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Healthy Living Blog

Information and inspiration to help you make a habit out of living healthy.

Ask the RDs: When and What Should I Eat Before a Workout?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

By Xaymara Gonzalez Adams with

Your body is like a car. It needs fuel to run and get you from point A to point B. You would never try to drive your car without gas, right? Well your body is the same way! Properly fueling yourself will help you get the most out of your workout and reach your goals.

Food gives us the energy we need during exercise, but it can also leave us feeling sick. So, people want to know: what’s the absolute best way to fuel up?

Like many nutrition questions, this one doesn’t have a cut-and-dry answer. Why? Because we all have different needs. What works for one person before a workout won’t always work for someone else. That’s where the Y's Registered Dietitians can step in to help clear up confusion!

When it comes to eating before a workout, there are two categories to think about: when you are eating and what you are eating. Here are some guides to help you discover what works best.

When to Eat Before a Workout

Timing is key. We recommend these general timeframes.

  • If you work out in the early morning: Your body hasn’t received any energy in a while, and it needs something to get it started. Eat a small snack 30 minutes before working out.
  • After a big meal: Give your stomach time to digest. Let your body rest 2-3 hours before hitting the gym.
  • In between meals: Your body could use a boost. Eat a snack 30-60 minutes before the start of a workout to give you the energy needed.

Tolerance varies. Remember, everybody is different, so everyone will have a different tolerance for food before working out. It will take a bit of trial and error, but keep at it until you find a time that works best.

  • For snacks: Start with the 30-minute mark. If you don’t feel well during the workout after eating an appropriate snack, add 10 minutes to your start time.
  • For meals: Start by waiting 2 hours. If you don’t feel well during the workout, add 15 minutes to your start time.

What to Eat Before a Workout

What you eat before a workout also plays a key role in how you feel and perform. The closer you eat before a workout, you’ll want your foods to be in higher carbohydrates and lower in fats.

  • If you are eating 30-60 minutes before: It is recommended that you eat a high carbohydrate, moderate protein, and low fat snack before exercising. (See examples below.)
  • If you are eating 2-3 hours before: It is recommended that you eat a high carbohydrate, high protein, low fat meal before exercising.
The two main nutrients you want to consume before a workout:
  1. Carbohydrates: Carbs are the body’s main source of energy, and they are essential when working out. Make sure what you eat is high enough in carbohydrates to keep you going until the end.
  2. Protein: This helps repair muscles and stimulate the production of new muscle. Make sure what you eat has a moderate amount of proteins to help maintain muscle mass.
Examples of suitable snacks:
  • Nonfat Greek yogurt with fruit
  • Whole grain toast and a hard-boiled egg
  • Banana with 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • Yogurt-based smoothies
  • Handful of nuts and raisins (2 parts raisins to 1 part nuts)

Hungry for more?

Have you ever wondered how to get your kids to eat healthier breakfasts or if it's bad to eat snacks before bed? “Ask the RDs” features our team of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists answering questions about all things nutrition, food, meal planning and more. Ask us other questions on Twitter or Facebook. We're all ears! 

YMCA of Middle Tennessee

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Nashville, TN 37203
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