Figuring out what to eat before a workout can often be puzzling, but getting those nutrients in before a workout can make the difference between struggling through your exercise session and blasting through it. So what should you eat to get a rockstar workout?  And when is the optimal time to eat?  Well, if you are a casual exerciser, doing short bouts of exercise (20 minutes or less), or doing low intensity exercise, you likely do not need extra fuel before exercise.  However, if you are doing longer and/r more intense bouts of exercise, pre-exercise fuel is critical to prevent low blood sugar and fatigue, provide an immediate energy source for your muscles, and to prevent hunger.  All of that means that you can exercise harder, longer, and more effectively, AND burn more calories!

What to eat pre-exercise?  In order to fuel your body properly, make sure to follow the following guidelines:

  1. Eat a snack 30-60 minutes before your workout. Meals should be consumed 2-4 hours before exercise and follow the same guidelines, just in larger portions. Tolerance to foods and digestion time varies from person to person.  Figure out what works for you through trial and error.
  2. Hydrate!! Stay hydrated all of the time – check hydration status by making sure your urine is a pale yellow or clear (vs. dark yellow).  Drink 8-16 ounces of water 2 hours before exercise and another 8-16 ounces of water right before exercise.
  3. Choose a mostly carbohydrate snack. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel for exercise, and they empty from the stomach quickly.  Fueling with carbohydrate provides the body with both stored energy (glycogen in muscles) and immediate energy.  This nutrient also fuels and “feeds” your brain.
  4. Add a little protein for exercise >60 minutes. A little protein will help with sustained energy, building and repairing muscle tissue, and may help to reduce post-exercise muscle soreness.
  5. Limit fat and fiber in pre-exercise snacks. These foods take longer to digest and may cause stomach upset during a workout. Fat and fiber can be consumed if tolerated well – this varies by individual.

5 great pre-workout snacks

  • Banana or apple (alone or with 1 Tbsp peanut butter or 1 low fat string cheese)
  • Granola bar
  • 1 cup oatmeal or cold cereal with low-fat milk
  • Low-fat/non-fat yogurt with ¾ cup berries
  • English muffin with 1 Tbsp peanut or almond butter or an egg

* If you are a morning exerciser, try to get a small snack in before exercise for quick fuel. Fruit, a small glass of juice, and a granola bar are all good options. Happy exercising!


Written by Shana Maleeff, MA, RD, CDN. Shana is a Rise Coach and Registered Dietitian, living and loving life in New York City. Shana loves working. She also teaches group fitness classes. Want to work with Shana or another Rise coach like her? Get started at