What Should I Eat before I Exercise


What should i eat before i exercise? If you’re going to exercise, it is important to eat a healthy breakfast before your workout. This can give your body the energy it needs and will help your muscles work at their best. Eating something sweet like cereal or toast are good options because they are full of sugar and carbohydrates which give you energy. When you eat before you exercise matters! If you’re running or riding for longer than an hour, it’s best to eat 2-3 hours before.

The Basics of Pre-Workout Nutrition

Before an aerobic or strength-training workout, fuel your body with high-quality nutrients to provide it with the energy it needs.

“It doesn’t matter what time you’re doing it—you should always have at least a light snack before a workout,” says Tara Collingwood, a registered dietitian nutritionist and sports dietitian in Orlando, Florida. Contrary to popular belief, “you won’t burn more calories if you’re doing a workout after fasting,” she says. Indeed, you‘re unlikely to burn more body fat by exercising in a fasted state (or on a completely empty stomach), according to research. Instead, you might end up impairing your performance because you don’t have enough energy to work hard for a longer period of time.

It’s not just a matter of putting any fuel in the tank, however. The quality of that fuel matters considerably. Before exercising, “carbohydrates are important because they’re the body’s preferred source of energy and they’re quick to digest,” says Collingwood.

Pre-workout carbs not only help your body maintain blood glucose levels during exercise, but also replace muscle glycogen stores (glucose that’s stored in the muscles), thereby “preventing your body from breaking down muscle for energy,” explains Leslie Bonci, a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Active Eating Advice in Pittsburgh.

What to Eat Before a Workout

Simply put, carbs equal energy, which is why they’re an essential part of a pre-workout snack or meal, along with plenty of fluids (ideally water). Consuming carbs before you engage in endurance exercise or high-intensity cardio exercise specifically, such as cycling or running, ensures your body has plenty of glucose available to fuel the workout without breaking down muscle.

In a small studyin Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, researchers had active participants ingest pre-workout carbohydrates or a placebo 15 minutes before running on a treadmill for 5 minutes at 60% of their VO2 max (the maximum rate of oxygen your body is able to use during exercise), 45 minutes at 70% of their VO2 max and then 80% of their VO2 max until exhaustion. The researchers compared the participants’ performance in this endurance test and found the time to exhaustion was about 13% longer among the participants who had the pre-workout carbohydrate boost, indicating improved endurance performance.

What’s more, a small 2018 study in Frontiers in Nutrition compared the effects of having a high-carb/low-protein snack versus a low-carb/high-protein snack 30 minutes before a high-intensity interval training session among overweight, perimenopausal women. The session involved bouts of walking or jogging uphill, alternating with recovery intervals, on a treadmill.

The results? The women in the carb-consuming group had a 22% greater increase in performance time compared to those in the protein-consuming group. The most interesting difference: Women who consumed more carbs before the workout had a greater enhancement in mood and positive feelings toward the workout one hour later.

Some good choices for pre-workout snacks in the carbohydrate-rich category include:

  • A piece of fruit: A banana, an apple or a handful of grapes—the choice is yours. Fruit is easy to digest and will provide the blood sugar boost you want before your workout, says Collingwood.
  • A small granola bar: These bars typically contain oats, which are digested more slowly than many other sources of carbohydrates, as well as small amounts of energy-generating nutrients like iron, potassium and magnesium.
  • A slice of toast with jam or honey: These carb-concentrated combos go down easily and provide a quick energy boost, Bonci says.
  • A handful of dry cereal: Choose one that’s lower in sugar and not super high in fiber—such as Cheerios or Oatmeal Squares—to give you a sustained rise in blood sugar without the crash that sometimes follows.

Before a strength-training workout, fuel up with a combination of carbohydrates and a little bit of protein, Bonci says. The carbs are crucial for the energy you need to perform the workout, and the protein helps you build muscle mass and strength, as well as repair micro-tears that naturally occur in muscle fibers when you lift weights. Think of these macronutrients (carbohydrates and protein) as the dynamic duo for building muscle strength.

Some good go-to food combinations for any type of workout include:

  • Chocolate milk: It offers the perfect trifecta of carbs, protein and fluids to fuel a strength-training workout, says Bonci.
  • Greek yogurt with berries: The combo is rich in vitamins and minerals, as well as carbs and protein. It will provide both a quick burst of energy (thanks to the carbs) and long-lasting energy (due to the protein) while also protecting your muscles.
  • A protein bar with carbs: Make sure it has both macronutrients for optimal energy and muscle protection, says Bonci (many protein bars are low in carbohydrates).
  • A piece of toast with nut butter: Nut butter is fairly high in fat—albeit healthy fats—so stick with a thin spread of it on toast or a rice cake to get the right pre-workout boost, says Collingwood.

It’s also important to take the intensity and duration of exercise into consideration, as not all workouts are created equal. Nina Kolbe, a registered dietitian and Forbes Health Advisory Board member, believes most moderate-intensity exercisers who squeeze quick workouts (around 30 minutes) regularly into their days should focus more on proper hydration. But those exercising between 30 and 60 minutes can benefit from a light snack consisting mainly of carbohydrates.

“A banana, english muffin and small granola bar are some good options,” says Kolbe.

Meanwhile, people who are exercising for 60 minutes to 90 minutes can benefit from a snack that’s heavier on carbohydrates and lighter on protein and fat, says Kolbe. She recommends plain oatmeal made with low fat milk, a bagel with peanut butter or toast with a poached egg.

Pre & Post-Workout Supplements For Optimal Performance

When to Eat Before a Workout

Timing matters for pre-workout nutrition. While you can eat something anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours before a workout, the closer it is to the session, the smaller the quantity of food it should be, Collingwood says.

“If it’s 30 to 60 minutes before a workout, have a snack in the 100- to 200-calorie range before the workout,” she says.

If you can eat two hours before the workout, your pre-exercise fuel could be a balanced meal containing carbohydrates, protein and a little fat as long as it’s relatively easy to digest.

Some Examples of Pre-Workout Meals

Which foods and how much to eat depends on the type, duration and intensity of the workout.

A good rule of thumb is to eat a mixture of carbs and protein prior to exercise.

If you eat fat with your pre-workout meal, then it should be consumed at least a few hours before your workout

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.


A combination of carbs and protein is recommended for pre-workout meals. Fat can also be beneficial, but it should be consumed at least two hours before exercise.

Supplements Can Also Be Useful Before Exercise

Supplement use is common in sports. These products may enhance performance, improve strength, increase lean body mass and reduce fatigue.

Below are some of the best pre-workout supplements.


Creatine is probably the most commonly used sports supplement.

It has been shown to increase muscle mass, muscle fiber size and muscle strength and power, all while delaying fatigue

Even though it’s beneficial to take creatine before a workout, it seems to be even more effective when taken after a workout

Taking 2–5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day is effective.


Among many other benefits, caffeine has been shown to improve performance, increase strength and power, help reduce feelings of fatigue and stimulate fat burning

Caffeine can be consumed in coffee, tea and energy drinks, but it can also be found in pre-workout supplements and pills.

It doesn’t really matter how you consume it, as its effects on performance are usually the same.

Caffeine’s peak effects are seen 90 minutes after consumption. However, it has been shown to be effective even when ingested 15–60 minutes prior to exercise

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

BCAAs refer to the essential amino acids valine, leucine and isoleucine.

Studies have shown that taking BCAAs before workouts helps decrease muscle damage and increase muscle protein synthesis

A dose of 5 grams or more, at least an hour prior to exercise, is effective.


Beta-alanine is an amino acid that increases your muscle stores of carnosine. It has been shown to be most effective for short- and high-intensity exercises.

Calculating Your Nutritional Needs

You need to structure your eating plan based on the intensity, duration, and type of workout you intend to do. This is especially important if you are competing in an all-day event, such as a marathon, track meets, or team sporting event. Some activities burn energy rapidly, while others require a slow and steady fuel supply to keeping you going for the long haul.

To this end, it is important to know how much energy you will likely expend during the activity:

  • If a workout is less than 45 minutes, you may only need a snack 30–60 minutes beforehand, water during the workout, and a snack afterward. A good post-workout snack will have a 3:1 carb to protein ratio (such as chocolate milk).
  • For endurance exercises of 1 to 2.5 hours, aim for 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. This will provide ample carbs to supplement your muscle glycogen reserves during exercise.
  • For endurance exercises exceeding 2.5 hours, aim for 60 to 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour. If you experience stomach issues, then decrease the carbohydrates consumed per hour.

Pre- and Post-Exercise Eating Strategy

To prepare for your workout, you need to replenish your glycogen stores upon waking since you will be in a fasted state. You should do so well enough in advance of the activity so that you don’t work out on a full stomach. Depending on how much food you eat, allow yourself anywhere from one to four hours to properly digest the pre-exercise meal.

If you have an early morning event, it is best to get up as early as possible to start your eating plan. If you are unable to do so, eat or drink an easily digestible carb source (like a banana) no more than 20 to 30 minutes before the event.

Clearly, the closer you are to the start of the event, the less you should eat. If you fail to fuel up at all, you risk compromising your performance, especially if you haven’t conditioned yourself to exercise without a pre-snack or pre-meal.

Within 1-2 hours of completing a long or high-intensity workout, consume high-quality protein sources. Some studies have shown that consuming 25g of protein in this window is beneficial. You will also need to consume 0.5 to 0.6g per kilogram of body weight of rapidly-absorbed carbohydrate (approximately 150 calories for a 160-pound athlete or the equivalent of one medium potato, one cup of pasta or white rice) every 30 minutes for the next 2 to 4 hours. This will replenish your glycogen stores as well as promote muscle protein synthesis.

Which Foods to Eat

Because glucose is the preferred energy source for most exercise, a pre-exercise meal should include foods that are high in carbs and easy to digest, such as pasta, fruit, bread, energy bars, and energy drinks.

The type of carb you choose also matters. If you’re attending an endurance event, go with a carb with a low glycemic index (GI). Low-GI carbs don’t raise the blood sugar quickly but rather maintain glucose levels at a steady state for a longer period of time. These include such foods as oatmeal and anything whole grain.

If your activity is short but intense, skip the whole grains and go instead for high-GI refined grains that raise the blood sugar quickly and give you a burst of energy off the starting blocks. Here are just some of the foods to consider prior to the start of an event.

3 to 4 Hours Before Exercise

Whole grain cereal
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Bagels
  • Baked potato
  • Cereal with milk
  • Energy bar
  • Fresh fruit
  • Pasta with tomato sauce
  • Toast with peanut butter, lean meat, or cheese
  • Water
  • Yogurt

2 to 3 Hours Before Exercise

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Bread, bagels, or pasta
  • Fresh fruits
  • Oatmeal
  • Yogurt
  • Water

1 Hour or Less Before Exercise

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Energy gels
  • Fresh fruit, such as apples, peaches, bananas, or grapes
  • Up to 1 to 1/2 cups of a sports drink

What Not to Eat Before Exercise

Foods with a lot of fat or fiber can be difficult to digest and tend to remain in the stomach for a long time. What this means is the blood meant to deliver oxygen to the muscles will instead get diverted to the stomach. If this happens during exercise, you are likely to experience cramping, stomachache, and nausea. As a rule, avoid foods like doughnuts, fries, potato chips, candy bars, or red meat.

While beans, dried fruit, coleslaw, and dairy may fit the bill nutrition-wise, you may want to skip them and other potentially gassy foods prior to exercise if you are prone to bloating.

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