Nutrition

Top 6 Pre-Workout Foods

In this article, you’ll read about our top recommended pre-workout foods, including:

  1. Porridge oats

  2. Boiled eggs and toast

  3. Greek yoghurt with fruit

  4. Bananas or grapes

  5. Chicken, rice and vegetables

  6. Smoothies with fruit, vegetables and yoghurt

You’ll also read about the following:

The Benefits Of Eating Pre-Workout Foods

There’s nothing worse than being too worn out to finish a workout. Eating before going to the gym can help you to train for longer and at a higher intensity — who wouldn’t want that?

Failing to give your body the right nutrition before a workout may lead to delay in muscle recovery and possible injury — you definitely don’t want this.1

Consuming a pre-workout snack can help with physical performance2, prevent fatigue3 and reduce muscle breakdown, so, where’s a good place to start?4

When To Eat Pre-Workout Foods

Choosing when to fuel will depend greatly on the type of activity you’re engaging in and the system your body is using for energy. The three main systems your body uses are the phosphagen, anaerobic, and aerobic.

If you are engaging in a short activity (~20-30 minutes of walking) the chances are you don’t need to fuel for this beforehand because our bodies will have endless stores of fat to fuel for this activity. However, if you’re engaging in high-intensity sessions including intermittent team sports and weightlifting, your body will benefit from fuelling beforehand as it will mainly use glycogen/glucose stores.

Most of the studies available recommend a window of approximately 2-3 hours before you exercise as the ideal time to consume a pre-workout snack/meal.8 If you’re eating 1 hour before your workout, it may be best to choose foods that are easier to digest to avoid stomach discomfort. For example, try and stick to carbohydrate and protein only.

What Pre-Workout Foods and Macros To Eat

What you choose to eat and how much will depend on the type of exercise you’re doing, the length of time, and when you’re doing it. Research shows that meals containing a higher amount of carbohydrates than protein or fat are more beneficial to maximise muscular endurance in resistance training, meaning you can go harder for longer.5

FATS

Fats are the source of fuel for longer and moderate low intensity workouts. Some studies have shown that fats in meals can have a beneficial metabolic effect including increasing the breakdown of fat for energy.7 Good pre-workout fats include:

  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Olive Oil
  • Peanut butter
PROTEIN

Many studies have shown that supplementing protein from food or whey protein can increase your physical performance.2 Combining protein with carbohydrates as a pre-workout can also increase muscle synthesis.6 Aim for a palm-size portion (20-30g) of protein. Good lean sources options include:

  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Lean cuts of pork or beef
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Soy
  • Pulses
  • Nuts/seeds
CARBOHYDRATES

Carbohydrates are important for supporting energy metabolism in prolonged to moderate high intensity exercise.3 The quality of carbohydrates you choose are important because they’re essential for bursts of energy, will help you focus, and delay fatigue.

Examples include:

  • Beans
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Wholegrain bread, or pasta
  • Rice
  • Oats/cereals
  • Fruit

Pre-Workout Foods

1.Porridge And Oatmeal

Oats are a wholegrain carbohydrate with a low glycaemic index, meaning they’re more slowly digested, helping to release energy more slowly and makes you feel fuller too. Add a portion of fruit for a further boost in energy and flavour.
You can also consider adding 1 scoop of protein powder for flavour and extra protein to help promote muscle growth and repair too.

pre workout foods

2. Boiled Egg On A Slice of Granary Seeded Toast

Boiled eggs are a great lean source of protein and their yolk contains a lot of nutrition. Combine this with a slice of bread for a good carbohydrate addition to boost energy.

 

3. Greek Yoghurt With A Portion Of Fruit

pre workout foods

Greek yoghurt is a great source of protein and adding some fruit is a good source of carbs for energy too. You could also try a small handful of dried fruit with your yoghurt to provide a quicker spike in your blood sugars and energy. Dried fruit is higher in sugar than fresh fruit and should be used cautiously, especially if you are watching your blood sugars for health reasons. If this is the case, you can add a portion of fresh fruit instead.

4. Banana or Grapes

pre workout foods

Both these fruits tend to increase your blood sugars slightly more than other fruit options. Eating either before your workout is the perfect way to boost your glycogen stores and increase your blood sugar levels.

5. Chicken, Rice & Vegetables

pre workout foods

A classic workout meal used by bodybuilders everywhere. The underlying success behind this meal is the combination of lean protein, a quality carbohydrate, and non-starchy vegetables. As explained above, all three foods having unique properties that will help provide your body with fuel during your workout and help with recovery afterwards.

6. Smoothies With Fruit, Vegetables And Yoghurt

Many of you may think that smoothies are really healthy, but they’re often rich in calories and sugar as most of the fibre is removed during the blending process. However, a smoothie can be a great pre-workout option that can provide you with a good source of fast-acting glucose. Just be mindful of how much fruit you add, try having 1 portion with some vegetable and yoghurt to get in some protein in as well.

pre workout foods

 

Take home message

There are also many other ideas of foods that you can have as a pre-workout and the list can be endless. These are just a few suggestions and the idea is that you focus mainly on carbohydrate and protein, so that you can take your workout to the next level.

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.


1 Harty, P., Cottet, M., Malloy, J., & Kerksick, C. (2019). Nutritional and Supplementation Strategies to Prevent and Attenuate Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage: a Brief Review. Sports Medicine – Open5(1). doi: 10.1186/s40798-018-0176-6.

 

2Arciero, P., Edmonds, R., Bunsawat, K., Gentile, C., Ketcham, C., & Darin, C. et al. (2016). Protein-Pacing from Food or Supplementation Improves Physical Performance in Overweight Men and Women: The PRISE 2 Study. Nutrients8(5), 288. doi: 10.3390/nu8050288

 

3Alghannam, A., Tsintzas, K., Thompson, D., Bilzon, J., & Betts, J. (2014). Exploring mechanisms of fatigue during repeated exercise and the dose dependent effects of carbohydrate and protein ingestion: study protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Trials15(1). doi: 10.1186/1745-6215-15-95

 

4 Hargreaves, M., Hawley, J., & Jeukendrup, A. (2004). Pre-exercise carbohydrate and fat ingestion: effects on metabolism and performance. Journal Of Sports Sciences22(1), 31-38. doi: 10.1080/0264041031000140536

 

Kanter, M. (2018). High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance. Nutrition Today53(1), 35-39. doi: 10.1097/nt.0000000000000238

 

6 Witard, O., Cocke, T., Ferrando, A., Wolfe, R., & Tipton, K. (2014). Increased net muscle protein balance in response to simultaneous and separate ingestion of carbohydrate and essential amino acids following resistance exercise. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, And Metabolism39(3), 329-339. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2013-0264

 

7 Ormsbee, M., Bach, C., & Baur, D. (2014). Pre-Exercise Nutrition: The Role of Macronutrients, Modified Starches and Supplements on Metabolism and Endurance Performance. Nutrients6(5), 1782-1808. doi: 10.3390/nu6051782

 

8 Kerksick, C.M., Arent, S., Schoenfeld, B.J., Stout, J.R., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C.D.,…Antonio, J. (2017) International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 14:33 DOI 10.1186/s12970- 017-0189-4



Lauren Dawes

Lauren Dawes

Writer and expert

Lauren is an English Literature graduate originally from the South. She’s always loved swimming, has discovered the power of weight training over the past few years, and has lots of room for improvement in her weekly hot yoga class. On the weekends she’s usually cooking or eating some kind of brunch, and she enjoys trying out new recipes with her housemates – especially since shaking off student habits, like mainly surviving off pasta. Above all, she’s a firm believer in keeping a balance between the gym and gin. Find out more about Lauren’s experience here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lauren-dawes-b4416aaa/


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