The Best Pre Workout Foods
We’ve all experienced the pre-workout snack struggle at one point or another. Eat too much and that snack comes back to haunt you. Eat too little (or nothing) and you’re working at half capacity, dreaming about food, and not getting the most out of your session. While many of us plan our training sessions carefully, our pre-workout snacks don’t always get the same time and attention. Follow these basic guidelines to help you select the perfect pre workout foods to keep you going full throttle.
The Best Pre Workout Foods: Fuel Components
The best pre-workout foods for you should consist of a balance of proteins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates. The type of workout, duration, and time of day will play a key factor in the ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats.
Carbohydrates act like fuel for your muscles, providing energy for them to perform. It’s important to have enough fuel in your tank or your physical performance will decline. Once your body burns through its carbohydrate stores (glycogen) during a workout, it will start breaking down muscle and a little fat for energy. Your body’s preferred fuel source for your brain and muscles are carbohydrates so it’s essential to include carbs, and enough carbs, in your pre-workout snack. The harder you work, the more carbs you’ll need. Foods that contain carbohydrates include grains, dairy, starchy vegetables, and fruit.
Proteins help your body rebuild and repair itself. Many athletes understand that having protein after a workout helps the body move out of a catabolic state (breakdown) into an anabolic state (building), but having protein before the workout is beneficial as well. Having protein before your workout helps prepare your body to rebuild itself. This is because protein has had time to be digested and broken down into amino acids (your building blocks) before your workout ends. This results in amino acids being readily available and circulating in your system, ready to go when it’s time to start rebuilding.
Including plant-based healthy fats in your snack can help stabilize your blood sugar and provide a steady release of energy throughout your workout. Healthy fats such as polyunsaturated (including omega-3 fats) and monounsaturated fats are anti-inflammatory. Including anti-inflammatory foods in every meal, including your pre-workout snack, can help with circulation and lung function, and reduce pain, keeping you moving.
You could be consuming the best pre-workout foods but if it’s at the wrong time, it won’t matter much. Generally, it’s best to avoid eating right before you work out. When you exercise, blood moves from the stomach to your working muscle. A snack immediately before a workout may cause stomach discomfort. Plus, the competing demand between digestion and physical activity may decrease performance.
Aim to fuel your body 1 to 3 hours before you plan to work out. This is individualized based on how you tolerate food. Experiment with what’s the best time frame for you. If you’re working out early in the morning and/or don’t have the time, think light carbohydrate snack such as a piece of fruit, toast, oatmeal, or a glass of dairy or non-dairy milk. Eating too much will likely upset your stomach.
Type of Activity
A light activity such as a walk, gentle yoga class, or short 1-2 mile run doesn’t require much fuel. A light snack of about 100-200 calories should do the trick. Some ideas include: Health Warrior Chia Bars, non-dairy or dairy yogurt, or a piece of fruit with nut butter.
Hitting a cycle class, running for 5 miles, or taking crossfit class? A longer duration of exercise including HIIT (high-intensity interval training) needs more carbohydrates and a little more protein and healthy fat to keep your blood sugars balanced. Have at least 30g of carbohydrate and 10g of protein. Include more carbs if going longer than 60 minutes. Some ideas include: Health Warrior Chia Bars, 1 large banana and ¼ cup nuts or 2 Tbsp of nut butter, nut butter sandwich (add ½ banana if going more than 60 minutes), chocolate milk, Health Warrior Protein Mug Muffin, or a smoothie with 1 banana, 1 cup of blueberries, Health Warrior Chia Seeds, and Greek nonfat yogurt.
Going for the long haul? Backpacking, long cycle, 10-plus-mile run, or 4-hour game coming up? Test out your pre-workout snack or meal in advance for these longer sessions. It’s brutal when you’re motivated and ready to go long, but your stomach comes back for revenge in the middle of your long training session. It will be important to snack on pure simple carbs during an event that includes electrolytes. For these longer workouts, a good pre-workout meal and snack is vital to keep you from getting hungry during your session, and maintaining your blood sugar levels for your working muscles. Think heavier on the carbs with at least 60 grams and about 20 grams of protein. Give your body time to digest. You can have your meal 3-4 hours in advance, then have a light, mostly carbohydrate snack closer to go time. Some pre-workout meals include:
- Health Warrior Protein Mug Muffin, 1 banana, dried fruit, and 2 tablespoons nut butter
- 3 eggs with a large banana, 2 pieces of whole grain toast and jelly
- 1 1/2 cup rice, teriyaki tempeh, chicken breast, or tofu, green beans
- Smoothie: 1 scoop Health Warrior Superfood Protein Powder, 2 large bananas, 1 Tbsp chia seed, 1 Tbsp honey, 1 cup almond milk, and 1 cup blueberries
- Peanut butter sandwich on 2 slices of large bread, 1 large piece of fruit, and glass of dairy or non-dairy milk
Foods to Avoid
There are some foods known to be stomach upset culprits. These are best to be avoided in any pre-workout snack or meal. Foods and ingredients to avoid include: sugar alcohols (sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, isomalt), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage), large amounts of fruit juice, heavy creams, fatty meats, beans, and any other food you know you don’t tolerate well.
Your best pre-workout foods are individual to you and your activity. Set yourself up for success by experimenting with the many Health Warrior options and all the snack ideas in this article to find the perfect fit for your training needs.