Top 6 Pre-Workout Snack Ideas

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Exercising on a full stomach is generally a bad idea. Bloating, cramping and a general urge to take a nap and digest can derail a workout. But if your stomach is rumbling and you are starting to feel a bit weak because you haven't had a meal in hours, your workout may also suffer. So just when, what and how much should you eat before a workout?

The key to eating before exercise is to make sure you have enough energy to fuel your exercise, without going overboard and consuming unnecessary calories. But running out of glycogen (the fuel that supports muscle contraction), may put an athlete at risk of bonking, or hitting the wall—that dreaded feeling of weakness, confusion, and extreme fatigue. Hitting the wall is actually pretty hard to do, and if it happens, it usually requires several continuous hours of high-intensity endurance exercise before an athlete is at risk of bonking.  Ninety percent of us will rarely if ever, experience this unmistakable feeling.

Most of us generally have enough stored glycogen in our body to easily fuel a 90-minute workout without needed to consume extra food. Water alone is sufficient for most workouts. But if you haven't eaten in several hours, and want a little something an hour before you exercise, there are some pre-workout snacks that work better than others.

6 Pre-Workout Snack Ideas to Give a Try

  1. Fruit Smoothie. The closer you are to your workout time, the less solid food you may want to consume. A pre-exercise smoothie could do the trick. Combine 1/2 banana (I prefer frozen bananas for smoothies), a handful of berries, 2 T protein powder, a few handfuls of kale and 1-2 C water in a blender and you've got a refreshing and satisfying pre-workout snack.
  2. Coconut Water. One of the most refreshing pre-workout snacks is a simple glass of cool coconut water. It's satisfying, filling and is full of easily digested carbs as well as electrolytes, such as potassium. 
  3. Almond Butter on an Apple. This is another filling and savory snack. It won't digest as quickly at the first two ideas, but it's a simple, go-to pre-workout snack.
  4. Fresh Berries with Cottage Cheese or Yogurt. Again, this will take a bit more to digest but will help power longer workout and keep you from feeling hungry until you can have a proper post-workout meal.
  5. Hardboiled egg and whole grain toast. This is a back to basics snack that is inexpensive and easy to prepare.  
  6. Chocolate Milk. This simple idea made the news a while back as a post-exercise recovery food that was as good, if not better than any commercial sports drink. With good reason. Chocolate milk has the ideal ratio of carbohydrates and protein to help repair muscle damage after tough workouts. It also provides a nice, simple, pre-exercise snack. Just don't go overboard with the milk—a pint could be plenty if you are doing a 30-45 minute workout.

The Bottom Line

Eating before a short workout is optional. There are many good reasons to avoid eating pre-exercise, and if you typically eat three regular meals and a few snacks a day, you probably don't need to worry that much about eating before a workout that lasts less than an hour. If, on the other hand, you have an unusual meal schedule, skip meals, or are a serious athlete in peak training, you may need to be a bit more mindful of what and when you eat before training. 

Take a close look at your daily routine, food habits, and meal patterns before you automatically consume extra, unnecessary pre-workout calories simply because you've heard that it's important to eat something before exercise. The reality is that most people won't require any special sports drink, energy bars or fancy power-boosting snacks before they head to the gym for a quick 45-60 minute exercise session. But if you are feeling hungry and haven't eaten in several hours, light and healthy snack like those suggested above may be all you need for a simple 60-minute workout.

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