Eating something before you hit the gym seems logical because you want to feel strong and energized for your workout. However, eating the wrong foods or eating too much can leave you with a case of indigestion, nausea, or make you feel more tired than before you started. Therefore, you need to make sure you eat the right foods pre-workout in order feel good and maximize your efforts and results.

The Pre-Workout Foods Breakdown

The first rule of thumb is that pre-workout meals should be mainly composed of slow-burning complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grain bread, rice, pasta, and cereals. This is because complex carbohydrates take longer than simple carbohydrates (like candy, soft drinks, and other junk foods) to convert to glucose, which will keep your blood sugar level consistent and prevent you from having an energy crash in the middle of your workout.

With that being said, you also want to be sure that you have some protein (about 15 percent of the meal) so that you minimize any protein damage or protein breakdown during your workout.

Keep fat to a minimum before workouts because fat takes the longest to digest, and therefore uses more energy than the protein and carbs.

The Best Pre-Workout Foods

Pasta. Stick to whole-wheat pasta and keep your portions small or allow two to three hours for digestion before your workout.

Suggested serving: A half-cup cooked spaghetti.

Oatmeal. Oats are full of fiber and therefore the carbohydrates from them are released into your bloodstream gradually, keeping your energy levels constant during your workout. Oats also contain B vitamins, which are energizing, stress-reducing, and help to convert carbohydrates into energy.

Suggested serving: One cup of oatmeal.

Trail Mix. The dried fruit in the trail mix will provide you with healthy sugars for a quick energy boost, while the seeds and nuts will prevent your insulin level from dropping. Look for a healthy mix that includes nuts and dried fruits and avoid varieties with high-sugar ingredients such as M&Ms.

Suggested serving: A half cup of trail mix.

Bananas and apples. These are good choices for an energizing snack. Furthermore, bananas are packed with potassium, which aids in maintaining proper nerve and muscle function.

Suggested serving: One banana or one apple.

Carbohydrate energy gels. These are ideal for runners and any other athletes that require quick bursts of energy to make it through high-intensity workouts. These packets provide a dose of concentrated carbohydrates, roughly equivalent to half a bagel. Since they don't contain any protein, fat or fiber, energy gels are absorbed into your bloodstream quickly and are much easier to digest than solid foods.

Suggested serving: One packet.

Energy Bars. There are many types of energy bars out there. Some contain mostly protein, whereas others mostly carbohydrates. In order to boost your energy before a workout, choose a bar that leans more toward carbohydrates.

Suggested serving: One bar.

Pre-Workout Food Tips

Be sure to experiment with timing, portions, and food choices, and see what works best for you. Food recommendations are never a one size fits all.

  • Timing is important. A big breakfast may be troublesome if you are going for a morning run, but it is fine if you are going to workout at the gym before lunch.
  • Size of meal is important. Large meals of 1,000 to 1,500 calories take about three to four hours to digest and convert into energy, whereas a smaller meal of about 600 calories will take two to three hours. A small snack (under 300 calories) takes about a half hour to an one hour.
  • Snacks. A light workout can be preceded with a light snack, but leave more lead time for intense workouts. Many athletes avoid food within two hours of a very hard workout, but can tolerate a lighter snack within one to two hours of a light workout.

Note: Don't forget to hydrate yourself adequately before, during and after your workout.  This is critical to feeling strong and staying healthy.


Kimball, M. What is the Pre-Workout Meal or Food For Men, and How Long Before Should I Eat? ABC News. Accessed March 10, 2010.


Som, P.P. 10 Quick Tips for Building Muscle. Accessed March 10, 2010.

Res, P., Ding, Z., Witzman, M.O., Sprague, R.C. and J. L. Ivy. The effect of carbohydrate-protein supplementation on endurance performance during exercise of varying intensity. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2003, 13, 382-395.