Why do triathletes scarf down a jumbo-sized bowl of spaghetti marinara the night before their grueling race?
Why is consuming protein alright before a workout, but not the very best thing you can reach for?
Your pre-workout snack sets the tone, dictates your energy levels, and either helps or hinders your fitness progress. So, what’s good to eat before a workout?
First, we’ll assess which types of macronutrients are the best to consume before a workout and why, then we’ll give you real snack and meal suggestions that hit those nutrient targets. It’s time to fuel up the right way.
Balance It Out for Big Results
Popeye had his muscle-bulging cans of spinach. But for the rest of us, there isn’t one, single food that will turbo-charge your workouts and transform you into a tough-as-nails sailor with tattooed, ballooning biceps. Darn it.
The best pre-workout fuel comes from a balance of diverse nutrients that feed your body in different ways. The two essential nutrients to consume prior to a workout are proteins and carbs.
“Protein” might be the most popular term in the health and fitness industry, maybe after “keto diet” or “kettlebell swings”?
Protein is a crucial macronutrient to consume after a workout. Though, protein is still a beneficial addition to your pre-workout meal or snack.
The reason it’s smart to consume protein before a workout is because it works to repair your muscles and actively generate new muscle growth. Eating some protein before you workout—and more after—will assure you’re maintaining muscle health and ingesting a substantial amount throughout the day.
You probably won’t want to munch down a cut of steak or another heavier, protein-rich meal right before a workout, as this could lead to indigestion and discomfort during your workout (no one wants that).
Ultimate Work Out Fuel
We saved an entire section below for carbs because they’re the de facto choice for ready-to-burn energy. Carbs are the closest thing you’ll get to Popeye’s cans of insta-strength spinach.
If you can eat a light, digestible, pre workout snack with both protein and carbs, you’ll be feeling ready to tear up a steep staircase, heave a heavy dumbbell, or sweat through a hot yoga class.
What About Fats?!
Before we give carbs the stand-alone love they deserve, let’s talk about fats. Like carbs, fats provide the body with energy. The difference is that while carbs are burned immediately during intense exercise, fats seem to better fuel the body during less-intense, longer workouts.
It’s also significant to note that fats appear to fuel the body best when consumed hours before a workout and consistently over time—not immediately before like carbs.
To get the benefits of healthy fats during your workout, be sure to consume ample amounts throughout the week and month to properly assist with longer, slower workouts like a hike or a run.
Carbs Reign King
When you’re working out, you’re exerting a great deal of energy, and carbs are the body's preferred source of energy.
Carbs are the optimal choice as they’re easy to digest and readily available. Pre-workout carbs act to feed your blood glucose levels during exercise. More importantly, they replenish muscle glycogen stores. When you have fresh glucose stores in your muscles, you’ll burn the glucose during your workout instead of breaking down your actual muscle for energy.
That's why triathletes devour a monstrous pile of pasta the night before the big race; to assure their glucose stores are totally topped off.
In short, carbs supply your muscles with glucose that you use as energy during tough workouts.
The Best Pre Workout Snacks
To get your version of Popeye’s beloved spinach (aka carbs) along with a bit of protein, here are simple and effective snacks to add to your pre workout repertoire:
- Peanut butter on toast
- A carb-rich protein bar
- Greek yogurt and berries
- Chocolate milk
- Fruit: bananas, apples, peaches, blueberries
- A Small portion of meat and vegetables
- Granola or cereal
You’ll notice that most of the snacks on this list are light and easy to digest. The key to pre-workout snacks is to find something that will feed your body energy and aid your muscles, but not leave you feeling bloated or lethargic.
Soylent Drinks are an excellent source of carbs and protein, and if you opt for a Soylent Complete Protein, you will get an extra dose of protein alongside your slow burning carbs and healthy fats!
The Fuel Up Round-up
Lots of folks think about drinking protein shakes or cooking big meals after a workout. Fewer people consider what they should be consuming prior to a workout.
Fueling your body properly with carbs and—to a lesser extent—protein, will do wonders for your energy levels and ability to maintain a high level of intensity throughout the duration of a workout.
Try consuming the foods we’ve listed and others that are carb and protein-rich, and figure out what feels best for your body before a workout.
Happy pre workout fueling!