Pre-Workout Snacks: What to Eat Before You Exercise

Written By: Leah Perrier, RD

Title: Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of Saskatchewan

Last Updated on:

Eating before exercise, as opposed to exercising in the fasting state, can improve performance and is a great way to boost stamina and endurance. So, stock up on bundles of energy by including a nutritious snack 30 to 60 minutes before your workout.

Why Snack Before You Exercise?

The purpose of a pre-workout snack is to:

  • Help prevent a low blood sugar which can wreck havoc on your energy level resulting in light-headedness and loss of concentration.
  • Top up your muscle and liver carbohydrate stores to provide lasting energy for the duration of your workout, and
  • Prevent hunger during your workout

Pre-Workout Snack Guidelines

Food preferences for pre-workout snacks will vary depending on the individual, type of exercise and level of intensity. For example, endurance athletes can often eat more during a long slow cycle when their heart rate is lower, than while running or training at a higher heart rate. Experiment with the following guidelines to help determine an appropriate snack for you. Choose a snack that:

  • Contains a sufficient amount of fluid to maintain hydration.
  • Is low in fat and fiber to facilitate gastric emptying and minimize GI distress.
  • Is high in carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grain bread, rice, pasta, and cereals to maintain blood glucose levels, and maximize carbohydrate stores.
  • Contains some protein for staying power throughout your workout.
  • Is low in simple sugars such as candy. They can send your blood sugar level shooting down, leading to a severe drop in energy.

The more time you allow between eating and exercise, the larger the quantity of food you will be able to eat. Allow more digestion time before intense exercise than before low-level activity. Your muscles require more blood during intense exercise, and therefore less blood will be available to your stomach to help with digestion. If you have a finicky stomach, try a liquid snack prior to your workout. Liquid snacks such as smoothies or sports drinks tend to leave the stomach faster than solid foods do and will be easier to digest. Choosing the appropriate snacks will be dependent on the individual. Some people have a tough time digesting anything solid prior to a workout while and others can munch on an energy bar during intense activity such as running.

7 Pre-Workout Snack Ideas

Here are some snacks that pack a punch to keep you energized throughout your workout:

  • A small bowl of cereal with a banana
  • 3/4 cup of yogurt with 1/2 cup berries
  • 1 bagel with natural nut butter
  • 1/2 cup trail mix
  • An English muffin with nut butter and honey
  • A smoothie made with milk or juice, fresh or frozen fruit, and wheat germ or flax meal
  • 3-4 fig cookies or a low fat granola bar

Remember the golden rule of eating familiar foods before a race or competition. This would not be the time to try something new! Trial and error during training will help you find the fuel that will work best for you.


athletes, healthy snacks, sports nutrition


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