Whether you should eat before a workout is an ongoing debate. Some people believe in the benefits of fasted exercise, which — according to a University of Bath study — has been shown to burn more fat. But others can’t even function without something in their stomach, because in addition to providing you with fuel to burn, a healthy snack can preempt workout-killing lethargy, dizziness and nausea.
So, if you’re in the pro-eating camp, most experts recommend eating 1–2 hours before a workout. If you’re going for a light jog, a small ration will suffice. If you’re embarking on a 150-mile bike ride, you’ll want something more substantial. But in that case, you’ll also want to eat a few hours beforehand to give your body enough time to digest.
To find some good options for pre-exercise eating, we polled a handful of registered dietitians to see what they eat before working out. Their picks are light and simple and focus on energizing carbs — just what you need to fuel your workout.
So, before you hit the trails or head for the gym, try one of these energy-boosting snacks:
“I love a thin slice of whole-grain toast with unsweetened, roasted almond butter and a pinch of sea salt. The combination of whole-grain carbs, protein, fiber, healthy fats and sodium provides quick energy. I run early in the morning, so breaking the fast with just a few bites of something nutrient-dense is necessary to help jump-start my brain and muscles after a night’s sleep. Keep pre-workout snacks high-quality and limited to just a few bites so you don’t weigh yourself down.”
—Sydney Fry, MS, RD, writer and recipe developer
“If it’s a morning workout, I’ve got to have my coffee fix beforehand! A banana is really all I think I’ll need for extra fuel during the workout. Eating too much before any workout gives me stomach issues, so I try to avoid it.”
—Trinh Le, MPH, RDN, and blogger at FearlessfoodRD
“I make a big batch and freeze them so I can defrost a few at a time. One gives me just enough energy for an hour-long run, plus it’s portable so I can eat it in the car on the way to meet my running buddy.”
—Jessica Levings, MS, RD at Balanced Pantry
“I work out early in the morning and eat a rice-based granola bar with water as I am walking to the gym. The carbohydrates give me energy to get my early workout started. And since we all wake up dehydrated, drinking water before you start moving is important to prevent dehydration.”
—Amy Goodson, RD, a nutrition consultant based in Dallas, Texas
“I will typically grab a Kind or RXbar. I look for something with a combination of carbs and protein. On days when I will be doing more cardio/running, I make sure I am well hydrated.”
—Louise Chen, Dallas-based registered dietitian
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