The 5 Best Pre-Workout Snacks

Camille Freking, MS Translational Pharmacology and Clinical Research
The 5 Best Pre-Workout Snacks

Physical exercise is a cornerstone of healthy living. Exercise can help you manage your weight, reduce the risk of developing certain diseases, improve your mood, and strengthen your bones and muscles. 

The benefits of exercise aren’t limited to your body either, as physical activity can also promote positive brain health. The important thing to keep in mind is that a workout doesn’t start once you’ve entered the gym. It starts in the kitchen. 

The first step to a high-quality workout is ensuring that your body has a sufficient amount of energy and hydration. If you’re looking to increase your levels of physical activity, it will be important to pay attention to what you’re eating and when you’re eating it. 

Let’s look at tips for deciding what to eat before a workout and the best pre-workout snack ideas. 


5 Tips for Finding the Perfect Pre-Workout Snack

Before we review some examples of pre-workout snacks, it’s important to consider a few things first. The ideal pre-workout snack won’t be the same for everyone. Several factors are involved, including the intensity of your training, workout goals, and food preferences. 

For example, if you’re trying to build muscle, the ideal snack would involve high protein. If you’re trying to increase your cardio stamina, you can focus on getting enough carbohydrates. 

These are a few other tips that you can keep in mind when trying to find the perfect pre-workout snack: 

1. Keep the Carbs Simple

Carbohydrates are broken down by your body and turned into glucose (blood sugar).Glucose is the primary energy source for your body's cells, muscles, tissues, and organs. 

The pre-workout snack should include enough carbs to supply energy throughout your workout. Think of it like filling your car with gas before a road trip.

It’s important to know that not all carbs are created equal. You may want to avoid refined carbs as they’re essentially void of nutritional value. That means no pizza, pasta, pastries, or anything made with white flour. 

On the other hand, you also want to avoid eating too many complex carbs. Fiber can be an excellent tool for weight management, but it can be challenging to digest before a workout. It can leave you feeling bloated, cramped, and sluggish, so it’s best to stick to the simple carbohydrates in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.


2. Go Easy on the Protein

Protein is the main component of your muscles. The amino acids that make up protein are the building blocks in your bones, organs, skin, hair, nails, and teeth. 

Naturally, physical exercise will require a tremendous effort from your muscles and can leave them exhausted. While it may seem like consuming protein before a workout would be beneficial, the opposite is true. It is best to focus on protein after your workout instead.

The main reason to be careful with protein before your workout is that it’s a heavy and complicated nutrient. From a digestive standpoint, protein is very similar to fiber as it takes your body a long time to break it down. 

A little protein before you work out is fine. After all, there’s a reason whey protein shakes are popular in gyms. A little meat, some dairy products, hard-boiled eggs, hummus, nuts, or seeds are fine. You just don’t want to overdo it and walk into the gym with a belly full of steak. 


3. Avoid Exercising on an Empty Stomach

There’s a common misconception that working out on an empty stomach will jumpstart your metabolism. The truth is that fasting before a workout likely won’t boost your metabolism in any kind of significant way. 

It can, however, dramatically increase the odds of “bonking” (feeling lethargic or light-headed) during your sweat session. Getting exercise is enough to boost your metabolism and help you burn excess calories. It’s not worth risking a serious injury by skipping your pre-workout meal to boost it even more. 


4. Stay Away From High-Fat Foods

Fat is the second main source of energy for the body. In some ways, fat is a more effective source of sustained energy for your body and brain. 

Using fat to fuel the body is the entire purpose of the keto diet. The problem with using fat as a pre-workout snack is that it takes a long time for the body to digest. It’s more effective as a slow-burning source of fuel. A modest amount of fat (10 to 15 grams) is okay, but carbs should be the go-to energy source pre-workout. 


5. Keep an Eye on the Clock

Generally speaking, food takes about six to eight hours to move through your stomach and small intestine. The longer you give the body to digest, the more nutrients it will have to use. You don’t have to wait until the entire digestive process has finished. 

For best results, you can eat a small snack about two or three hours before working out. Try to give your body 30 minutes to start breaking down your pre-workout snack.


5 Foods To Eat Before Working Out

Now that we’ve discussed a few tips for finding the right pre-workout snack, we can discuss some specific examples. Remember that many factors will influence which snack you should eat, how much you need, and when to eat it. 

With that said, here are five foods to eat before you work out: 


Whole Grain Crackers and Cheese

Simplicity is the key to finding the perfect pre-workout snack; it doesn’t get simpler than crackers and cheese. A single whole wheat cracker contains 3.2 grams of carbs, 0.6 grams of fat, and 0.5 grams of protein. 

As a bonus, the cracker's sodium can help limit the number of electrolytes that you lose while you sweat and lower the risks of dehydration. You can add some low-fat cheese to give your crackers an extra kick. The extra protein and fat the cheese provides should ensure you’re properly fueled during your workout. 

Feel free to swap out the cheese for low-fatnut butter if you don’t process dairy well.


Instant Oatmeal with Fruit

Oats are an excellent carbohydrate for preparing your muscles for a workout. A single cup of cooked oatmeal will give you 27 grams of carbs, 3.2 grams of fat, and six grams of protein. 

The pre-portioned size is also very helpful for preventing you from overeating before you work out. Exercising on a full stomach can be uncomfortable and lead to cramping and bloating. 

Instant oatmeal comes in many flavors that can add a little spice to your snack. However, it wouldn’t be much of an issue if you wanted to add some dried fruit to your bowl. The potassium from bananas, in particular, can help prepare your body for the loss of minerals during your workout. 


Spinach and Mushroom Omelette

Eggs are one of the most nutritional foods on the planet. A single egg will only give you 0.6 grams of carbs but also six grams of protein and five grams of fat. A two or three-egg omelet should provide plenty of high-quality fuel for your muscles during your workout. 

The low-carb count is the only downside to eating eggs for your pre-workout snack. Since carbs should be the primary focus of your snack, you’ll have to incorporate a few more foods to boost the count. 

Spinach and mushrooms aren’t overflowing with carbs, but they’re a good start to building a well-rounded omelet. You’ll probably need to add some pepper, onions, and cheese to get the carb count to an ideal level. Then again, you could make whole wheat toast and turn your omelet into a sandwich.


Fruit Smoothie

The beauty of fruit smoothies is that they’re customizable. You can add any fruits you like if you monitor the fiber content. The liquid base you use is the key to building the perfect pre-workout smoothie. 

Soy milk, Greek yogurt, and even cottage cheese can be used as the basis for your smoothie. Each option can help boost your fruit smoothie's protein and fat content. You can add protein powder for an extra boost of protein as well. 

Another way to increase your smoothie's nutritional value is to add some granola, chia seeds, almonds, or flax seeds. Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of protein and healthy fats. Feel free to play around with your options and find the one that works best for you. 


Peanut Butter and Bananas

The last option is as simple as the first. The tried and true combination of peanut butter and fresh fruit is often all it takes to fuel an intense workout. 

Peanut butter is packed with a ton of protein to help with post-workout muscle growth and muscle recovery. Remember that you don’t want to eat too much protein before you exercise. Also, you can substitute peanut butter for almond butter, pistachio butter, or another nut butter if that’s your preference. 

You can add some raisins or chia seeds to your combination for an additional boost. If you don’t feel like this combo gives you enough carbs, you can combine it with a piece of whole-grain bread. It will not only make it easier to eat, but you’ll also boost your carb intake. 


Start Your Workout Right With the Perfect Pre-Workout Snack

Working out is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Following a well-balanced diet is the best way to ensure you get the most out of your routine. That’s especially true for your pre-workout snack. 

The five examples listed above should be enough to get you started. You also now have five tips for crafting your own snack. You'll likely hammer down your workout routine long before you figure out what to eat beforehand, but this guide can get you started. The path to a healthy lifestyle is long and winding, but the rewards are well worth the effort. 


The Golden Egg: Nutritional Value, Bioactivities, and Emerging Benefits for Human Health | PMC

Electrolytes: Types, Purpose & Normal Levels | Cleveland Clinic

Nutritional Advantages of Oats and Opportunities for Its Processing As Value Added Foods – A Review | PMC

Digestion: How long does it take? | Mayo Clinic

Peanuts As Functional Food: A Review | PMC

You Asked: Is It Bad to Exercise on an Empty Stomach? | Time

Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit | PMC

Carbohydrates | MedlinePlus

Benefits of Physical Activity | CDC

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