Knowing what to eat before a workout can make the difference between an awesome session and a disastrous session.
Every now and then one of my clients will start crashing mid-workout. Sometimes it’s due to lack of sleep, but sometimes it’s due to poor pre-workout nutrition. I’ve learned to always ask clients how they slept last night, and also what they last ate and at what time.
Then I can adjust their workout to avoid disaster.
The recommendations I’m making below are specific to strength training. For cardio, keep it simple: just eat a light meal 1-2 hours before the session.
Whether you’re currently trying to lose body fat or build muscle, what you eat before a workout should rarely vary. It’s what you eat the rest of the time that matters for achieving your specific goal.
And you can also read my guide to what to eat after a workout for post-workout nutrition advice.
So, here’s my simple guide to what to eat before a workout.
What to Eat Before a Workout: A Simple Guide
What to eat before a workout: early morning workout
If you’re planning on training after breakfast, your breakfast is your pre-workout meal. Eat it 60-90 minutes before your training session.
So if you’re planning to train around 7 am, have breakfast at 5.30 or 6 am.
I usually recommend a low-carb breakfast, but most people need carbs to get through a strength training session. The simplest thing to do is eat eggs, meat, fish, or protein powder, with a source of carbs.
Make sure it’s something light. You don’t want to feel full during the workout.
Here are a few ideas:
– two or three eggs (cooked to your liking) with a piece of fruit.
– some chicken breast with a small sweet potato.
– oatmeal with a scoop of protein powder mixed in.
But what if you’re planning on training before breakfast?
I recommend keeping it simple: eat a piece of fruit on your way to the gym, and drink a protein shake (water plus protein powder) 5-10 minutes before you begin your workout.
A simple whey protein isolate would probably be the best kind of protein powder. I’m a fan of the Kaizen brand, but any whey isolate is fine. If you’re sensitive to whey protein, vegan protein would serve you better. I like Vega One.
What to eat before a workout: mid-morning workout
In this case, your breakfast could be your pre-workout meal (see the previous section for ideas) and you wouldn’t need to worry about eating anything else.
But if it’s been a few hours since breakfast and you’re starting to feel hungry, just eat a piece of fruit on the way to the gym, and drink a protein shake (water plus protein powder) 5-10 minutes before you start.
What to eat before a workout: lunchtime workout
If you’re planning on training before lunch, keep it simple with a piece of fruit consumed on the way to the gym and a protein shake (water plus protein powder) 5-10 minutes before you start.
But if you’re going to train immediately after lunch, your lunch is going to be your pre-workout meal.
As with breakfast, I usually recommend a low carb lunch, but an exception can be made before strength training. A chicken salad with rice or quinoa would be perfect.
Just use the formula “lean protein + veggies + a small portion of carbs (rice, quinoa, potato etc.)”. Time it so that you eat lunch 60-90 minutes before your workout.
What to eat before a workout: mid-afternoon workout
In this case, your lunch could be your pre-workout meal if you eat lunch late. Don’t worry about eating anything else before you train. See the previous section for more information.
But if it’s been a few hours since lunch and you’re starting to feel hungry, just eat a piece of fruit on the way to the gym, and drink a protein shake (water plus protein powder) 5-10 minutes before you start.
What to eat before a workout: early evening workout
It’s probably been a few hours since your last meal. Eat a piece of fruit on the way to the gym and drink a protein shake (water plus protein powder) 5-10 minutes before you start your workout.
What to eat before a workout: late evening workout
I wouldn’t recommend eating dinner before your workout. For most people, dinner is the biggest meal of the day. You’re more likely to feel sluggish after dinner, and you probably won’t get a good workout.
But if you don’t have any other option, make sure your dinner is high in protein, fibre, and has a moderate amount of starch. Eat it around an hour before your workout.
For example, steak, broccoli and a medium sized sweet potato would be a great pre-workout meal.
Use the examples in my low carb dinners blog post for more inspiration, but add a small portion of rice, quinoa or potato to each.
Any questions? Leave a comment below.