10 of the best foods to eat before a gym workout

Protein World's nutritionist Hannah Pendlebury selects the best foods you can eat before a workout at the gym

Pancakes are a great option before a gym workout Photo: Protein World

Speed up your performance and recovery by paying attention to the best foods and supplements during your pre-workout nutrition window.

Eating before a workout helps prevent low blood sugar, which can lead to light headedness and fatigue. That said, you don’t want to gunk up your insides before heading to the gym by eating greasy and sugary foods that add more to your waistline, which in turn may hinder your performance goals.

Eat a hefty meal before your workout and it’ll still be in your stomach on that heavy set of squats – and you’ll know about it.

Depending on the size and type of your meal your best bet is to eat 1-2 hours before your training session or snack 30-60 minutes before. The nutrients will be readily available to fuel your workout and you will have a head start on the post-workout recovery process.

Everyone is different however so you should experiment prior to workouts to determine what works best for you. It’s best to have a pre-workout meal that is relatively low in fat, moderate in protein and moderate to high in low fibre carbs. This is because fat takes the longest to digest, followed by protein, then carbohydrates.

Five of the best foods to eat 1-2 hours before your workout

1) Oats

Porridge contains oats which are a great source of energy Photo: Protein World

These are packed with fibre, which facilitates a steady release of carbohydrates into your bloodstream, keeping your energy levels consistent during your workout. Oats also contain B vitamins which helps convert carbohydrates into energy. Consume 50g of rolled or steel cut oats one hour before your workout.

2) Fruit smoothie

A nutrition packed kiwi smoothie Photo: Protein World

These are a great pre workout snack. Fruit smoothies contain high quality protein, can be rapidly digested and have the key combination of simple and complex carbs. The carbs from the fruit will break down quickly and the protein is used later to help prevent muscle breakdown. You can check out this nutrient packed kiwi smoothie here.

3) Protein pancake

These are packed full of slow digesting carbs, fibre, and a hefty dose of protein, making them the perfect energy boosting pre workout meal. Add berries and a dollop of greek yoghurt. Consume 1-2 hours before hitting the gym. Have a look at the recipe here.

4) Wholegrain bread

A slice of wholegrain bread is a great source of carbohydrates and fibre, providing slow release, sustained energy throughout your workout. Add some honey or jam for that fast acting energy boost or eggs for high quality protein. A perfect way to fuel your workout from start to finish. Consume around 45 minutes pre workout.

5) Chicken and rice

Quinoa is a great substitute for rice Photo: Protein World

If you’re working out after lunch or dinner you want something that will sit well on your stomach, providing a good amount of useable energy and protein, with minimal fat. The carbohydrates in rice help sustain energy production while chicken provides a rich source of protein which enhances muscle repair. You can substitute the rice for sweet potato or quinoa. Consume two hours before working out.

Five of the best foods to eat 30-60 minutes before your workout

1) Bananas

These are nature’s ‘power bar’. They are loaded with digestible carbohydrates that will provide you with useable fuel for a workout and are packed with potassium which aids in maintaining nerve and muscle function. Eat 30 minutes before your workout.

2) Apple and peanut butter

Besides boasting a healthy supply of protein, peanut butter is extremely rich in monounsaturated fats, vitamin E and potassium. Apples are easily digestible and fill up your glycogen stores to provide a quick burst of energy. Consume this palate-pleasing duo 30 minutes before your workout. Just slice an apple and dip in a tablespoon or two of organic or natural peanut butter.

3) Protein shake with added carbs/BCAA

Consuming whey protein, specifically branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), will help fuel your muscles and increases amino acid delivery and uptake by the muscle during training. Providing BCAAs to the muscles will prevent the need for your body to catabolize the muscle itself. Taking protein (specifically BCAA) prior training also increases calorie burning which is great for those that are looking to lose body fat. Add in some oats or a banana for the extra energy kick. Consume 30 minutes before your workout.

4) Caffeine

A tasty mocha protein shake Photo: Protein World

A stimulant that helps mobilize fat cells into the bloodstream, caffeine has been shown to increase workloads by decreasing the rate of fatigue and lowering the perception of effort as well as increase muscle strength, energy and focus. Add 1-2 tsp of coffee 15-30 minutes before working out or add to your shake. A great mocha protein shake recipe can be found here.

5) Dried fruit and berries

This is a great option if you only have a few minutes before your workout. The simple carbs from the dried fruit will provide you with an instant energy boost without weighing you down, while the berries fight oxidative stress during a workout thanks to their high ORAC value. Consume quarter of a cup of fresh berries, dried pineapple and apricots 15 mins before your workout.


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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard

BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge

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This article was last updated on November 11, 2018.
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