What to Eat Before a Workout and What to Avoid

Believe it or not, the food you eat before hitting the gym or getting active can make a huge difference in your body’s ability to perform. By eating the right foods, you’ll get more out of each training session and will be able to push yourself harder so you can start seeing more improvement faster.

Though every person is different and the number of calories you should eat before each workout depends largely on your activity level and the type of workout you’ll do, there are a few foods that will help you the most.

If you’re wondering what to eat before a workout, don’t panic. Keep these key things in mind.

Eat the Right Types of Carbs

Carbs seem to have a bad rap these days. With so many people focusing on the Keto and Paleo diet protocols, it’s no wonder that even the most fitness-minded people are avoiding them. But carbs aren’t all bad—they give your body the energy it needs to power through new routines. You just need to eat the right types of carbs.

Instead of eating empty carbs—those found in sugary snacks and energy bars—opt for complex carbs like those found in these foods:
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole-grain toast
  • Sweet potato
  • Quinoa

complex carbs selection for workouts

Complex carbs take longer to break down into the sugar that fuels your body’s energy levels during workouts. And they’re usually packed with fiber, helping you feel full longer. That means you’ll have a bigger energy boost and be able to work out at maximum capacity more easily.

Add Protein to the Mix

Protein helps your body build muscles. When you work out and push your muscles, you’re effectively creating tiny micro-tears in the tissue. As your body repairs those tears, you build up the muscle groups.

Protein speeds up that rebuilding process and makes it easier for your body to make the necessary repairs in the first place.

Before you reach for a protein bar, think about what your body actually needs. It’s best to get protein from more natural sources. This includes foods like the following:
  • Eggs
  • Greek yogurt
  • Low-fat milk
  • Poultry
  • Nut butters

good protein sources for workouts

These protein-rich foods have tons of other beneficial nutrients that make working out easier and more effective. That said, don’t just reach for any protein you can get your hands on. Be picky.

If you’re going to have bacon, consider cooking up some turkey bacon instead. It’s lower in fat and cholesterol but still packs a major protein punch. If you can, try to choose low-fat options, too. This will keep you from feeling sluggish while you’re working out.

Incorporate Fruit into Your Diet

Fresh fruit may contain sugar, but it’s the type of sugar that won’t lead to crashes an hour after you consume it. Instead, it gives your body energy and provides you with a natural source of vitamins and minerals that can enhance the quality of your workout.
healthy berries for pre-workout food
Choose berries like strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries when they’re available. They’re bursting with antioxidants, are high in fiber, and can even promote a healthy inflammatory response after your workout. That means less pain and discomfort in the long run.

If you want something with a bit more fiber, grab an apple, orange, or banana. This will help you avoid crashing in the middle of your routine and can keep you from reaching for a sugar-filled energy bar during your workout.

What Not to Eat Before a Workout

Though some foods can help improve your performance, others can actually make your workouts harder to get through. Worse, they can slow your progress and make each workout feel like a chore, not something you enjoy. Avoid the following foods so you can perform at your peak.

Avoid Processed Sugar

Processed sugar is everywhere. It’s in sports drinks, protein bars, shakes, and even the smoothies you grab at your local smoothie chain or coffee shop. That sugar can give you a quick spurt of energy, but your body burns through it so fast that the rush won’t last.

Once it fades, it’s normal to feel sluggish, tired, and off your game—not making it easy to hit those goals. If you need a quick snack, keep nuts on hand or choose a fresh piece of fruit to give you a natural sugar rush.

Hold Off on Spicy Dishes

Spicy foods are delicious, but they’re not the best food to eat before a workout. Your digestive tract has to work harder to break down the food and, if you start working out, you’ll likely end up having heartburn or indigestion.

Instead of eating spicy foods before you head to the gym or start your workout routine, save them for later. Eat them after your workout is over, and your body can spend its energy dealing with those spicy dishes.

Keep Caffeine to a Minimum

Caffeine may give you a much-needed energy boost, but drinking caffeinated beverages right before a workout can end up backfiring. If you drink too much, you risk getting jittery, and those jitters can make both strength training and cardio uncomfortable.

Worse, caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea are diuretics. This means they’ll leave you rushing to the bathroom several times during your workout, and you won’t be able to keep your heart rate in peak cardio zone and will have to take frequent breaks.

If you need an energy boost, keep the caffeine consumption to a minimum and avoid drinking beverages full of dairy and sugar.

Wait to Eat Dairy

Dairy may be delicious, but it can also be hard to digest. Rather than chowing down on a cheese stick just before your workout, save it for after you crush your goals.

Dairy can make your stomach more acidic and may contribute to feelings of belly bloat and discomfort. By saving your dairy indulgence until after your workout, you’ll avoid those issues completely.

Should You Eat Before a Workout?

Hands-down, the most common question people ask is, “Should you eat before a workout?” The answer is, unequivocally, yes. Eating before you start exercising is the best way to set up your body for a successful training session.

But what you eat can play a huge role in the quality of your workout. When in doubt, keep it simple: Eat whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and natural sugars. Avoid processed ingredients and foods that might contribute to discomfort and low energy levels.

Good Nutrition Matters

Eating the right foods and knowing what to eat before a workout can be confusing. If you’re looking for a little extra help and inspiration, sign up for our membership plan and take your fitness to the next level.

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