What To Eat Before a Workout

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Pre-workout nutrition, just like post-workout nutrition, is crucial for optimizing exercise performance and recovery. Consuming carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats before a workout helps maximize glycogen stores for energy, promote muscle growth, and enhance overall workout capacity and endurance. Proper timing of pre-workout meals can also prevent gastrointestinal issues and support post-workout recovery. By carefully planning pre-workout nutrition, you can significantly improve your workout experience and results.

Pre-workout Macronutrient Breakdown

High Level, the recommended macronutrient breakdown for a pre-workout meal is:

Carbohydrates: 50-60%
Protein: 25-35%
Fats: 15-25%


Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for exercise, so they should make up the largest portion of the pre-workout meal. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables are ideal as they provide sustained energy. You should aim for 1-2 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight, consumed 1-2 hours prior to exercise. If you are doing a short, high intensity workout, many experts recommend sticking with only carbs before the workout. One last thing to keep in mind is that consuming carbohydrates before exercise has been shown to enhance performance.


Protein helps repair and rebuild muscle tissue that is broken down during exercise. Lean protein sources like chicken, fish, eggs, and Greek yogurt are a few great sources of pre-workout protein. However, you don't need to go too crazy as 20-30 grams of protein is generally enough before most workouts. It is recommended that you get this in your body 3-4 hours before the workout. Keep in mind this is different than the recommended time to consume the carbs as it is advised to consume the carbs 1-2 hours before exercising. If you would like to consume the carbs and protein at the same time before a workout, consider whey protein as your body absorbs this quite fast.


Healthy fats can help slow the digestion of carbohydrates, leading to more sustained energy levels. If you are doing a longer, more sustained exercise such as hiking, cycling, or cross-country skiiing, consuming healthy fats is highly recommended. Good fat sources include nuts, seeds, fatty fish, nut butters, and avocado. You will want to be careful not to consume too much fat right before your workout as it could cause you to feel full or sluggish. So, to avoid this, you will want to make sure you consume the fats 3-5 hours before a high intensity workout and at 2+ hours before a lower intensity workout.

The overall goal is to consume a balanced pre-workout meal that provides the right mix of macronutrients to fuel your workout, support muscle growth, and enhance performance and recovery.

Timing of Pre-Workout Meals

We talked about this above a bit, but the timing of your pre-workout meal is important. For best results, it's recommended to consume a full, balanced meal 2-4 hours before a workout. This allows enough time for the meal to be fully digested and the nutrients to be utilized during the workout. If you only have 45-60 minutes before a workout, you should opt for a smaller, simpler meal focused on faster-digesting carbs and some protein. Eating too close to a workout (less than 30-60 minutes) can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, bloating, or feelings of lethargy during the workout, especially if you are doing a higher intensity workout. If you are only 30-60 minutes from your workout, consider a light snack instead of a meal.

Another thing to note is that everyone's body is different. So, you will want to experiment a bit with the timing to see what works best for you. If you are a competitive athlete or training for a specific event, make sure you test different pre-workout meal timings well before the event/game you are training for.

Wrapping it up, the sweet spot for pre-workout nutrition is typically 2-3 hours before exercise, with adjustments made for shorter timeframes as needed, in order to provide energy without causing digestive issues during the workout.

Don't forget Pre-workout Hydration

Proper hydration before exercise is crucial for optimizing athletic performance and recovery. Drinking 16-24 oz of fluid (water or electrolyte drinks) 2-3 hours before a workout helps ensure you are well-hydrated going into the activity and then drinking an additional 8-16 oz of fluid 15 minutes before starting helps top off hydration levels. Being well-hydrated before exercise helps you to maintain fluid balance, regulate your body temperature, and transport nutrients and oxygen to working muscles. Dehydration, even as little as 2-3% of body weight, can impair both endurance and anaerobic exercise performance.

Another important thing to note is that proper pre-workout hydration helps delay the onset of fatigue, prevent muscle cramps, and maintain focus and cognitive function during the workout. For longer or more intense workouts, including electrolytes (sodium, potassium) in pre-workout fluids can further support hydration and performance.

Taking the time to properly hydrate before exercising is just as important as pre-workout nutrition for maximizing the benefits of the workout and supporting overall health.

Sample Pre-Workout Meal Ideas

Here are some examples of recommended pre-workout meals broken down by time before the workout:

1-2 Hours Before Workout:
  • Whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and banana or berries
  • Oatmeal topped with banana and sliced almonds
  • Protein smoothie made with milk, protein powder, banana, and mixed berries
  • Whole-grain cereal and milk
2-3 Hours Before Workout:
  • Sandwich on whole-grain bread with lean protein (e.g. turkey, chicken) and a side salad
  • Egg omelet with whole-grain toast and avocado spread
  • Lean protein (e.g. grilled chicken), brown rice, and roasted vegetables
In general, meals 1-2 hours before a workout should focus on easily digestible carbs and protein, like fruit, yogurt, or a protein shake. Meals 2-3 hours before can include more complex carbs, protein, and healthy fats for sustained energy. You should also tailor portion sizes to the individual's body weight and the intensity/duration of the upcoming workout.

Considerations for Different Types of Workouts

Strength Training Workouts

For strength training like weightlifting, you have more flexibility with pre-workout meals. Aim for a balanced meal 2-3 hours before with 20-30g protein, 30-60g carbs, and some healthy fats. Good options include a sandwich with lean protein, brown rice and veggies, or an egg omelet with whole-grain toast. You can tolerate slightly higher fat and fiber content compared to cardio workouts.

Cardio/Endurance Workouts

For longer cardio sessions like running, cycling, or swimming, the focus should be on carbohydrates. Eat a carb-rich meal 2-3 hours before, such as oatmeal with fruit or a whole-grain cereal with milk. In the 30-60 minutes before, opt for faster-digesting carbs like a banana, a sports drink, or a fruit smoothie. For this type of workout, you will want to avoid high-fat and high-fiber foods that could cause GI distress during the workout.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

For HIIT workouts that combine cardio and strength, a balanced pre-workout meal is ideal. Aim for a mix of carbs, protein, and some healthy fats 1-3 hours before, like a sandwich or protein smoothie. The carbs will fuel the high-intensity bursts, while the protein and fats provide sustained energy.

Regardless of the workout type, staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water or electrolyte-containing fluid before exercise is also crucial for performance and recovery.

The key is to experiment to find the pre-workout nutrition timing and composition that works best for your individual needs and the specific workout you have planned.


Pre-workout nutrition is important to fuel your body before exercise. The composition and timing of the pre-workout meal depends on a number of factors such as the type and length of the workout you are doing, the amount of time you have before your workout, and how fast your body absorbs nutrients. One last key point is that hydration is just important as the pre-workout meal for a healthy and successful workout.

nutrition | pre-workout | healthy foods