First Things First, Should You Even Eat Before a Workout?
Short answer: Yes. According to Brooklyn-based registered dietician Shana Minei Spence (better known as the wildly-positive, anti-dietician dietitian, @thenutritiontea, on Instagram), whether or not you should eat before a workout depends on the type of workouts, time of day, and how your body responds to the type of food you plan to eat.
“In most cases, yes, you should eat,” she says. “But if you are going for a light stroll in the morning, you definitely will not need the same energy as you would if you were doing a HIIT workout in the afternoon.”
That said, regardless of the time of day, NYC-based dietitian Jennifer Maeng of Chelsea Nutrition says that having a small, wholesome snack before exercises can give you a better chance of getting the most out of your workouts.
How Long Before a Workout Should You Eat?
Timing is a crucial factor to remember. Avoid eating too far in advance of a workout or too close to its beginning. Maeng recommends eating between 30 minutes and three hours before a workout, depending on what you’re eating. If it’s a lighter meal, you can consume it closer to the start of your workout, and if it’s a heavier meal, you should eat it further in advance.
BUT... no matter what you eat though, you should always give yourself at least 30 minutes between your last bite and the start of your workout in order for food to feel settled. Eating 5-10 minutes before a workout can make you feel little sick (nauseous or cramping).
What to Look For in Pre-Workout Meals
Pre-workout meals are best when they include foods that are easy to digest and contain an ample amount of carbohydrates and small amounts of protein and fat.
While carbs are often perceived as a no-go for many a strict diet/workout plan, in reality, they're actually the nutrient that fuels us and gives us the most energy—especially before a workout.
Here's why you should make carbs your workout fuel:
“Muscles use adenosine triphosphate (ATP) as the energy currency to perform exercise,” she explains. “Carbohydrates, protein, and fat can all be converted to ATP; however, carbohydrates are the most readily available and easily converted. Carbohydrates are also the only fuel that can be used anaerobically, or without oxygen, making them the main fuel source in high-intensity workouts.”
What Else Will Fuel Your Body?
Protein is also worthwhile to consume before a workout as it can help repair and build muscle while also helping to keep you full.
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Easy Snacks We Recommend
It’s important to remember that not all foods are created equal. And, when it comes to selecting the best pre-workout meal, you want to opt for healthier, more wholesome snacks than anything riddled with processed fats and loads of ingredients. With that in mind, check out the list of dietitian-recommended pre-workout foods, below.
Bananas are high in the good kinds of carbs that one needs after a workout. These fast-acting carbs help restore the body's levels of glycogen, which is known to help rebuild damaged muscles. Moreover, they're an easy-to-digest food and contain potassium, which is important in delivering nutrients and preventing fatigue.
If you have a bit more time to spare before your workout, Spence says to pop a piece of toast in the toaster and slather it with a tablespoon of nut butter (think: almond, cashew, or organic peanut butter). “You are getting a nice balance of the grains (fiber) but also some protein with the nut butter,” she says. For even more flavour and wholesome goodness, add a few berries or banana slices on top.
Oatmeal is high in carbohydrates and low in ingredients, making it a great source of energy for a workout. By adding fruit to the mix, you get a nice boost of sugar, along with another serving of easily-digestible carbs, making it a welcome addition to any pre-workout routine.
Smoothies made with one cup of fruit and two cups of vegetables are great before a workout, as they’re loaded with easy-to-digest carbs, along with fiber and other healthy nutrients.
Hard-Boiled Egg With a Piece of Toast
Where the hard-boiled egg is a good source of protein, Maeng says that the piece of toast will add the carbs necessary for energising your workout. If you’re not a fan of eating a hard-boiled egg whole, you can smoosh it on your toast with a sprinkle of salt and pepper (or even a little avocado) for a tastier take on the pre-workout meal.
Since fruit is a great source for easily-digestible carbs, dried fruit is another great pre-workout meal idea. Pair it with mixed nuts for an added touch of protein (and flavour).