5 Best Healthy Snacks To Eat Before Training

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: January 27, 2024
FACT CHECKED by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
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As a certified personal trainer, I've personally experimented with both supplements and pre-workout snacks. I've found that the right snack can significantly boost my own performance, just as it does for my clients.

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.

Quick Summary

  • To enhance athletic performance and energy levels, consume pre-workout snacks like bananas, rolled oats, and fruit salad with Greek yogurt, eggs, and whole-grain bread.
  • The article recommends bananas for quick energy, rolled oats for sustained release of energy, fruit salad with Greek yogurt for a protein boost, and whole-grain bread with peanut butter or eggs for a balance of protein and carbs.
  • According to one of the studies from the National Center for Biotechnology Information website, one medium banana (∼118 g) contains about 27 g carbohydrates (half as sugars), 3.1 g of dietary fiber, 105 kilocalories, and is a good source of potassium (422 mg) and vitamin B6 (0.43 mg).
  • From my experience as a fitness professional, choosing the right pre-workout snack is crucial for maximizing workout efficiency and maintaining energy throughout the session.

5 Pre-Workout Snacks To Boost Your Performance

fruit salad with greek yogurt in a glass. and a fresh stack of bananas

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

From my personal experience, eating a banana or two before a workout provides me with a quick energy boost without feeling too full. I often include bananas in my pre-workout smoothies for an extra kick. This is because banana is a great ingredient in pre-workout smoothies.

There’s a good reason why athletes in certain sports have a ready supply of bananas, according to one of the studies found on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website [1].

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.

When consumed as a pre-workout snack, bananas combine quick and sustained energy.

The simple sugars give you an immediate boost, while the complex starches ensure a steady release of energy throughout your workout.

As a pre-workout snack, fruit smoothies combine the quick energy of bananas with the steady release of energy from other fruits and ingredients.

This balanced combination helps to sustain your energy levels throughout your workout, allowing you to perform at your best.

Consider whipping up a delicious fruit smoothie with bananas and other wholesome ingredients next time you're looking for a pre-workout option that's both nutritious and refreshing.

2 - Rolled Oats

glass jar spilling out 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 more available energy for fueling your training and building muscle mass.

3 - Fruit Salad With Greek Yogurt

I always opt for a fruit salad with Greek yogurt before my HIIT sessions. It's not just a recommendation; I've felt the difference in my energy levels and performance firsthand.

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.

Stavroula Reppa, known as Sylia to her readers at 30 Days of Greek Food, explains that authentic Greek yogurt is naturally higher in protein, calcium, and probiotic — which makes it an excellent choice for breakfast (to keep you full for hours) and as a top recovery snack for athletes.

For added variety, you can consider adding a small handful of dried fruit to your fruit salad with Greek yogurt.

The combination of fresh and dried fruit provides a mix of textures and flavors while still offering the necessary carbohydrates for energy.

Just remember to opt for unsweetened dried fruit to avoid excessive added sugars. Experimenting with different fruit combinations can help keep your pre-workout snack exciting and enjoyable, while providing the essential nutrients your body needs for optimal performance.

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4 - Whole Grain Bread With Peanut Butter

plate with peanut butter jar, slices of bread, and a knife

In my training routine, whole grain bread with peanut butter is a staple for sustained energy. I've noticed it keeps me powered through the most intense parts of my workouts. You can use any kind of nut butter as it will be a healthy supply of fat and protein.

I generally prefer peanut butter as a pre-workout snack because it’s easier and cheaper to get a very high-quality organic one, and according to an article found on the WebMD website, two tablespoons contain 190 calories and 8 grams of protein, making it a nutritious option for most individuals [2].

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

Scrambled eggs with whole grain toast is my go-to pre-workout meal. It's a personal favorite for balancing protein and carbs, and I've seen how it positively affects my training. 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.

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Focus On The Right Macros

different vegetables and fruits with measuring tape and weighing scale

Eating before or after a workout and counting 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.


Made By: TotalShape

Carbs

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.

Protein

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.

If you're looking to maximize muscle growth, incorporating a pre-workout snack rich in protein is essential. Protein provides the building blocks necessary for muscle repair and growth, ensuring your muscles recover and become stronger after each workout.

Fat

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.

"Choosing a good combination for your pre-workout snack can give you immediate and lasting energy. Combining quality carbohydrate snacks such as bananas or oats with a small portion of fats can help keep you feeling satiated for longer."

- Chris Beck, Personal Trainer, Senior Editor at Gymshark

Foods To Avoid Before A Workout

stack of hotdog in a bun and burgers

Now, let’s address some common pre-workout snack mistakes.

Fatty Foods

So, what foods you should not eat before a workout?

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.

Large Meals

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.

According to Dat Nguyen – a registered compound pharmacist and a holistic health coach –  eating a heavy meal before a workout is not advisable because digestion requires a lot of energy.

This can can divert blood away from the muscles you are working during exercise, leading to poor performance, slower recovery, and digestive discomfort.

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.

FAQs

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.

How Do Pre-Workout Snacks Affect Metabolic Rate During Exercise?

Consuming the right pre-workout snacks can boost your metabolic rate, enhancing calorie burn during exercise. Snacks rich in protein and complex carbohydrates are particularly effective in increasing metabolism.

What Is the Role of Antioxidants in Pre-Workout Snacks?

Antioxidants in pre-workout snacks help combat oxidative stress caused by intense physical activity, aiding in muscle recovery and reducing inflammation. Foods like berries, nuts, and dark chocolate are great sources of antioxidants for pre-workout consumption.

Which Pre-Workout Snacks Are Best for Different Types of Workouts?

For strength training, snacks rich in protein and moderate in carbs, like Greek yogurt with fruit, are ideal, while for cardio or endurance sports, easily digestible carbs like bananas or whole-grain toast provide quick energy. Tailoring your snack to the type of workout can optimize performance and energy levels.

How Important Is Hydration in Conjunction with Pre-Workout Snacks?

Hydration is as crucial as nutrition before a workout; it helps maintain optimal physical performance and prevents dehydration. Drinking water or hydrating snacks like cucumbers and watermelons can be effective in ensuring proper hydration before exercise.

How Does the Composition of Pre-Workout Snacks Affect Digestion Time?

The composition of pre-workout snacks, particularly the balance of proteins, carbs, and fats, significantly affects digestion time. Snacks with simple carbs and moderate protein can be digested quicker, making them suitable for consumption closer to workout time.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3355124/
  2. https://www.webmd.com/diet/peanut-butter-good-for-you#1
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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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