When and what to eat before a workout

Pre-workout meal ideas

Are you wondering what foods to eat before workout? Here we have some pre-workout meal and snack ideas to ensure you   fuel your exercise correctly by eating the right kind of workout foods including important carbohydrates and fats.

The two fuels that the body uses during exercise are carbohydrate and fat; during high and moderate intensity exercise more carbohydrate is used. The body stores carbohydrate in small amounts in the liver and muscles, as glycogen; it is therefore important to make sure that the glycogen stores of the liver and muscles are optimal before exercise as they are depleted during training. The carbohydrate in your diet will provide some energy during exercise mainly from starchy snacks and sugary drinks that you take immediately before and during exercise.

The best advice regarding workout foods is to eat a meal three to four hours before exercise and have a small snack just before, ideally between one and two hours before your workout. So, if you plan to go to the gym at 5.30pm, try to have a meal (lunch) at 1.30pm and then a snack at 4pm.

Pre-workout meal ideas — foods suitable for 3-4 hours before exercise:

  • A small baked potato and baked beans or cottage cheese
  • Six crackers and cottage cheese followed by a piece of fruit
  • Porridge with a banana and a teaspoon of sugar
  • Rice with vegetables and lean meat
  • Pasta and sauce (for example: low-fat tomato and bacon sauce or Bolognese)
  • Two slices of toast, peanut butter and a banana
  • Two Weetabix and a small glass of pure fruit juice
  • A small baked potato with tuna and reduced fat mayonnaise and a fruit yogurt

Pre-workout snack ideas — foods suitable for 1-2 hours before exercise:

  • One slice of toast and jam
  • One small flapjack (oat bar)
  • One slice of fruit cake
  • A piece of fruit
  • Two digestive biscuits (graham crackers)
  • A fruit yogurt
  • A cereal bar
  • A small bowl of cereal 
  • A scone

Not only should you think about your food intake before exercise, but you also need to consider the fluid that you drink. Don't turn up at the gym or go for a run dehydrated, you should be fully hydrated prior to taking any exercise. Dehydration is easy to detect, when you pass water make sure that it is as clear as possible. The darker the color of your urine, the more dehydrated you are. Also, the frequency with which you pass urine can indicate whether you are drinking enough, if you only pass water once or twice a day it’s time to consider drinking more fluid.

So what should I drink when I am exercising?

When you are exercising for less than an hour; water or a hypotonic drink (a drink providing more water than carbohydrate) is the best to take. This is recommended for people who are at the gym or running for less than an hour.

If you are unsure about whether you have had enough fluid before you exercise, try to keep a ‘drinking diary’. This will help you remember to keep hydrated and maintain your fluid intake throughout the day before you exercise.

Comments (4)

  • squa25 'Perfect timing. One thing I struggle with is refueling after my LSRs. The 6mile run in the days after are hard because I don't have enough fuel at the ready. Need to take on more of those snacks you mention. '

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  • manipphysio 'Try Rego recovery from Science in sport. It really helps me following long runs and doesnt taste too bad either.'

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  • CescaMc 'Definietly should be doing this, nearly fainted after my run last night! '

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  • LisaBryant 'Help! I'm still kind of new to this long running...Sunday mornings are my time to be out straight after getting up, as it fits with the family and kids etc. But - what to eat/drink? If I'm waking up, and going out for a ~8mile run within an hour, what do I take on before that run?'

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