Nutrition Articles

What to Eat Before You Work Out

Eating Before Exercise for Maximum Results

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If you are a moderate exerciser who tends to perform better with a pre-exercise snack, there are two ways to handle your needs:

1. Eat a small (100- to 200-calorie) snack about 30 minutes before you work out. This snack should include fast-digesting (high glycemic index) carbohydrates and very little fat (which digests slowly), so that you digest the meal quickly and the fuel is available during your exercise session. Here are some ideas:
  • Fruit juice
  • Fruit smoothie
  • High-glycemic fruits like pineapple, apricots, banana, mango, and watermelon
  • Sports drinks
  • Pretzels or bagels (but not whole grain varieties, which digest slowly)
  • Energy bars (look for 3-5 grams of protein, at least 15 grams of carbs, and very little fat)
2. Eat a nutritionally balanced meal 1-2 hours before your exercise. This is the best option for many people. The larger the meal, and the more fat and protein it contains, the longer you may need to wait before exercising. Ideally, try to eat enough calories to equal about half the calories you expect to burn during your upcoming workout. So if you burn about 600 calories during your workout, aim for at least 300 calories during this meal — or a little more if your exercise is “high intensity” (over 75% of your maximum heart rate). At least 50-60% of these calories should come from carbohydrates, which should keep your blood sugar and energy levels fairly stable during your exercise session. Include some protein to help prevent the breakdown of muscle for fuel and give your muscles a headstart on recovery after exercise. Some good food choices and combinations for this kind of meal include:
  • Fruit and yogurt
  • Nuts
  • Oatmeal
  • Cereals (with more than 3 grams of fiber) and milk
  • Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit
  • Hummus and raw veggies
  • Hard boiled eggs (or egg whites)
  • Cottage cheese and fruit
  • Half a peanut butter or turkey/chicken sandwich on whole grain bread
  • Whole grain crackers with nut butter or cheese
  • Whole grain fig (or fruit) Newton cookies
  • Milk (especially chocolate milk)
  • Tomato or vegetable juice
  • Yogurt smoothie (with added protein powder, if desired)
  • Most protein/energy bars 

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As a moderate exerciser, you have a lot of flexibility when it comes to timing your meals and choosing your foods. The most important things are getting to know your body and how it responds to exercise, so that you can give it what it needs to perform at its best. Eating the right foods at the right times before you work out is essential to keeping your energy up, your workout performance high, and your body in fat-burning mode.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • FREDSHELTON19
    What about eating Sardines before working out? - 9/2/2014 8:23:13 PM
  • Whoops, looks like I've seen this one before, and already commented. I apologize for that. I can't edit it, so I have to add another comment just to apologize. :( - 8/27/2014 10:33:44 AM
  • Do NOT eat brand name Fig Newtons! Read the ingredients they contain trans fat. Try to find a knock off brand without the hydrogenated oil, you're working out to help your body, don't harm it with trans fat. - 8/27/2014 10:32:03 AM
  • I can not eat before a workout however I have to consume a good quantity of water before during and after otherwise I get so sick - 6/16/2014 2:44:41 PM
  • Read the label if you like the Fig Newton ideas. Most brands use trans fats, read the ingredients for any hydrogenated oils before buying. - 4/28/2014 11:53:22 AM
  • OMARCOO
    Hey ,I've only just recently been following your program , it's great
    actually , very useful post , and I would like to add my experiences on this topic :
    before exercise, you wish to have to eat carbohydrates to maximize the quantity of glycogen that’s saved for your muscular tissues. you do not need to consume much fat previous to train because it takes too long to digest. A good rule of thumb, is that you do not want your vitality drink or bar to have more than 2g of fat if you will eat it previous to and as regards to exercise time.
    and another thing : all the way through exercise, you must eat lengthy chain polysaccharide carbohydrates. that you can get these in sports activities “gels” and drinks. and for more information you can visit http://goo.gl/6XU
    Quc
    - 4/21/2014 7:35:31 AM
  • I got really bad heartburn today doing turbo jam, 30 day shred, and couch 2 5K . I drink lemon water, so I guess I will cut that out :( - 7/2/2013 7:28:20 PM
  • I end up with heartburn if i eat before i run. it doesn't seem to matter what it is i eat. - 6/26/2013 9:36:22 PM
  • After reading this article and its comments, I decided to eat something this morning before going on my walk. I ate 1/2 leftover sweet potato with Activia Strawberry Greek yogurt (see my Sweet Potato in a Strawberry Patch recipe). I think I ate it about 30-40 mins before I start walking AND I made sure I drank 1 bottle of water, also.

    Remarkable difference. NOT getting scientific or anything and it could be mind over matter but normally within 1/4th of a mile I'm reaching for water or a pick me up. NOT today, I walked my entire course and didn't reach for anything until ending 1/4 mile to finish. I also had more energy.

    NOT saying I'll do this every time BUT I'll do it more often! - 6/15/2013 11:36:48 AM
  • I've ridden 100-mile bike rides on just an energy gel for breakfast, then appropriate nutrition throughout (and no, not carbo-loading the night before!) If it takes at least an hour for food to digest, and longer for whole grains, then there would be no point in eating them right before a workout, correct? As with anything else, experiment and you'll find what's best for you. - 5/8/2013 5:08:22 PM
  • I get up in the morning and take my psyllium and L-Glutamine in a cup of warm water, then apple cider vinegar in another cup of water. Then I eat a hard-boiled egg and take a CLA with another 2 cups of water. Then I either hop on the treadmill or make tea and head to my desk to work, depending on what time I got up. I have dinner at about 3 or 4pm, so I need a protein boost as soon as I get up at 4am. - 4/29/2013 8:35:26 AM
  • I don't eat within 2 hours of working out, or I feel sick. I always take my morning walk on a completely empty stomach. - 4/28/2013 1:04:04 PM
  • First, if you work out in the morning on an empty stomach our body is going to bring out glycogen stored in the liver and take it to muscle to be broken down into glucose.
    Second, exercising in the morning with a piece of fruit and 1 cup of milk, your muscles are going to retrieve glucose that is been there in the blood stream for energy. So by this being said, there is less effort for the muscles to uptake energy for your work out. Consequently, glycogen will only leave the liver when low or no glucose flows in the blood. So stored glycogen and fat will always be in their reservours until later in the work out or even not leave their storage places (liver and adipose tissue) at all.

    p.s. Information based on my human anatomy and physiology class. - 4/4/2013 1:43:34 AM
  • A word of warning. If you are doing high intensity training or running, you may want to avoid milk right before a workout. When exercise stomach acid hits milk, it can cause an upset stomach. People have been known to throw up from exercising too soon after drinking milk. - 11/23/2012 4:42:27 PM
  • I usually eat before my work out otherwise my first thought when I get back in the house is "food" and then I don't make such good choices. So a meal about an hour before and then some fruit or something light within a few hours after works best for me. - 11/23/2012 10:18:09 AM

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