Pre-workout meals can be a struggle for anyone. Knowing what to eat, when and how much to eat before a workout can seem like a daunting task. Well guess what?! It really can be easy! Just follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to having nutritious, energy boosting pre-exercise meals!

What should I eat before I workout? 

Your pre-workout meal should mostly consist of carbohydrates. Glucose (which is found in carbs) is the main energy source for your body during exercise. You want to top off your carbohydrate stores before your exercise so that you have enough energy to ‘kill it’ during your workout;)

It is a good idea to add a small amount of protein to your pre-workout meal also. The protein helps you stay feeling full longer, protects your muscles, and can help decrease muscle soreness after your workout (ACE fit “Pre- and Post- workout Snacks for Different Workout Durations”).

When you exercise, blood actually diverts away from the stomach and goes to your working muscles. It’s best to give yourself time for the food to digest. Avoid hard to digest foods like fat and fiber right before you workout. Meals high in these components can cause discomfort.

If you are participating in a race or competition, NEVER try something new on the day of the event! Always eat familiar foods on this day.

How much should I eat and when?

Have you ever eaten a huge meal and then went straight to the gym? I definitely have and I’ll tell ya what, it is NO fun!  The key to a successful pre-exercise meal is finding that balance of not eating too little and not eating too much. You want to eat enough so you have energy, but don’t want to eat too much or you might feel sick during your workout. Timing is super important also. The closer you are to hitting up the gym, the less you should eat.

If you would like to know the exact number of calories and carbs you should be eating, the book Exercise Physiology Seventh Addition, gives a great rule of thumb to go by. They say to eat 1-5 grams of carbohydrates for every kilogram of bodyweight, and it should be eaten 1-4 hours before exercise (1 gram/kg 1 hour before, 2 grams/kg 2 hours before, etc). So a woman weighing 130 lbs (59 kilograms) could eat up to 59 grams of carbohydrates 1 hour before her workout.

Okay so if you don’t want to take the time to calculate all of that, then here are some awesome guidelines by The Mayo Clinic’s article, “Eating and Exercise: 5 tips to maximize your workouts”)

Large Meals. Eat these at least 3-4 hours before exercise.

Small Meals: Eat 2-3 hours before exercise.

Snacks: Eat these 1 hour before exercise.

Remember that everyone is different! What works for one person may not work for you. The most important thing is finding what works for you and helps you feel your best while you workout.

Pre-Workout Meal Ideas:

  • Whole wheat bread slice or toast with 1 TBSP of peanut butter and 1 small banana
  • Oatmeal topped with fresh or dried fruit
  • Low fat/non fat yogurt with granola and fresh fruit
  • Banana or Apple slices with 1 TBSP of nut butter
  • Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread
  • Fresh fruit bowl
  • Turkey wrap on a whole wheat tortilla with spinach and red peppers
  • 1/2 Whole wheat bagel with low fat cream cheese spread, or peanut butter and honey
  • Hard boiled egg and a piece of toast
  • Green smoothies/fruit smoothies

Yay for good food and exercise!