oz.) AFTER working out to go to bed with adequate muscle recovery and without any sugar, caffeine, and excess calories and fat that will keep you awake or bother your stomach.
So, what to eat before? Make your dinner half of what it would be on non-workout days. You can even save the other half for after the workout, depending on what it is. Be warned though, you don’t want to scarf down the other half of a pasta dish or greasy burger that late at night. Maybe save that for lunch the next day.
Make pre-workout “dinner food,” your go-to. Think veggies (only a couple), a salad with some lean protein like chicken, turkey, or fish, or some turkey meatballs with zoodles. Avoid bean-based high fiber foods, like chili, and greasy fast food items, like fries, burgers, pizza, and pasta dishes. These will make you lethargic during your workout and can make you feel bloated.