What you should eat before working out (if you decide to eat anything at all) depends on a handful of different factors.
According to Marc Perry, founder and CEO of Built Lean and a top personal trainer and fitness expert in New York City, the four most important things you should consider before choosing a pre-workout snack or meal include, timing (e.g. how long before your workout you’ll be eating); your personal fitness goals (e.g. building muscle mass, increasing speed, training for endurance, etc.); digestibility (you want to choose foods that will digest quickly and that won’t upset your stomach); and finally, the type of workout you’ll be completing (including how long the workout will last).
Perry explains that the benefits of consuming a nutrient-rich meal or snack before your workout include increased energy levels, muscle tissue protection and increased muscle growth. However, if part of your goal is to lose fat, be sure to consider the additional calories of a pre-workout meal or snack as part of your total intake for the day.
If your other daily meals are timed so that you’re not hungry before working out or you feel like you can perform optimally without additional fuel, you may not need to eat anything before working out at all.
That being said, as far as increasing energy levels goes, for most pre-workout meals and snacks Perry recommends consuming about 30 grams of carbohydrates one to two hours before beginning a workout. Another more convenient option, Perry says, is to drink half of a protein shake with a 2:1 carb-to-protein ratio about 30 minutes before working out, and then finishing the rest afterwards.
Finally, Perry advises that you keep your pre-workout meals or snacks low in fat because it takes the longest amount of time for the body to digest.
Considering all of the above criteria, here are a few nutritious and delicious pre-workout snack ideas to try before you head off to the gym.
1. Apple Slices with Almond Butter
According to certified raw food nutritionist Sophie Jaffe, apples have both simple, quick-burning carbohydrates and complex, slow-burning carbohydrates that will provide optimal amounts of energy for your workout. Adding one tablespoon of almond butter will offer a bit of protein while also causing the sugars from the apple to enter the bloodstream more slowly, keeping you from running out of steam during longer gym sessions.
2. Greek Yogurt with Fruit
Jaffe also recommends Greek yogurt, which has a good balance of protein and carbohydrates, mixed with some carbohydrate-rich fruits like berries or banana slices. She says that the yogurt is easily digestible so it won’t leave you feeling sluggish.
3. Rice Cakes with Peanut Butter and Jelly
Light and airy, rice cakes offer a dose of carbs without weighing your stomach down. For a tasty and easy twist on the classic PB&J sandwich, and to add some extra carbs and a bit of protein, spread one tablespoon of peanut butter (or any other nut butter of your choice) and one tablespoon of jelly on top.
4. Hard Boiled Eggs on Whole Grain Toast
A slice of high-fiber, whole grain bread will gradually release energizing carbohydrates into your system for sustained energy through the course of your workout. Top it off with hardboiled egg slices to send a boost of protein to your hard-working muscles. And to make this snack more convenient, boil batches of eggs ahead of time so you’ll have them on hand and ready to go.
5. Energy Gels
For those times when you’re really in a rush, but also really in need of an energy boost, Perry recommends grabbing a sports drink (like Gatorade) or an energy gel. “If you have no time to eat before a workout and experience low energy levels during the workout, a sports drink or carbohydrate gel could do the trick,” he wrote on Men’s Fitness.