Pre-Workout Snacks For Endurance and Resistance Training, Recommended by a Dietitian

Pre-Workout Meals

Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

Working out is good for your mind, body, and spirit. But nothing zaps the feel of your workout more than when you lack the energy to get through it. Stress and lack of sleep can make working out feel harder, but so will skipping your pre-workout fuel.

Deciding what to eat before your workout can sometimes feel like a daunting task. Should I drink a pre-workout shake? What about a protein bar? Though convenient, you don’t need to eat or drink a specially designed drink or bar. A good pre-workout snack should include nutritious foods you like to eat. It's also important to focus on eating balanced meals of throughout the day to boost glycogen stores and protein intake.

Read on to learn why you may need to eat before your workout, what your snack should include, and a few tasty pre-workout snack ideas. 

Why You Should Eat Before a Workout

Food is fuel for your body. Like a car, you can’t go if you have no fuel. Whether you’re going for a run or lifting weights, food gives you the power to push through your exercise routine.

Without enough fuel, your body can’t meet the demands of your workout, which affects your overall performance and reducing any potential gains. Not eating before you workout may make you feel weaker, so you can’t run as fast or lift as much as you normally do. Whether you want to improve endurance or strength, prioritizing proper nutrition before exercising can help you reach your goals.

Having a snack before working out may prevent you from feeling dizzy or lightheaded. Fasting before your workout means you have less energy (glucose) to start. Working out in this state may then burn through your glucose stores too quickly, causing your blood sugar levels to drop, which might make you feel dizzy.

Eating before your workout keeps you focused and supports your post-workout recovery. Lack of energy, weak muscles, and poor training because you skipped your pre-workout fuel may increase your risk of injury.

Benefits of Pre-Workout Snacks

  • Boost in energy
  • Prevent early muscle fatigue
  • Improved performance
  • Better post-workout gains
  • Lower risk of injury
  • Keep blood glucose levels stable
  • Faster recovery

Who Needs a Pre-Workout Snack

While it's beneficial for the general population to focus on balanced nutrition throughout the day to support overall energy, having a snack before a workout isn't necessary for everyone.

  • People working out for less than 60 minutes may not need a snack unless they are hungry or didn't have a complete meal within 3 to 4 hours before.
  • People working out for more than 60 to 90 minutes will likely need a snack; however, the composition of this snack will differ based on endurance training and resistance training.
  • For endurance training; carbohydrates are more important than protein.
  • For resistance training: a combination of carbohydrates and protein is key.

The average exerciser will likely have adequate energy from their previous meal or snack to fuel their workout. However, there are certain populations such as endurance athletes that may want to consider implementing a specific pre-workout snack into their routine.

What Your Pre-Workout Snack Should Include

What you include in your snack depends on when you workout. However, since carbohydrates are your body’s main fuel source, this nutrient is a must in any pre-workout snack. Adequate amounts of carbohydrates are especially important for physical activities that require endurance, like running, swimming, or playing basketball.

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, a pre-workout snack containing carbohydrates with protein may improve muscle strength and body composition. This is true for both endurance and strength training workouts. Consuming carbs and protein before you workout improves performance and lessens muscle damage.

However, the exact components of your pre-workout snack really depend on the timing between your snack and your workout.

It’s always a good idea not to eat too close to your workout. Or at least not a large meal filled with lots of protein and fat. Eating too much before exercising may cause a stomachache.

Snack Choices Based on Time

  • 30-60 minutes before your workout: If there’s not much time between your snack and workout, eat a high-carb, moderate protein, low-fat snack. If you exercise first thing in the morning, keep the size of your snack small.
  • 2-3 hours before your workout: If you’re working out later in the day, like after lunch, eat a high-carb, high-protein, low-fat snack.

When it comes to pre-workout snacks, you may need to experiment to find the foods, nutrients, and timing that work best for your body. There’s no single food or food group that works better as a pre-workout snack than another.

Pre-Workout Snack Ideas

Good pre-workout snacks should include foods you like to eat. Though convenient, you don’t need a pre-workout supplement to get the benefits of eating before exercising.

Pre-workout snack ideas include:

  • Banana: If you’re short on time and need a little energy boost before starting spin class, a banana makes a good choice. High in carbs and potassium, it supplies the energy and electrolytes your body needs to push through. Add a handful of nuts or a spoon of nut butter to get some protein and fat.
  • Low-fat chocolate milk: Though a popular post-workout snack, low-fat chocolate milk gives your body the carbs and protein it needs before your workout too. Chocolate milk is especially beneficial to those who work out first thing in the morning, filling energy stores and improving hydration. If you can’t tolerate cow’s milk, use a plant-milk that has about the same amount of protein as cow’s milk. 
  • Granola bar with at least 7 grams of protein: A granola bar is a portable high-carb snack. To get the protein you need for your workout, look for bars with at least 7 grams of protein per serving.
  • Whole-grain toast with almond butter: Whole-grain toast with almond butter has a good mix of healthy carbs, protein, and fat. Though any nut butter works, almonds have the most protein and fiber and may benefit those trying to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Pear and string cheese: Pears and cheese make a great combination as a pre-workout snack, supplying you with a healthy source of carbs and protein. Use low-fat cheese with at least 7 grams of protein per serving.
  • English muffin egg sandwich: An English muffin egg sandwich provides all the nutrients your body needs to get through a workout: carbs, protein, and a little fat. Use a whole-wheat English muffin for extra fiber.
  • Greek yogurt and granola: Greek yogurt with granola makes a tasty pre-workout snack. Plus, it’s packed with muscle-building protein and easy-to-digest carbs.
  • Overnight oats with strawberries and walnuts: Oatmeal is a great source of carbs but can take time to make, especially when using old-fashioned or steel-cut oats. With overnight oats, mix all your ingredients — oats, low-fat milk, strawberries, and walnuts — in a sealable container and let the oats soften in the refrigerator overnight. 
  • Turkey sandwich: A turkey sandwich is a simple and tasty snack or meal filled with protein, carbs and a little fat. 
  • Cheese, nut, and dried fruit snack pack: Pre-portioned snack packs help you get the nutrition you need without overdoing it. Try a pack filled with cheese, nuts, and dried fruit to fuel your next workout. 

Eating before your workout provides many benefits, but don’t forget to drink as well. Have a glass of water with your snack and drink water whenever you feel thirsty so you're adequately hydrated for physical activity.

A Word From Verywell

Working out is good for your body, but you may be doing yourself a disservice if you workout on an empty stomach. A pre-workout snack keeps energy levels up, hunger pangs away, and makes your workout so much better. Eating before exercising may help you workout harder or longer so you can achieve your goals.

Make sure your snacks contain carbs and protein to gain the most benefits. And, keep your snacks simple so they easily fit into your usual routine.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why are pre-workout snacks important?

    Pre-workout snacks are important because they supply your body with the energy it needs to exercise; however, not all people require specific pre-workout snacks. If you are exercising for long periods of time or did not consume a meal in the few hours before your workout, the energy from a pre-workout snack can ensure you hit peak performance. It also prevents muscle fatigue and dizziness and may lower your risk of injury.

  • When should you eat a pre-workout snack?

    Ideally, you should eat your pre-workout snack 1-4 hours before exercising. If you have little time in between eating and working out, keep your snack small with easy-to-digest carbs and protein.

  • How much should you eat before a workout?

    How much you eat before a workout depends on the timing of your snack and your workout of choice. In general, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that you keep your snacks to 300 calories or less. Note that some athletes may require more fuel to support their workouts.

10 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Jill Corleone, RD
Jill is a registered dietitian who's been learning and writing about nutrition for more than 20 years.