9 Pre-Workout Snacks
To get the most out of our workouts, we wear the perfect shoes, clothing, and accessories. We may even download the latest smartphone app to help us monitor our progress. All of these steps lead to a more productive workout. But what about pre-workout nutrition? While planning and preparing for exercise, we often neglect to fuel our bodies with the correct nutrients and follow a healthy diet.
However, a pre-workout snack with the right balance of protein, carbs, and fats can give you more energy, fight off hunger, and aid in muscle recovery. Whether you are trying to lose weight or build muscle, the 9 snacks outlined below will help you maximize your workout.
Bananas are the perfect pre-workout snack—they are full of essential vitamins and minerals, carbs, and protein. Plus, they’re easily portable and fit into any backpack or gym bag.
One medium banana has 27 grams of carbohydrates and about 1.3 grams of protein. Bananas also have 422 grams of potassium, which can improve nerve function and reduce muscle spasms and cramps.
Consider pairing your banana with creamy nut butter, such as cashew or almond butter. Other whole fruits high in protein include avocados, apricots, grapefruits, melons, peaches, and blackberries.
The complex carbohydrates found in whole grains digest slowly and supply the body with a steady stream of energy you need for longer, more intense workouts. Foods such as steel-cut oats, whole grain bread or crackers, brown rice, and quinoa have a lower glycemic index and won’t cause a spike in blood sugar the way most refined carbohydrates do. The vitamin B contained in many whole grains can also help convert carbohydrates into energy.
You can pair whole-grain crackers or toast with a hard-boiled egg, hummus, or peanut butter for a quick snack.
Like most white potatoes, sweet potatoes are high in carbohydrates, protein, and other vitamins and minerals. However, sweet potatoes contain the phytonutrient beta-carotene, which gives these veggies their bright orange color.
Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that eliminates toxins from the body and protects against certain diseases. As a precursor to vitamin A, beta-carotene improves immune function and cellular communication, which active individuals need for a fast recovery. Sweet potatoes also contain antioxidants such as vitamin C and potassium, which have anti-inflammatory properties that reduce swelling and pain.
Sweet potatoes are great mashed or roasted. You can spread mashed sweet potatoes on toast or whole-grain crackers.
Dried Fruit and Nuts
Dried fruit has a high carbohydrate and fiber content, while nuts are high in protein. Together, these two ingredients can boost your energy levels and help heal sore tired muscles. Nuts also contain omega 3 fatty acids—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that lower cholesterol levels.
You can mix your favorite dried fruits, nuts, and seeds to create a delicious and portable trail mix. Pre portioning your trail mix ahead of time makes a quick grab-and-go snack.
Greek yogurt has twice the amount of protein found in regular yogurt. This high protein content builds stronger muscles and improves blood circulation during your workout.
Topping Greek yogurt with fresh fruit gives you a boost of energy. The dietary fiber found in fruit can also help you feel satisfied and stave off hunger pains while you work out.
Cottage cheese is low in calories and high in protein. Just one cup of cottage cheese has 25 grams of protein, which accounts for 70 percent of its overall calorie content. Cottage cheese also contains other nutrients that aid in muscle recovery, such as vitamin B, phosphorus, calcium, and selenium.
Cottage cheese is delicious, creamy, and versatile. You can add it to a piece of whole-grain toast and top it with sliced tomato or avocado.
A fruit smoothie will leave you feeling satisfied before your workout and increase your stamina. You can blend your favorite fruits with almond milk. You can even add a little bit of protein by including a tablespoon of peanut butter or some Greek yogurt.
Eggs are a complete protein because they contain all nine essential amino acids—the building blocks of protein the body uses to repair muscle tissue.
To get a balance of protein and carbs before your workout, pair a hard-boiled egg with a piece of whole-grain bread and avocado.
Meats such as chicken, turkey, and fish have less fat than red meat. They are also high in protein, which is vital for healthy bones and muscles. Physically active individuals need more protein to repair damaged tissue and reduce soreness. If you prefer not to eat meat, plant-based protein sources include legumes, beans, seeds, processed soy products, nuts, and green leafy vegetables.
Seafood, such as salmon and tuna, is also a good source of omega 3 fatty acids essential for heart health.
What to Consider in a Pre-Workout Snack
As you can see from our list, the best pre-workout snacks contain complex carbs, protein, and heart-healthy fats. Below, we explain how these three nutrients work together to sustain you during your workout.
When we consume carbohydrates, our bodies turn them into simple sugars that are absorbed into the bloodstream. The increase in sugar levels causes the pancreas to release insulin—the hormone needed to move sugar from the blood to the cells. Once sugar is transferred to the cells, it can be used as a source of energy.
The energy we get from carbohydrates is essential for a good workout. However, not all carbs are the same. There are two different types of carbohydrates—simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates digest quickly and provide a quick burst of energy to the bloodstream. However, they often cause us to crash soon after eating. Simple carbs are found in refined sugars (white sugar). Products with refined sugars are often high in calories, have very few vitamins and minerals, and lead to weight gain. Whole fruits have naturally occurring sugars, which, unlike refined sugars, provide fiber, carbohydrates, and protein our bodies need.
Complex carbohydrates digest slower and provide a slow, steady supply of glucose to the bloodstream. Complex carbs are found in unrefined whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa. These foods help us feel satisfied longer and give us the energy we need to sustain an intense workout.
Protein is essential for creating hair, blood, cartilage, muscles, skin, enzymes, and antibodies. However, just like carbs, it is necessary to get your protein from a healthy source. Lean meats are a good source of protein, but plant-based sources high in omega 3 fatty acids, such as nuts, legumes, beans, and seeds are even better.
The amount of protein you need each day depends on age, gender, and activity level. In most cases, adults should consume about 0.37 grams of protein per pound of body weight. However, athletes may need more protein than the average person. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that active individuals eat about 0.5 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Fats often get a bad rap, especially when it comes to weight loss; but, while the glucose produced from carbohydrates produces an energy boost, fat fuels the body for longer, less intense activities.
However, not all fats are beneficial. Heart-healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol. Saturated and trans fats increase your risk of developing heart disease and raise blood pressure.
Below, we outline the three types of fats and what foods they are typically found in.
- Unsaturated fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats): Olive oil, avocados, seeds, nuts, and fish. These are good sources of fat and are safe to include in your pre-workout meals and snacks.
- Saturated fat food sources: Cheese, butter, cream, palm oil, and red meat. These fats can leave you feeling sluggish and heavy before a workout.
- Trans fat (hydrogenated oil): Processed food. Trans fats should be avoided altogether.
Timing is Everything
“When eating before a workout, it’s key to factor in the timing of the meal and hydration. Eating too close to a workout will cause digestion issues and could make you feel queasy while exercising, but eating too long before a workout can cause you to not have as much energy to fuel a successful workout, one where you lift heavier or run further,” cautions Brittany Ford, Registered Holistic Nutritionist.
Eating about 60 to 90 minutes before a workout is a great medium. Ensure the meal or snack includes complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and adequate protein. Stay away from processed food that is easily absorbed in the body and spikes blood sugar, causing energy fluctuations before and during your workout. Avoid high-sugar protein bars, gels, drinks, or other snacks that are marketed towards working out, as these are often highly processed and filled with toxins that your body will have to eliminate.
“It’s also super important to be properly hydrated before a workout,” says Brittany. “Drinking at least 1 liter of water during the day and 1 liter per hour of exercise will help fuel you during your workout.”
Frequently Asked Questions
It is safe to drink coffee before a workout. Caffeine has been shown to increase strength and endurance while reducing fatigue. For best results, drink coffee 90 minutes before your workout.
Experts recommend working out in the morning whenever possible. Exercising in the morning burns more body fat and helps boost your metabolism. A faster metabolism will benefit you more during the day than at night when you are eating less.
A good pre-workout snack should have between 150 to 200 calories. If you are trying to lose weight, you may want to keep your snacks around 100 calories or less. A low-calorie snack will help you stay within your daily calorie goal.
Water is the best drink for staying hydrated during your workout. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking three cups of water two to three hours before your workout.
Before you workout, it is best to avoid high-fat foods. These foods are difficult for your body to digest and can deplete you of energy levels. Sugary drinks, such as fruit juice and soda, should also be avoided since they can raise your heart rate and blood pressure, causing you to feel jittery and uncomfortable before your workout.
The pre-workout snacks on the list above are full of vitamins and minerals essential for good health. With the right balance of carbs, protein, and fat, you will feel satisfied, have more energy, and recover faster. The perfect pre-workout snack may be just what you need to perform your best and reach your fitness goals.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.