What to eat before your workout?

What to eat before your workout?

We take a deeper dive into how our bodies utilize macronutrients, how long the waiting period should be for a scheduled workout session, and what to consume before the scheduled event.

Article from Lindsay Martin, MS, RDN, LDN | 

There are many ways to invest in oneself, specifically improving skills, education, finance, career, health, etc. Health and nutrition are the topics of discussion, explicitly working out and what to consume before that event. Most people don’t consider a pre-workout snack and will eat a non nutritive snack that won’t benefit their needs. Moreover, the individual focuses more on nutrition after the workout. Hydration also plays a significant role during and after the pre-workout phase. Also, being cognizant of the waiting period before training is imperative. This paper will focus on nutrition and exercise in understanding the metabolism of how our bodies utilize macronutrients, how long the waiting period should be for a scheduled workout session, and what to consume before the scheduled event.

In the body, carbohydrates are “stored in the liver and muscle as glycogen.”1 Moreover, your body uses this as a fuel source during workouts and for the brain. Our bodies' glycogen reservoir in the number of calories equals 2,000, which equates to “90 to 120 minutes of vigorous exercise.”1 In terms of storing energy, our bodies prefer to use fats because of their storage efficiency.4 The body can use proteins as a fuel source, but it is not favorable as using carbohydrates. Hydration is essential as the athlete must get enough to drink to “minimize dehydration while not over-drinking.”5 The general guideline for hydration before the workout is to intake fluids 2 to 3 hours before the training.5 Also, “it’s suggested that 2 to 3 hours before exercise an individual should drink 17 to 20 oz of water or sports drink and 7 to 10 oz 10 to 20 minutes before exercise”.5,6 It’s important to get into the type of drink one should consume: water is the preferred source, sports drinks or lower-calorie sports drinks. Moreover, these sports drinks provide the athlete of any level with enough carbohydrates and electrolytes.

According to the ACSM, consuming food an hour to three hours before your workout is essential.1 Most individuals who are avid gym goers see value in eating after their workout to maximize their gains. Although nutrition in that phase is critical, pre-workout meals are just as vital because it “fuels your body for ideal performance.”2 Moreover, our bodies have an anabolic state which is muscle building, and a catabolic state which breaks down muscle. The body will not be in a favorable anabolic state after not having a pre-workout meal.2 Timing is critical to fueling the body before a workout. The ideal range is an “hour or two before training” from a proper meal.2 The longer the wait time, the more nutrients consumed will be gone.

Choosing the right foods to fuel the body is essential, so the body can perform at an optimum level and prevent catabolism.2 There are two sources of carbohydrates: complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates will provide the body with lasting energy, and simple carbohydrates will be quickly digested, ensuring “a quick burst of energy”.2 Protein will prevent catabolism, build muscle, and delay cravings.2 Fats have more units per gram compared to carbohydrates and protein. In addition, they provide more energy and “provide slow-burning fuel for longer sessions.”2 The aim is to consume “medium- to fast-digesting proteins and slower-digesting carbs”.2 A medium-digesting protein is consumed “within 3 to 3 ½ hours, and a fast-digesting protein is consumed “within 1-2 hours”.3 According to Eastman, examples of this are egg whites, whole grain bread, low-fat milk, oatmeal, chicken, yams, tuna, brown rice, ground turkey, and black beans.2 The one macronutrient that wasn’t highlighted as the goal to consume before working out is fats. This is because “fats delay food leaving the stomach,” which can affect consumption.2 According to Eastman, the only time it would be beneficial to consume fats is if the workout is “intense for longer than 90 minutes”.2 Below is a table referencing foods that burn fat and build muscle in conjunction with working out.



Egg whites (quick digesting)

Whole grain bread (medium-digesting carb)

Milk (whey)

Oatmeal (slow digesting carb)




Brown rice

Ground Turkey

Black beans

Table 1: Eastman’s meals to burn fat and build muscle

The macronutrients differ for each person based on size, height, and weight goals. Table 2 is not ideal for everybody but is tailored to the young athlete, preferably a college athletic male.

Below table 2 will highlight what a young athlete would eat for breakfast, morning snack, lunch, pre/post-workout snack, and dinner.7


Morning snack


Afternoon Snack (pre-workout)

Post-workout snack



Quest bar cookies and cream

Sliced roast beef

Isopure-banana cream

Peanut butter



Cliff builder bar

Slice of whole grain bread


Slice of whole grain bread



Dried fruit


Cottage cheese

Sweet potato

Liquid egg whites

Strawberry preserve


Table 2: meal plan for a day for the young athlete (college athletic male)

In conclusion, understanding the metabolic processes of our macronutrients helps individuals choose the proper nutrients and hydrate themselves before their workout. Moreover, waiting an hour to three hours to eat before working out is beneficial, so the nutrients consumed won’t be gone. For the pre-workout snack, pairing it with a medium digesting protein and a slow digesting carbohydrate is essential so the body has enough fuel for the workout. Also, it's not the best idea to pair your snack with fat because of its satiation effects. Lastly, creating a meal plan will differ for everybody because of height, weight, and personal goals. 

If you’re looking to make more personal goals for your nutrition and performance, let’s connect: 

LindsayMartinMSRD@gmail.com or message me @LindsayRDNutribolix


  1. DeSimone GT. What to Eat Before, During, and After Exercise. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal. 2018;22(4):5. doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000401
  2. Eastman H. What Is a Proper Pre, During, And Post Workout Nutrition Diet? Bodybuilding. Published December 17, 2021. Accessed August 29, 2022.   https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/what-is-a-proper-pre-during-and-post-workout-nutrition-diet.html
  3. Fast & Slow Proteins – Choosing Wisely for Maximum Results. Reflex Nutrition. Published January 15, 2015. Accessed August 29, 2022. https://reflexnutrition.com/blogs/community/fast-and-slow-proteins-choose-wisely-for-maximum-results
  4. Frayn KN, Evans R. The underlying principles of human metabolism. Human Metabolism. Fourth edition. Wiley Blackwell. 2019. Chapter 1. Accessed August 29, 2022.
  5. Rosenbloom. C. Food and Fluid Guidelines Before, During, and After Exercise. Nutrition Today. 2012;47(2):63-69. doi: 10.1097/NT.0b013e31824c5cb8
  6. Casa DJ, Armstrong LE, Hillman SK, et al.. National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position statement: fluid replacement for athletes. Journal of Athletic Training. 2000;35(2):212-224.
  7.  Build muscle with this diet for young athletes. Pinterest. Accessed August 30, 2022. https://i.pinimg.com/736x/27/b7/1c/27b71c6d81448a8287521b0bcd0e79d8--nutrition-plans-nutrition-diet.jpg

4D Healthy Living