What to Eat Before You Work Out

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Ask any professional athlete about their workout routine and they’ll likely mention their pre-workout regimen. In fact, some professionals swear that they spend more time and focus on preparing for the workout than on the actual workout itself. And according to experts, how you spend the other 22 to 23 hours of your day is just as important as the hour or two you spend in the gym—if not more. From what you eat to how you sleep; your fitness level depends heavily on your overall lifestyle. Eating the right food can be the difference between a show-up workout and a show-off workout. If you’re wondering what to eat before a workout, look no further. We’ll not only share what to eat, but when to eat it, too!

Pre-Workout Meal

It’s best to get a full meal in two to three hours before you work out. That allows your body enough time to digest the food and the nutrients. A pre-workout meal is not just whatever you decide to have for lunch or dinner. Rather, it’s an intentionally thought-out meal that is meant to fuel your workout, not just feed you. A good pre-workout meal includes both carbs and protein, and if you can hit the gym within that two-to-three-hour window after eating a meal with those nutrients, then that’s your best bet for an energy-fueled workout. Think whole grains, lean proteins and veggies. Chicken, turkey, quinoa, brown rice and broccoli are great starting points, but the options are truly endless.

Pre-Workout Meal Recipes

What you eat before a workout makes a considerable difference both physically and mentally. It can be hard enough to get to the gym as it is but add in feelings of fatigue or the rumblings of your stomach and you’re more likely to find yourself in your kitchen or your bed instead of the gym. While it may seem counterintuitive to eat before working out, especially if you’re trying to lose weight, experts agree that workouts are much more effective when your body has more fuel. Those nutrients turn into energy and energy turns into power.

Here are a few ideas on what to eat before you work out:

Asian Chicken and Quinoa Lettuce Wraps

You can’t go wrong with lettuce wraps filled with chicken, carrots, cucumbers and quinoa. Your body will appreciate the fuel while your taste buds will appreciate the marinated chicken and tangy peanut sauce.

Break up with boring lunchtime salads that leave you wanting more. This whole-grain salad turns grains into gains with quinoa, sweet potatoes and apples.

Easy Greek Bowls

Chickpeas, your favorite protein and fresh veggies—you can’t go wrong with this nutrient-packed lunch. Low effort and big flavor, this recipe is the perfect way to fuel your next workout.

Pre-Workout Drink

If you can’t get to the gym within the two-to-three-hour window after a pre-workout meal, mixing up a pre-workout drink is a convenient option that still offers the nutrients and energy you need. There are two alternatives when it comes to pre-workout drinks: the first option is to make a pre-workout smoothie that’s filled with wholesome ingredients like fruit, Greek yogurt and veggies. Your second option is to purchase a pre-workout product that comes in powder form and is mixed with water. Usually these drinks include caffeine, various stimulants and other ingredients like amino acids and creatine. The end result is a physical and mental boost that will keep you motivated and sustain you through an entire workout session. However, there are side effects and potential risks with buying pre-workout products depending on the ingredients used. There’s a lot that you should know before you give it a try and you can find the information you need in our comprehensive pre-workout article. 

Pre-Workout Drink Recipes

Our favorite pre-workout drink recipes have three things in common: they’re quick, easy to make and delicious. These smoothie recipes are as easy as it gets, plus you can make them ahead of time and store in the fridge so you have a grab-and-go drink at the ready.

A few ingredients and a few minutes of your time is all that’s required for this nutrient-packed smoothie that has a banana-berry taste, but still manages to sneak in some greens that you can’t even taste.

Everyone’s favorite fat (avocado, anyone?) shows up in this smoothie to give it a surprisingly creamy texture. Meanwhile kale and vanilla protein powder give it the energy kick you need to have an intense and meaningful workout. The pineapple and banana step in to make a tropical smoothie that tastes a little like your favorite beach cocktail.

This chocolate smoothie is the closest thing you’re going to get to ice cream, minus the guilt and the calories. Banana, raspberries and chocolate are the stars of this show, but you’ll never guess the secret superfood that’s hidden inside.

Pre-Workout Snack

If you’re already doing all you can just to find a free hour to get to the gym, you probably haven’t had time to plan and schedule an optimal time to eat a complete meal. Enter: the pre-workout snack. A pre-workout snack can be any snack really, but its ingredients should serve as ammunition for your sweat session; carbs are recommended because they break down quickly turning into energy. Unlike the full meal, the snack should be smaller and easy to digest to avoid lethargy and stomach discomfort.

Snack ideas include fruit (bananas work great!), wheat toast with peanut or almond butter, Greek yogurt and fruit, hard-boiled eggs, a protein bar, almonds or a protein smoothie. In other words, you probably won’t find your go-to pre-workout snack from the vending machine at work. But with these pre-workout snack ideas, you won’t even be tempted to wander near the vending machine.

Pre-Workout Snack Recipes

These bite-size peanut butter balls are easy to make, easy to pack and easy to eat on your way to the gym. The recipe makes 12 so you can enjoy them all week long. With ingredients like peanut butter, chia seeds and protein powder, it’s the snack you need when you just need a little something.

Yes, you can eat cookie dough on the way to the gym. And since these cookie dough bites are no-bake, there’s really no reason not to make them!

Is It Better to Eat Before or After a Workout?

While you need food to energize you before a workout, your body also needs energy post-workout so that it can recover, repair and build muscle. It really depends on what “before” means to you. If you have a full meal a couple hours before the gym, then you might not need to eat right before. But as a general rule, you should always eat something with protein within one hour after working out so your body can re-energize and you should absolutely eat after a workout if you didn’t eat beforehand. This is because your body is using its own energy reserve if it doesn’t have food for fuel. The best-case scenario is to have protein before and after the workout. If you’re not ready for a complete meal right after the gym, try one of these post-workout snacks to hold you over until you eat dinner.

Nutrition and exercise go hand in hand when it comes to your overall health and well-being. Knowing what your body needs and when it needs it is the key to getting in the gym, reaching goals and breaking PRs.

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