4 Pre-Workout Nutrition Principles – The Why, How And What To Eat Before You Workout

By Athletic Preparation | Nutrition

Sep 06

One of the top questions, that I get from many of my clients and athletes is:

What should I eat before I workout?

Great question!

We are going to answer that question by explaining the following…

–          Why it’s important to eat before your workouts

–          How to approach your pre-workout feeding

–          When’s the best time to eat before your workout and what does my meal look like?

–          How to know what’s best for you


Why It’s Important To Eat Before Your Workouts?

What you eat before your workout is vital to achieving your goal through a high-quality workout…

It will also help with items pertaining to:

–          Maintaining your energy levels

–          Avoiding nausea during workouts

–          Fat loss

–          Muscle building

–          Mental clarity / focus

–          Intensity and adaptation of your workout


In order to achieve this, you’ll need to FUEL your training session, and the word “fueling” helps us think of it in a different light,

You are going to FUEL your performance and purpose whether it’s to lose fat, develop your athleticism or build muscle, you must fuel for success and it starts before you even step foot in the gym for your first rep.

Let’s think of it this way…

If you’re going to take a road trip, you want to make sure you have gas in your tank, right?

The same principle applies here…

You want to put your body in a situation where it can build lean muscle, boost your strength and burn fat.

You’ll achieve this by completing an intense and rewarding workout as long as you fuel for it because your body has demands and it needs the energy to perform!

You will feel the difference in your workout when you fuel appropriately before your goals.

How To Approach Your Pre-Workout Feeding

Stick to a combination of:

  1. Quick digesting carbs – 20-40 grams
  2. Quick digesting protein – 10 – 20 grams

So a 2:1 – Carb:Protein ratio!

For however many grams of protein you’re going to have, double the amount of carbs!


Carbs are the primary nutrient that provides the body energy, and can be broken down into two main categories:

  1. Simple Carbs
  2. Complex Carbs

Or they also may be known as BAD Carbs and GOOD carbs

I’d encourage you to avoid this type of thinking …

Good vs. Bad because there are times and places for both Simple and Complex Carbs and here’s the scoop.


Simple Carbs – Think SPIKE!

Meaning they rush readily available into your bloodstream and are ready to FUEL your workout / activity that is immediately ahead. 

Examples of Simple (SPIKE) Carbs are:

–          Sports Drinks

–          Donuts

–          Any fruits (bananas, cherries, watermeleon)

–          Potatoes

–          White Rice

Complex Carbs – Think CONTINUOUS!

Meaning they are slow and steadily used for long-term consistent energy throughout the day…

Examples of Complex (CONTINUOUS) Carbs are:

–          Vegetables (broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, peppers)

–          Whole grain oats

–          Beans

pop quiz

Do you need a SPIKE of carbs when you’re sitting behind a computer, going for a walk or watching Netflix?

Answer: No!

If we do choose to consume SPIKE carbs while we are inactive and they aren’t used.

From there they get packed away nicely into our fat stores and are hopefully brought out for another time to play and be used, but for now we’ll just wear our carbs around our waist, hips, thighs, and arms until we decide to do something about it.

Knowing that we are going to USE our simple carbs (SPIKE), we can stop hating ourselves if we eat them before we workout because we are giving the carbs a job and purpose, which is to fuel your workout of course!



Protein is the main nutrient responsible to BUILD lean muscles, help you become stronger and set fire to fat.

Choose a protein high in quality, full of amino acids and the digests quickly. This can be from a whole food sources or protein supplement such as:

–          Eggs

–          Chicken breast

–          Steak

–          Whey Protein Supplements

–          Greek Yogurt


Stick to 1 serving or roughly 10-20 grams of protein before you workout!

Typically, I’d try to stay away from dairy products before your workout because they tend to be slower digesting proteins as well as harder to digest.


When’s The Best Time to Eat Before Your Workout and What Does My Meal Look Like?

Let’s put a time frame on your pre-workout meal…

If you are eating 2 hours before your workout – eat more of a full meal: complex carbs mixed with protein

Examples of pre-workout meals are:

–          Chicken breast with brown rice

–          Steak and potatoes

–          Chicken salad and sweet potatoes

–         Protein smoothie with frozen fruit and spinach

If you are eating roughly <40 mins before your workout – eat more of a snack: simple carbs mixed with protein

Examples of pre-workout snacks are:

–          High-quality protein bar (FitJoy, Oatmega etc.)

–          Greek yogurt + your favorite fruit

–          Protein shake – frozen fruit and protein

–          Chocolate milk

–          Fresh fruit + whey protein in 6 oz. of water



How To Know What’s Best For You

This is where you come in!

But what we’ve found that something is better than nothing.

Make sure you do eat something before your workout (even if it’s not “optimal”) so you have fuel for your training program.

Lastly, we’ve found pre-workout nutrition is highly specific to YOU!

Everyone varies, so pay attention to what you eat before you workout and monitor how you feel and respond to different foods you eat beforehand!

–          Try eating 2 hours or 30 mins before

–          Some people can drink coffee before they workout, others can’t

–          Some people like apples, some people like bananas

–          Some people like smoothies, some people like water + protein

Do what makes you feel good, keep that consistent and crush your workout!

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