What To Eat Before A Workout For Best Performance And Reduced Injury

Medically reviewed by Kate Turner, RD, CSSD, CPT Kate Turner Kate TurnerRD, CSSD, CPT insta_icon
Written by , MSc (Biotechnology), ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist Charushila Biswas MSc (Biotechnology), ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist Experience: 6 years
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Pre-workout nutrition is the best way to sustain any type of workout. It can enhance your performance, reduce the chances of muscle injury, and accelerate muscle recovery. If you have ever felt a sharp pain in your abdomen while working out, ran out of breath too soon, or experienced soreness in your muscles the next morning – revisit what you are eating before a workout (or eating at all!). This article helps you understand what to eat before a workout, when to eat before a workout, pre-workout foods and supplements, and benefits. Swipe up!

Macro Nutrients That Your Body Needs Before A Workout

The main macros that our body needs are carbs, fats, and proteins. Yes, you need to avoid unhealthy fats and simple carbs, but otherwise, you need all the three to help your body function well. So, let’s see how these macros help you during your workout.

Fats – Not all fats are bad. You need healthy fats to fuel the functions of your body and maintain cell integrity and skin texture. When you go on long runs, walks, or do other low to moderate intensity endurance exercises, fats are the main sources of fuel. Endurance athletes burn more fat, and moreover, when you push yourself to do one more set of lunges/push-ups, you actually start burning fat instead of recruiting carbs (or glucose) as a source of fuel (1).

Carbs – Carbs are mainly used when you do high-intensity sprint-type exercise and high-intensity endurance exercise. The first source of fuel that your body recruits are carbs in the form of glucose. Glucose is transported through the blood to the muscles and liver to be stored as glycogen. Glycogen is broken down into glucose whenever the body needs fuel. When you do not consume enough carbs, your muscles or liver will not have enough glycogen to convert into glucose. This is when you may start to feel weak and worn out quicker than usual. Consuming carbs as a part of pre-workout nutrition is a necessary step to most workouts (2).

Proteins – Proteins help in muscle recovery and prevent muscle injury. So, when you consume protein as part of your pre-workout nutrition, you are more likely to recover faster and build more muscle tone. Protein synthesis is upregulated by the consumption of carbs and fats. Depleted levels of any one of these two can hamper protein synthesis (3). Also, when you consume protein before exercise, it can increase muscle strength (4).

So, it is evident that you need all three of them. But in what quantities? Well, scientists have figured it out. And now, you will! Scroll down.

What Percent Of Macros Do You Need?

Whether it is an endurance exercise or a high-intensity one, you need to maintain the number of carbs, proteins, and fats you consume for optimum functioning of your bones, muscles, and brain. As mentioned above, you require fats to fuel light to moderate endurance exercises, carbs for high-intensity exercises, and protein for muscle strength and recovery. But you must maintain a percent or a balanced quantity of each macronutrient. Scientists have found that 30% carbs, 30% fat, 20% protein, and the rest 20% distributed amongst the three macros, depending on the type of exercise (endurance or high intensity), can help improve exercise performance (5).

The next big question is, how many hours before your workout should you consume the macros? As they say, timing is everything, and it holds true here as well. Find out what you should do in the following section.

Pre-Workout Meal – Timing And What To Eat

Timing Of Pre-Workout Meal And What To Eat
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When it comes to having a pre-workout meal, timing is crucial. And if you play by the rules, you will definitely see a change in your performance, productivity, and body composition. So, let me tell you what the pre-workout nutrition timing guidelines are.However, please note that everyone is different, and it is recommended to try out different meals/snack at different times while training.

  • Meals containing all the macros (carbs, proteins, and fats) should be consumed 1-4 hours before working out.
  • Snacks consisting of carbohydrates and some protein should be consumed 1-2 hours prior. A fruit or yogurt can be consumed 45-60 minutes before a workout.
  • The closer you are to your workout, the more simple your nutrition should be. You want to avoid high-fiber and high-fat foods, which can cause gastrointestinal (GI) disturbance.
  • You can drink any of the carb+protein drinks available in the market 30 minutes before the workout. However, make sure you talk to your dietitian to find out if this kind of drink is appropriate for your workout.

Now, let us see what you can actually eat before working out.

Pre-Workout Nutrition Examples 

Workout Starts Within An Hour Or Less

  • One banana/apple/orange
  • A cup of Greek yogurt and a peach
  • Black coffee and a multigrain biscuit

Workout Starts Within Two Hours

  • A medium bowl of oatmeal with apple slices or banana and pepita.
  • A piece of bread with a tablespoon of sunflower/almond butter.
  • Protein powder with milk and berries.

Workout Starts Within Two To Three Hours

  • Lean protein, sweet potato, and grilled veggies with toasted nuts.
  • Mushroom soup with veggies and rice.
  • One whole wheat flatbread, chickpeas curry, and sautéed/boiled veggies.

These are not the only options you have. I have listed out 10 foods that work best as pre-workout foods. Take a look.

What To Eat Before A Workout – 10 Best Foods

1. Bananas

1. Bananas
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Sweet and delicate, bananas are a great way to refuel your energy reserves if you have missed out the two-three hours or two-hour window of pre-workout nutrition. They are loaded with good carbs and potassium, are moderate in calories and filling, and give an instant energy boost. However, avoid eating a banana minutes before working out.

2. Protein Shakes

If you are always on the go and don’t have the option of consuming healthy protein-rich food that has an adequate amount of carbs and fats as well, you can bank on protein shakes. If you are in the two to three-hour window, add milk, banana, berries, avocado, and nuts to make a filling meal substitute. But if you are within the 60-minute window, just have it with milk and a handful of dry fruits.

3. Egg White Omelet And Potatoes

3. Egg White Omelette
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Egg white omelet is loaded with protein and is low in fat helping prevent any GI disturbance. Throw in some onion, tomato, bell peppers, and potatoes to have a protein and good carb-rich food before your workout. You can have it within the two-three hours or one-two hours window.

4. Chicken With Steamed/Grilled Veggies And Wild Rice

Steamed or grilled skinless chicken breast is a good source of lean protein, and wild rice offers a healthy dose of carbohydrates. Veggies are loaded with dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Add a good source of fat like avocado, nuts, or olive oil. You can have it two to three hours before your workout starts

5. Homemade Low Sugar Protein Bars

5. Homemade Low Sugar Protein Bars
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Stay away from the “low-cal” protein bars available in the market. They can be high in added sugar (in different and hidden forms) and may not be the best fuel for you. But if you are in the habit of consuming a protein bar just 30 minutes before your workout, make it at home. You can make low sugar protein bars by adding muesli, oats, nuts, seeds, honey, almond butter, milk, and coconut flour. Mix them, shape them, and bake or freeze them.

6. Greek Yogurt And Fruit

This hearty combo would be considered a meal. You can have it within the two to three hours window.

7. Oatmeal And Berries

7. Oatmeal And Berries
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This is a meal replacement. If you cannot find chicken or veggies and other lean protein sources in your kitchen, just have a bowl of oatmeal and berries. You can have it within the two to three hours window.

8. Smoothies

Smoothies are a great way to get ready for a high-intensity or high-endurance exercise. This is also a meal replacement option, and you can have it within two to three hours of working out. Or if you are in the one-hour window, do not have a heavy smoothie. You can make a quick smoothie by blending banana, milk, berries, dark cocoa or spinach, avocado, and coconut water.

9. Brown Rice/Boiled Sweet Potato And Lean Protein

9. Brown RiceBoiled Sweet Potato And Lean Protein
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Have this when your workout starts after two to three hours. Brown rice is a low GI grain and loaded with dietary fiber. Always have boiled sweet potato as it has lower GI than baked or grilled sweet potato and is a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Lean protein like tofu, mushroom, fish, and chicken breast will help your muscles recover sooner and prevent muscle injury.

10. Wheat Bread, Avocado, Ricotta Cheese

Have this two to three hours before your workout starts. Wheat bread is a source of good carbs, avocado contains healthy fats, and ricotta cheese is a source of protein. You can also have a piece of wheat bread, almond butter, banana slices, and a few melon seeds.

Apart from whole foods, you can also take a few supplements to amp up your performance. Here’s a list of supplements that can help you in endurance training and high-intensity exercises.

Pre-Workout Supplements That Really Work

Pre-Workout Supplements That Really Work
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You might have seen people using supplements to enhance their performance but never considered taking them yourself. But if you have set a goal to run and win a marathon/triathlon or want to participate in a sports competition, you may need to supplement your diet to help build the required muscle strength and recover faster. Here are a few supplements that can work for you:

  1. Caffeine The main sources of caffeine are coffee, tea, energy drinks, and pre-workout supplements. Its effect kicks in within 15-60 minutes after you take it and has been seen to improve performance (6).
  2. Creatinine Creatinine can help improve muscle power, strength, and endurance. And it acts by generating more energy molecules (ATP) in your body, thereby preventing you from running out of fuel to do the exercises with precision and energy. You can have 2-5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day. However, consult your trainer/dietitian before taking it as higher doses can be fatal.
  3. Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) – These refer to three amino acids – leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Scientists have found that taking BCAAs before and after exercise can help prevent muscle damage and promote muscle-protein synthesis (7). Research is still mixed, so please consult your trainer/dietitian before taking it.
  4. Beta Alanine – This supplement helps in both high intensity and endurance exercises. It helps reduce muscle weakness and soreness and allows improvement in performance and the ability to workout longer. A great natural source of beta alanine is beets, which can also be found as beet powder and beet juice.

Many times, the supplement companies use a combination of these supplements and other nutrients to give the muscles required strength and power. However, always keep in mind that supplements are not regulated by the FDA and may not contain the amounts or ingredients listed on the bottle. Always look for a third party certification.

Apart from foods and supplements, you also need the following.


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Yes, when it comes to improving exercise performance and endurance, hydration is very important. You must drink 1-2 liters of water 3-4 hours before working out or 8 ounces of water 15 minutes before working out and during. Dehydration can severely hamper your workout routine, so ensure you drink enough water.

Before concluding, let me remind you once again why you need to give pre-workout nutrition a serious thought.

Benefits Of Pre-Workout Nutrition 

  • Can improve muscle strength.
  • Can improve muscle power.
  • Can improve muscle endurance.
  • Can improve lung capacity.
  • Can reduce the chances of injury.
  • Can boost muscle recovery.
  • Can prevent muscle cramps.
  • Can provide you with more energy during your workout.
  • Can increase the effectiveness of your workout

It is clear that you need to consume balanced foods before a workout. Keep the macros, supplements, water, and timing in mind to reap the best benefits. So, get ready with your pre-workout nutrition plan and rock your next workout session. We hope that this article has given you a better idea on what to eat before a workout. Cheers!

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Kate Turner
Kate TurnerMA, RD, CSSD, CPT
Kate is a registered dietitian and personal trainer and has over 7 years of experience in the field of nutrition as a wellness director, private nutrition consultant, educator, and public speaker. She is passionate about improving people’s health by increasing their knowledge about nutrition and exercise.

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