You’re Doing it Wrong: Pre-Workout Eating

Pre-workout eating

“What do I eat before working out?”

I get asked this question all the time.

Because while most people know what to eat after a workout, they’re clueless as to what they should be putting in their bodies beforehand. And the truth is, it’s not an easy question.

Because like so many things in life, it depends on your own personal goals.

And from my experience, there are basically three goals most people have when choosing what to eat before working out:

Goal #1: Extreme fat loss

If your goal is to lose the maximum amount of fat possible, your best bet is to work out first thing in the morning without eating anything beforehand. Hence the term, “fasted cardio” that you may or may not have seen thrown around in serious fitness blogs, magazines and books.

Yes, you might feel dizzy, nauseous or weak if you decide not to fuel up beforehand. And no, you won’t be able to put in the full amount of effort you’d be able to put in if you worked out later in the day after eating a couple of good meals.

But, you will burn more fat.

Goal #2: Maximum performance

If you’re looking to have the best workout possible and maximize performance, you won’t skimp out on calories—at all.

You’ll eat whatever it takes to fuel your body to help you perform the best you possibly can.

For example, if you are running a marathon, doing a triathlon, or competing in an important match or game, you wouldn’t worry about eating too many calories beforehand. You’re going for performance here, not weight loss. If that means a giant pasta dinner the night before, twice as much breakfast as you normally would eat, or downing sports drinks or energy gels during your race/event/game, so be it. Whatever you need to feed your body in order for it to do its best.

The drawback to this is it’s possible that you consume as many calories before (and after) your workout as you expend during your workout, making fat loss minimal to zero. Heck, some people even gain weight eating for maximum performance.

Goal #3: Fat loss + performance

If you’re like most people, most of the time your goal will be to lose fat while still performing as well as possible.

What does this mean for you? It means you need to eat strategically before your workout. It does not, however, mean you should gorge yourself before your workout.

Because I don’t know about you, but whenever I’ve tried to work out without eating something beforehand, my performance suffers a lot. I get light headed and dizzy. I can’t do as many reps. I plain just can’t work as hard. And research backs this up, showing that exercise endurance improves significantly when you eat a snack beforehand.

So, assuming you’re with me in boat #3 here (#1 I don’t need to advise you on, since you’re not eating anything, and #2 you need to experiment with what types of food give you the most energy and power for your workout), you should ideally be eating a small meal 30-60 minutes before you train. The actual time may vary depending on how long it takes you to feel like you’re not too full to work out, but don’t wait too long after you eat or you’ll realize you’re hungry all over again (speaking from experience here).

What—and when—to eat before a workout

So what should a pre-workout meal consist of?

The ideal pre-workout meal should have some protein, some carbohydrates, and a little healthy fat. Yes, carbs! Carbs give you energy, and before and after your workout is the best time to consume them.

So again, it depends on your personal goals, but ideally you’ll aim for something close to this:

  • 20 grams of protein
  • 20-40 grams of slow digesting carbohydrates like oatmeal, sweet potatoes, beans, fruit, or wild rice (slow-digesting carbs produce a relatively slow increase in blood glucose and a modest insulin release in response)
  • About 5 grams of healthy fat (much more than this can slow down the digestion of protein)

And another thing to remember: the longer or harder your workout is, the more carbohydrates you need beforehand.

Pre-workout meal ideas

Not sure how the above translates into an actual meal? Here are some pre-workout meal ideas to get you started:

A protein shake. Yep, you can have a shake before and after your workout. Aim for about 20 grams of fast digesting whey protein and some carbohydrates from berries, oatmeal or a banana. Avoid putting too much nut butter in this shake, but you can have a little.

Oats with protein powder. Probably the perfect pre-workout meal, oatmeal with protein powder will give you both short and long-term energy to power through your workout.

Veggie omelet and fruit. Eggs have protein, fat and will keep you feeling full, and the veggies and fruit will give you energy to push hard.

Protein of your choice, sweet potato and broccoli. The classic bodybuilder’s meal (usually with chicken), this takes a little more effort (a.k.a. cooking) so the average person probably won’t go for it—but it’ll give you all the nutrients and energy you need to have a killer workout and build strong muscles.

Fruit and low fat cottage cheese. Cottage cheese is a quick and easy protein-packed choice for pre-workout snacking. Add fruit for energy, and a few nuts or a spoonful of chia seeds if you want (especially if you only have nonfat cottage cheese).

Fruit, chia seeds and low fat greek yogurt. Quick, easy, and packed with all the right ingredients, this is a good pre-workout choice every time. You can also choose homemade granola (a.k.a. not sugar-laden store bought granola) as a topping instead to mix things up.

Protein pancakes (just not the pumpkin ones, because they’re really low carb), berries and a little nut butter. Protein pancakes are probably one of my favorite pre-workout meals, because they contain all the right ingredients and get me feeling pumped up for my workout. Just don’t eat them too close to your workout since they’re pretty filling and may leave you feeling queasy after only a few burpees.

Tip: To boost workout results even more, try downing caffeine an hour or so beforehand. Studies show that consuming 100-400 milligrams of caffeine before a workout can boost energy and reduce fatigue during exercise.

Chow down, kick butt

Whatever you decide to eat before a workout, you’ll probably need to experiment with what works for you and fits with your personal goals to make sure you have as awesome of a workout as possible.

Do your best to listen to your body and recognize the effects that the food had on your performance—your energy levels, how soon you fatigued, whether you had any dizziness, stomach aches, cramps, etc. Then, adjust as necessary to find the right pre-workout meal for you.

And go kick some serious workout butt!

What’s your favorite pre-workout meal? Let others know in the comments!

47 thoughts on “You’re Doing it Wrong: Pre-Workout Eating”

  1. I have to work out on an empty stomach. The exertion, bouncing, upside-downing, etc makes me feel like I’m gonna hurl, not to mention the effect of an extra ~3-5 lbs on chins and dips.

    • I usually go off an apple I like to get some carbs and just go it’s usually an apple or a cup of rice any thoughts???

  2. Thank you so much for this helpful post!! I shared it with my sister. We’ve been doing the 7-minute work-out and the other day I felt so dizzy after it, I almost threw up my lunch (which I just ate after working out). I’m not sure but I think I didn’t eat anything before working out so that must be why. I plan to eat an egg, ham, cheese, and drink coffee tomorrow before exercising. Thanks again!

  3. Can u eat oats raw ? without cooking them ? I normally put some oats into my protein shake and drink it . Never had any stomach troubles or anything due to it .

    • That’s perfectly fine. Some people have trouble with “raw” oats, because they digest slowly. So, what they do is put 1-2 TBSP of flaxseed in their shakes to support the digestive system. Flaxseed is never a bad choice! Super healthy! Give it a try 🙂

  4. I always do a little workout on my lunch break since that’s convenient for me. I always eat a meal with some meat and a lot of veggies (since by noon I’m starving). No sugar, no grains. I feel just fine to do some push ups and lunges afterword. But I keep hearing that I should be eating after my workout as well. I definitely don’t feel hungry after I work out and it just seems silly since I just ate. Do I really need to eat before and after?

    My end goal is to tone up. Thank you.

    • Hey there! So, implementing work outs into your day means: organising your food schedule around your work outs. It’s so true! What you want to do is eat around two hours before you do your work out, depending on the amount you eat and the work out you intend to do. But since you do this in your lunch break, I’d suggest filling up on oatmeal, peanut/almond butter and flaxseed for breakfast. This way, you have enough energy till your work out during your lunch break. But this means: having a later breakfast. You want to not be starving by the time you start your workout. After your work out it is important to load up mainly on protein (fish, poultry, eggs,..) with complex carbohydrates (vegetables – go especially for the greens!). A sweet potato also never is a bad choice 😉 If you went for a run, you worked your entire legs. These muscles want to be replenished with nutrients. If you took a class and ripped those muscles, these too want to recover from that and need protein.
      It all depends on what your fitness goal is. Want to just lose weight? Want to lose weight and toned up? Want to strengthen stamina? And so on..

      For further questions just ask! 🙂

  5. Working out in the morning with an empty stomach might improve the burning of fat, but oh dear, what matters at the end of the day is the caloric deficit, not how much fat you burned in your workout.

    This is not coming from me before you question my “non-expert opinion”, it comes from several cientific research. I am not going to put any reference here because it is not my purpose to educate you but just open your eyes and stop lying to people to get into this unhealthy practice.

    • Everyone is different. I lost 11kg working out every morning without having anything but water. I tried to workout 30mins/ an hour after eating something, but I was just too sluggish. So I don’t eat before working out. I lost the weight that way.

  6. Pingback: index
    • What works for me has been either 1/2 banana with 1 tsp. almond butter or 1 tbsp. coconut oil. Even just the 1/2 banana on it’s own works like a charm.

  7. Not preaching for/against anyone however my personal/professional opinion is I don’t know about ‘not eating anything’ before a morning workout after going all night w/out fuel. As stated multiple times – identify how your body reacts and what it is telling you it needs. I am not concerned w/ weightless, the best refueling i have found to jump-start my body is coffee w/ plenty of water before/during and after as well as either a healthy serving of greek yogurt or raisin bagel w/ honey about 30 min before workout After i have oatmeal w/ raisins, honey and protein powder. ( i am a strong proponent of honey ‘one of natures most perfect foods’)

  8. What would you suggest to eat for a high intensity/cardio boxing and body weight training routine? Currently, I eat a either 2 bananas or a bowl of sprouts about 30 mins before my workout.

  9. Im trying for weightloss and fatloss. Daily cardio and weight training 4 days a week at a gym. N i eat banana as preworkout meal.
    But my trainer said, banana has more fat, told to eat oats. I feel that tummy would feel full with oats, n wont be comfortable working out.
    Can i continue with eating banana as preworkout meal. Suggest any other alternatives. Also i eat a nowl of sprouts, znd a bowl of yoghurt for post workout meal.

    • You should stick with the oats but eat it an hour before you go workout. If your stomache still feels heavy, move it back a little.

    • Eat the banana if you feel sluggish eating oatmeal. Your body -Your choice. Trainers can be helpful, but listening to your own body is what helps you grow in the process and find your own way. Which is usually the ultimate goal of most of the athletes you will see in the gym (assuming you go to a public gym). Good luck.

  10. Nice writeup!! This would be helpful for me also,as I started to do workout on a daily routine. And will surely useful for others too! Keep sharing such ideas like this.

  11. I work out in the morning.
    And I am not hungry in the morning.
    So I did my work outs on empty stomach for years.
    Result: I could never “make it through”. No energy!
    Today was the first time that I drank a 250ml selfmade proteinshake (curd cheese, walnuts and half banana) and let it “sink” around 20-30 minutes. Then I started my work out which I do since 3 years.
    It was the first time, that I could make it through – didn´t feel full (was just a drink and almost digested, so no “blob blob” in my stomach), didn´t feel weak or dizzy…
    I just made the entire work out program (30 min) with extreme power.

    From now on, I always will have my 30-minutes pre-work-out shake.

    • I’m the same Sarah, I’ve been working out for years on an empty stomach. But since I’ve started having a small serve of oat pre-workout, I’ve never had more strength, power, or even energy like I do now. I’ve found I also recover quicker and it fewer calories for the rest of the day.

  12. I’ve experimented a bit with fasted cardio, and found that eating a serving of raw almonds or cashews right before bed (e.g. 10 minutes before I lay down and close my eyes) really helps to sustain my blood sugar levels throughout the night and makes my morning pre-meal workout much more effective. I also like to stick with cardio-yoga when I’m working out with a fasted body, because I am being more introspective and self-aware of how my workout is going, and can change pace if I need to.

    • Thanks Kris! Serving on almonds or cashews before bed is a good idea! Those who workout fasted should give it a try.

  13. I usually eat a lite English muffin with a tbs of pb and smudge of jelly… The sugar gives me a boost of energy since I don’t eat much sugar other than fruit.

  14. I make milk with peanut butter with 4 spoon of oats and one carrot before I workout because I’m not fat I just want to get muscle and lose a little fat on my stomach.. It’s that ok??? Thanks

  15. You have an intensive work out, a grueling sweat fest and you have to prepare your body for the same. It is important that you have enough energy to sustain for the entire workout and push for even more.

    If you fail to fuel your body with a pre-workout snack, especially when you are lifting you miss out on an opportunity to push your body into a muscle-building (anabolic) state.

Leave a Comment