Many of my clients take supplements before heading into the weight room, but I also find that a well-planned pre-workout snack could have just as much impact on athletic performance.
But just because some small snacks before a workout are a good idea doesn’t mean that you can just reach for anything from your pantry shelf.
The problem is that many types of snacks could actually have a negative effect on your performance.
And that’s why we teamed up with our dietitian to bring you the best pre-workout snacks along with a few bad choices.
Summary of the Key Findings
- There are certain snacks that can provide quick energy just in time for the peak strain of your workout.
- It’s mainly about getting some carbohydrates from light food so that you get a slow and consistent release of energy.
- You also need to avoid certain macros and foods altogether to not end up with poor performance.
- Timing is also an important factor when you plan to get more energy before a workout.
5 Pre-Workout Snacks To Boost Your Performance
Believe me when I say that I’ve seen clients with all sorts of crazy snack ideas. This has included chocolate milk and a few spoons of refined caster sugar.
On the other extreme, I’ve seen guys snacking on a few rice cakes and a glass of soy milk that have as many calories as the packaging they came in.
So, let’s take a look at our main recommendations.
1 - Bananas
One of the best ways to get some carbohydrates into your system without feeling full is by eating one or two bananas. They are also great ingredient in pre-workout smoothies.
There’s a good reason why athletes in certain sports have a ready supply of bananas .
Next time you watch a big tennis match, take note of how often players reach for a banana.
The advantage of this pre-workout snack is that it has some simple sugars along with complex starches and potassium that are released more slowly.
2 - Rolled Oats
Now, I’m not saying that you should make up a huge bowl of oatmeal like you’d have for breakfast during a bulking phase while preparing for the Olympics.
But oatmeal is a great way to take in some carbohydrates that gradually release without giving you a huge blood sugar spike.
As a result, you’ll have the more available energy for fueling your training and building muscle mass.
3 - Fruit Salad With Greek Yogurt
This is a favorite pre-workout snack of mine. Now, it’s important to use fresh fruit and not dried fruit as the latter will cause blood sugar spikes from highly processed and simple carbohydrates.
And I love greek yogurt over other types because of the creamy texture. Also, greek yogurt will deliver a boost of protein in preparation for your workout recovery.
4 - Whole Grain Bread With Peanut Butter
Another way to get a quick energy boost that should last for your full workout is with some wholemeal or brown bread with peanut butter. You can use any kind of nut butter as it will be a healthy supply of fat and protein.
I generally prefer peanut butter because it’s easier and cheaper to get a very high-quality organic one .
Two slices of bread should be enough unless you feel sluggish and haven’t eaten anything for several hours. In that case, eating a third slice for some added carbs should be fine.
“Peanut butter is also a good source of copper, a mineral that helps maintain our bone health, immune function, and blood vessels. Some research suggests that getting enough copper in your diet may reduce your risk for osteoporosis and heart disease.” - WebMD.com
5 - Eggs And Whole Grain Bread
Here’s another good pre-workout snack that should give your body a good balance of protein and carbs. I personally prefer scrambled eggs because they take less time to prepare but fried or hard-boiled eggs work just as well.
Make sure that it’s whole-wheat toast, though, as it delivers complex carbs for your workouts.
I would generally say that one hard-boiled egg and toast might deliver enough nutrition, but if you’re heading into an extremely tough workout, then a second one might be fine.
You can also check our article about the best pre-workouts on the market.
Focus On The Right Macros
Eating the right macros is just as important for exercise as getting the volume and timing right. With the simple help of our macro calculator, find out the right macros for your body and get all the information you need to plan your diet better. Here’s what our dietitian recommended.
Carbohydrates are vital for a pre-workout snack if you're in a bulking phase. But make sure you’re only eating complex carbohydrates before exercise, as blood sugar spikes could give you low energy levels when you need them most.
But, if you’re trying to lose weight, restricting carbs and eating more protein an hour before your gym workout should work best.
You’ll mainly need the protein from a snack for muscle growth and repairing muscle damage. One option is egg whites for a boost, but it could be even easier to just plan regular protein shakes before you head to the gym.
Many people look at fat in a very negative way, but it’s vital for your nutrition intake. Just make sure it’s healthy fats from low-fat yogurt and nut butter. This is not an excuse to have a sneaky slice of pizza.
Also, aim to keep your fat intake lower than your protein and carbs before a workout, as it’s tougher to digest.
Foods To Avoid Before A Workout
Now, let’s address some common pre-workout snack mistakes.
So, this might seem like a contradiction to the macro advice above, but you want to limit fatty foods. The main reason is that it’s tougher for your body to digest fats, especially if you have a relatively empty stomach.
That means not overdoing it on nuts or avocados and getting more calories from carbs and protein, which are easier for your body to digest.
The other thing you absolutely need to do is not eat a full meal. A large pre-workout meal is likely to bring on an upset stomach and heartburn during your workout.
This is even more the case when you eat large portions of meat or processed foods.
Our dietitian generally says that the last meal before a workout should be one of the healthiest of your day.
Foods like meat are also best left for a post-workout meal.
Should You Eat Lots of Food before a Workout?
No, you shouldn’t eat lots of food before a workout. It’s OK to have a well-balanced meal a few hours before exercise, but a very large volume of food in your stomach at the gym might cause cramps and even vomiting.
When Is the Best Time to Eat before a Workout?
The best time to eat a meal is more than one hour before your workout. You can have a small snack closer, but it should be one that doesn’t make you feel bloated.
What Pre-Workout Snack Works Best For You?
As long as you’re careful about what and how much you eat before a workout, you can gain a lot of benefits for your training.
With the added energy for your muscles and some preloaded protein for recovery, you could be making a significant difference.
Try out some of our best pre-workout foods above and see how your body reacts during training and which one you prefer.