Good Pre-Workout Snack Ideas

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Exercising on a full stomach is generally not the best idea. Bloating, cramping, and the urge to take a nap and digest can derail a workout. But if your stomach is rumbling and you are feeling weak because you haven't had a meal in hours, you might not perform your best. Learn the importance of a good pre-workout snack and some of the best foods to eat before a workout.

What Makes a Good Pre-Workout Snack?

The key to eating before you work out is to make sure you have enough energy to fuel your exercise without going overboard and consuming unnecessary calories. Not eating anything may leave you feeling lightheaded or weak, which can interfere with your workout or even lead to injury. While many people are fine to work out on an empty stomach, each person is different. Be sure to assess your own needs and feelings to determine whether you need a snack before you work out.

Keep in mind that most people have enough stored glycogen in their bodies to fuel a 90-minute workout without needing to consume extra food. This means that water alone can be sufficient for most workouts. But running out of glycogen, the fuel that supports muscle contractions, may put you at risk of bonking or hitting the wall, which causes weakness, confusion, and extreme fatigue.

Hitting the wall is uncommon among typical exercisers, however. Endurance athletes in long-distance races like marathons or cycling events are more likely to experience the bonk. For bonking to occur, it usually requires several continuous hours of high-intensity endurance exercise before an athlete is potentially at risk. To prevent the bonk, it's crucial to get adequate nutrition and hydration prior to exercise.

It's recommended to wait 2–3 hours after a full meal before you exercise. If you choose to have a pre-workout snack, wait 30–60 minutes before you work out. Opt for easy-to-digest foods such as carbohydrates and a small amount of protein to prevent cramping or stomach upset.

Good Pre-Workout Snack Ideas

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 are more effective than others. Here are a few snack ideas to try before you work out.

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, a handful of berries, 2 tablespoons protein powder, a few handfuls of kale, and 1-2 cups water in a blender and you've got a nutritious and satisfying pre-workout snack.

Coconut Water

One of the most refreshing pre-workout snacks is a simple glass of coconut water. It's chock-full of easily-digested carbs as well as electrolytes, such as potassium

Almond Butter and Apples

An apple slathered with almond butter is a filling and savory snack that provides carbohydrates, protein, and good fats. It won't digest as quickly as a fruit smoothie or coconut water, but many people find it can be a simple, go-to pre-workout snack.

Fresh Berries and Cottage Cheese

Try combining fresh berries with cottage cheese or yogurt for a quick and easy snack on the run. Again, this will take a bit more time to digest but will help power a longer workout and keep you from feeling hungry until you can have a proper post-workout meal.

Hard Boiled Egg and Toast

Having a hard-boiled egg on whole-grain toast is a super simple and filling snack. It's also a back-to-basics snack that's inexpensive and easy to prepare.

Chocolate Milk

Chocolate milk has the ideal ratio of carbohydrates and protein to help repair muscle damage after a tough workout and is often recommended by sports nutrition experts. It also provides a tasty, yet simple, pre-exercise snack.

Try not to go overboard with chocolate milk. Some experts recommend about 2–3 cups (500 ml to 750 ml) before you work out.

Do You Need a Pre-Workout Snack?

Eating before a short workout is optional. There are many good reasons to avoid eating prior to exercise, and if you typically eat three regular meals and a few snacks a day, you probably don't need to worry too much about eating before a workout.

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 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.

Most people do not require a sports drink, energy bar, or special power-boosting snack before a quick exercise session. But if you're hungry and haven't eaten in several hours, a light and healthy snack like those listed above may be all you need to fuel a 45–60 minute workout.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some good post-workout snacks? 

You should aim to eat about 30–60 minutes after exercise. What you eat after a workout should follow a 1-to-4 ratio of protein to carbohydrate. For this reason, many energy bars contain this ratio. If you prefer whole foods over an energy bar, try a bagel with peanut butter or low-fat cheese.

You could also have a smoothie made with milk, fruit, and nut butter, a banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter, a cup of fruit and yogurt, or an apple with cheese slices. For a savory snack, try pita bread or chips with hummus, scrambled eggs with whole-wheat toast and avocado, or canned tuna with crackers. Chocolate milk can also help minimize the potential for muscle damage. Of course, you'll also want to hydrate with plenty of water.

What are some pre-workout snacks for runners?

Runners should fuel up on carbohydrates and some protein before their runs. Choose apple slices with nut butter, a whole banana, whole-wheat crackers with string cheese, fruit smoothies made with milk or yogurt, pineapple chunks with cottage cheese, pretzels with hummus, peanut butter on a toasted English muffin or whole-grain bagel, hard-boiled eggs, a few dates, trail mix, or fortified cereals with skim milk. As with other forms of exercise, runners should make sure to stay hydrated with plain water or coconut water.

What foods should you eat before bodybuilding?

Bodybuilders should follow similar advice for what to eat before training. Options include rice cakes with peanut butter or sliced avocado, pretzels and string cheese, lean chicken or turkey breast, scrambled egg whites, whole fruits like oranges, strawberries, or bananas, dried fruit, trail mix, and oatmeal. You could also mix whey protein powder into a fruit smoothie for an extra boost to help stimulate muscle growth and aid in workout recovery.

A Word From Verywell

Having a good pre-workout snack can be a great way to fuel a workout, but it isn’t always necessary. Keep in mind that overall nutrition is just as important. When you emphasize a balanced diet with a mix of protein, carbohydrates, and good fats from nutrient-dense, whole foods, you'll have plenty of energy to stay healthy and go the distance. Remember that hydration is also essential. Make sure you drink plenty of water to replace any fluids lost while working out.

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