Pre-Workout Meals

Why should I eat before a workout?

If you eat before a workout, it increases the stored energy in your body and can increase your performance. This is even more true if your workout lasts for 30 minutes or longer.

When should I eat before a workout?

Most of the energy for exercise comes from foods that you ate several hours before. It’s best to eat your meal 1 to 3 hours before the start of your workout. Your stomach should not be full while you workout. In general, it takes 1 to 4 hours for your stomach to digest a meal. If you are nervous, that process may take even longer. Food in your stomach during a workout may cause nausea and vomiting.

You can have a liquid meal closer to your event than a solid meal because your stomach digests liquids faster. Experiment with the timing to see what works for you.

What should I eat before a workout?

The best kinds of food to eat are:

  • Foods high in carbohydrates, such as breads, pasta, fruits, or vegetables. Your body digests these foods quickly.
  • Foods that are a good source of protein, such as peanut butter, lean meat, or low-fat cheese

If you compete at all-day events such as races, swimming meets, or tournaments, plan ahead. Fast food may not be your best choice. Hot dogs, doughnuts, nachos, potato chips, and candy bars are very high in fat. Avoid or limit these foods before you workout – they will likely be in your stomach for several hours. It’s better to bring healthy foods with you to all-day events.

As you get closer to your workout time, decrease the amount that you eat and drink. Here are some ideas for what to have before you workout:

3 to 4 hours before you workout

  • Fresh fruit, fruit or vegetable juices
  • Bread; bagels; baked potatoes; cereal with low-fat milk; low-fat yogurt; sandwiches with a small amount of peanut butter, lean meat, or low-fat cheese
  • Up to 7 and one-half cups of a sports drink over several hours

2 to 3 hours before you workout

  • Fresh fruit, fruit or vegetable juices
  • Bread; bagels; English muffins with limited amounts of butter, margarine, or cream cheese; low-fat yogurt
  • Up to 4 cups of a sports drink over several hours
  • Protein that is easy to digest, such as a protein shake

1 hour or less before you workout

  • Fruit or vegetable juices
  • Fresh fruit such as apples, watermelon, peaches, grapes, or oranges
  • Up to 1 and a half cups of a sports drink
  • Protein that is easy to digest, such as a protein shake

Should I eat sugary foods before exercise?

Eating sugary foods such as honey, candy, or soft drinks right before exercise won’t provide quick energy.

If you are in an endurance event, eating some sugary foods (like energy bars, some types of candy bars, or sports drinks) 35 to 40 minutes before the event may provide energy (glucose) to your muscles when other energy stores have dropped to low levels. Having whey protein before and during exercise helps you recover faster and decreases muscle breakdown. Also, drinks that contain both protein and carbohydrates work better than carbohydrate-only drinks. Try different things to find out what works best for you.

Does caffeine help?

Caffeine can help decrease feelings of pain and tiredness, and increase the burning of fat. Like other drugs, caffeine can provide some benefits but too much can lead to problems. Higher doses can cause side effects such as nausea, muscle tremors, and headaches.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-08-20
Last reviewed: 2014-09-24
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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