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Why, When, and What to Eat Before a Workout

What to eat before a workout and when you eat it has a major impact on how your gym session goes.

The reason you’re exercising is for the health benefits and the way it makes you feel. Pair that with healthy eating to maximize the benefits of your hard work. What you put into your mouth provides the fuel for your body, and if you eat the right substances before you exercise, you’ll have more of an energized pump. In this article, we'll answer why, when, and what to eat before a workout.

Why Eat?

Fuel

Even with the latest state-of-the-art gear, your workout can still be affected by hunger or lack of energy.  While some people focus on their calorie deficit, they may benefit from focusing on fueling their body correctly. To maximize your efforts, make sure your body has the energy and nutrients needed to function at top levels.

Obviously, everyone has different schedules: You may exercise soon after waking up and prefer not eating breakfast; you might feel like you don’t have time after work to eat before you start your workout; or you may have had a bad experience with eating too much or the wrong foods right before an intense session. Whatever your reasoning, we get it. Be careful though — your body is exerting a lot of energy and you may not have enough for the entire lift without some food in you. You might want to consider a small snack, especially if you start feeling weak or dizzy toward the end of your workout.

Hydration

Another cause of weakness and lightheadedness may come from dehydration. It is extremely important to maintain a consistent intake of water before, during, and after your workout. Otherwise, in addition to dizziness, you may get muscle cramps or other more serious symptoms. To best use the nutrients you give your body, you need hydration to keep your system flowing smoothly. Watch for the signs of dehydration throughout your day. Often, you’ll feel more thirsty than normal or your urine will turn a darker yellow. A healthy urine color will have a shade similar to the color of lemonade, or even better, be clear.

man working out in workout shorts

When to Eat

It’s best to eat a full meal 2-3 hours before you exercise so your body can absorb the nutrients of your food. This in-advance meal provides the main source of energy your body will use while lifting. If you eat too much right before your gym session you may get stomach aches or cramps, so it’s important to let your body digest the food properly beforehand. So before you switch from office wear to workout shorts, feed your body. Snacks can be eaten any time from 30 minutes to an hour before exercising. Since it’s smaller than a meal, it can be digested quicker. Examples of great snacks to eat before exercising are smoothies, granola bars, fruit, oatmeal, and crackers. A quick snack might be the best option to munch on in the morning before you trade in pjs for running gear.

What to Eat

Carbs

The best foods to eat before a workout contain carbohydrates, protein, and fat. But of the three, carbs are the best option. Your muscles have glycogen storage that is used up while exercising, and carbs break down the glucose and allow your muscles to have the necessary energy to get a good pump. Some meals that are high in carbs include whole grain pasta, beans, quinoa, lentils, and fruit, giving options for any time of day.

Protein

Not only will carefully choosing what you eat maximize your performance, but you’ll minimize muscle damage which may occur. Protein is essential for muscle protection and repair. If you take protein before you workout, your muscles will be provided the necessary component for quick and healthy repair. Protein increases the number of amino acids and the rate of muscle protein synthesis. Some foods that are high in protein include nuts, greek yogurt, turkey or chicken, hard-boiled eggs, salmon, brown rice, and milk. Be sure not to eat too much protein before your workout. In fact, it is considered more important to consume high amounts of protein after you exercise, but taking protein beforehand is also beneficial.

Fat

Fats are an energy source, which often comes as a surprise. Healthy fats are essential for a balanced diet. But because fats are digested slower than carbohydrates, it may be better to focus on consuming carbs. Some foods with healthy fats include avocados, nuts, and seeds.

man in jogger pants

To get the most out of your routine, take some time a few hours before your next workout to make a sandwich on whole grain bread, or an egg omelette with a side of sliced bananas. Then after your workout, slip on some comfort jogger pants and a classic long sleeve shirt and grab a bag of mixed nuts to snack on. You should be able to recognize the difference in your workout, and maintain the healthy and happy lifestyle you are working towards!

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