Eating Before Your Workout

Written by LeeAnn Hriniak


August 14, 2023

The Importance of Eating Before a Workout

Your eating strategy before a workout can lead you into a powerful session, or have you nauseous and lightheaded. If training at your best is important to you, if you have any type of fitness goal that involves your body composition or hitting PRs, you’ll want to maximize the effectiveness of your pre-workout fuel.  Eating before a workout is important for providing your body with the energy it needs to perform at its best.

But, what do I actually eat? How much? And how close to the training session should I eat?

Well, like most other hot topics in the industry, it depends.

To help you figure out what is best for you, let’s go over a few questions and see how each of these can affect what to do.

What are your goals for working out? Are you trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or improve your overall fitness?

Losing Weight: If you’re currently operating in a deficit, every calorie counts. You’ll want to have a solid amount of energy to be able to perform well, but don’t need a ton of fuel to accomplish your goal. As you get deeper into a cut, you’ll need more help to feel full of energy during a session. Keep it light, quick to digest and about 30 minutes prior to training.

Gain Muscle: Fuel up! This is a huge green light for as many calories as you can without having a full belly. Think dense and complex for carbs and get a good hit of protein about an hour prior to your session. No time? A banana and a scoop of protein can also do the trick.

Endurance Athlete: Marathon runners, spartan racers, and those alike have a completely different objective and need consistent energy for a long period of time. This may call for intra-workout snacks!

Improve Overall Fitness: It’s all about feeling good. You’ll land in the middle ground between the goals above. Play with what feels best.

What is your usual workout routine? How long do you work out for? What type of exercises do you do?

Longer Workouts: If you’ll be training intensely for over an hour, you’ll need energy that will help with endurance. Fats and complex carbs are something to include.

Weights vs Cardio: If your training session requires high movement but not a ton of weight bearing, you might be able to perform with little to no fuel prior, while weight or strength training sessions will prove to need more resources that come from food.

What are your favorite foods to eat before a workout? Do you have any dietary restrictions?

If working out is already hard for you, trying to add a food that you don’t like isn’t great for compliance. But, if a rice cake with some jam is your jam, enjoy it as a pre-treat to your session. Scarfing down a food you think is gross can set the stage for nausea and nasty burps during your session, making it a non-enjoyable activity. Choose what you like and stick to it.

Do you have any concerns about eating before a workout? Are you worried about feeling full or getting nauseous?

While we can’t provide a specific amount, overdoing it calorically or eating too close to your session could become an uncomfortable situation. But so can a hungry belly mid sesh!

Our advice is to start small and build from there. Start with a small portion of food when it fits into your schedule. For example, if you train early in the morning and only have 30 minutes, start with a rice cake and jam. Then, monitor how your workout went. If your stomach felt too full during your session, try a bit less. If you felt really fatigued before the end of your session, bump it up the next day and monitor again.

Eating foods high in fat can also lead to your belly staying full much longer than expected. This is simply because they take a bit longer to digest than protein or carbs. This too is something to test for yourself.

The Best Fuel – Carbs

The burning sensation you feel during a training session is your muscles literally igniting carbohydrates to contract and perform. If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates before a workout, you may be able to get through a certain amount of training from stored carbs, but you’re likely to experience fatigue, lightheadedness, or even nausea.

The best foods to eat before a workout are fast digesting or complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates take a bit longer to digest but provide sustained energy while quick carbs like fruit can provide you with a heavy dose of energy but burn up quicker.

If nothing else, a little carbs can go a long way and help you feel strong in your session without putting a lot of tax on your digestive system.

Here are some ideas of foods that you can eat before a workout:

  • QUICK (30 Min Prior)

    • Rice cake with jam

    • Banana and protein scoop

    • Berries

  • MODERATE (30-60 Min Prior)

    • Whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and banana

    • Hard-boiled eggs with whole-wheat toast

  • LONG (60-180 Min Prior)

    • Protein oatmeal with berries (optional nut butter)

    • Yogurt with granola and fruit

    • Sweet potato with black beans and salsa

If none of these fit your fancy, just follow this simple rule: The less time you have before your workout, the smaller and quicker to digest you want to go.

And before we wrap up, it’s also important to mention hydration. Stay hydrated before and after your workout. Drink plenty of water and electrolytes throughout the day, and especially before and after your workout.

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