As a dietitian and sports nutritionist, I’m often asked, “What should I eat before my workout?” The answer is not that simple, because what works for one person doesn’t always for someone else.
Whether you work up a sweat in the morning or evening, a snack before you work out helps give you energy and stamina to go the distance. As a general rule, pre-exercise snacks should be 150-300 calories (more for men or those doing long duration or high intensity exercise for more than 30 minutes) and rich in carbohydrates, such as whole grain cereals and breads, low-fat milk or yogurt and fruit.
If you’re serious about your exercise routine and want to improve your performance, find out exactly what works best for you as a pre-workout meal or snack. Customize your nutrition by scheduling at least one “nutrition focused” workout per week. Just as you would focus on hill repeats or speed or endurance, this workout is focused on your nutrition. Use those workouts do determine how many calories you can tolerate, if liquids sit better than solids, and what makes you feel strong or fast as opposed to weak or slow.
Some simple sports nutrition guidelines:
- Focus on whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins as much as possible.
- Use sports nutrition products (drinks, bars, gels, blocks, etc) for their convenience factor but don’t rely on them for daily nutrition.
- No food is necessary during training unless you are working out longer than 90 minutes (but it’s still important to hydrate).
Here are 3 of my favorite pre workout food choices to help you be your best:
Nut Butter & Banana Toast
1 Tbsp. nut butter spread over a piece of whole-grain toast and topped with 4 oz. sliced banana. (You can drizzle with a little bit of honey, if desired.) This delicious snack provides 30 g carbohydrates for energy, 7 g protein to fend off hunger during your workout, 9 g of fat, and 240 calories. In addition to providing a source of carbohydrate, banana also contributes an ample dose of potassium, which helps stave off muscles cramps. To allow for adequate digestion and absorption, consume this snack 60-90 minutes before beginning your workout.
Greek Yogurt Parfait
For the perfect blend of carbs and protein, top 3 oz nonfat plain Greek yogurt with ½ cup whole grain cereal and ½ cup fresh, whole strawberries. This sweet and crunchy snack provides roughly 160 calories. The protein in Greek yogurt will sustain you through your workout, while the cereal and strawberries contribute easily-digestible carbohydrates for a quick source of energy.
Dried Fruit, Low-Fat Granola, and Nut Trail Mix
Trail mix is an ideal on-the-go snack: it’s lightweight, easy to store, and nutritious—proving a quick energy boost from the carbohydrates in both the dried fruit and low-fat granola, and sustained energy from the fat and protein in nuts. Enjoying 3/8 cup of trail mix (consisting of 3 Tbsp. dried fruit such as berries, apricots, and raisins; 2 Tbsp low-fat granola; and 1 Tbsp. almonds or cashews) will provide approximately 30 g carbohydrates, 1.5 grams protein, 5.5 grams of fat, and 175 calories.