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What should I eat before a workout?

Before you spend 20 minutes pumping iron at the gym or hauling your body up that park hill, feed yourself a little protein-rich snack first.

Research suggests that a protein fix before a workout could boost your metabolic rate -- and thus your calorie burn -- for a full 24 hours after you strength train.

Whether you use elastic bands, gym weights or your own body as resistance, strength training revs up your body's calorie burning from hours to days after a single session. And there are two reasons why: First, your body is simply working overtime to replenish the fuel -- oxygen and blood sugar -- you used up in your workout. But second, your body is also trying to rebuild the muscle broken down in the workout. And, as it turns out, a little extra protein may encourage your body to work even harder on that second part.

In a study done on exercisers, a protein-rich drink consumed 20 minutes before strength-training resulted in an 8% increase in metabolic rate -- and the increase lasted for a full day. But a carb-rich pre-workout beverage? It produced only a modest boost in calorie burn rate afterward -- just a 3% or 4% bump. All of which suggest that the extra protein in the first drink helped fuel a more powerful -- or extended -- muscle-rebuilding effort after the workout. So for extra calorie crunching, consider a little pre-workout protein fix, such as a slice of low-fat cheese, a hard-boiled egg or a few ounces of Greek yogurt.
Samantha Heller, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
According to registered dietitian Samantha Heller, what you eat before a workout should depend on factors such as time of day and how vigorous your routine will be. Watch this video to learn when and what you should eat before you exercise.


Kat Barefield, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
You need to fuel your brain and muscles with carbohydrates before you work out. Potatoes are loaded with carbs, and are delicious when transformed into a salad. This particular dish is also a great post-workout fuel-replenishing option.

New Potato Salad
Serves 4
  • 2½ pounds new potatoes
  • 1 large hard-boiled egg, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons non-fat sour cream
  • ¼ cup dill pickle slices
  • 1 tablespoonchopped scallions
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground tarragon
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Steam the potatoes until tender, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients and set aside.

When potatoes are done, drain and rinse under cold running water to cool. Cut into ½-inch dice and toss with egg mixture. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics
Eating too much or too little before a workout can leave you feeling sluggish or weak and cause stomach cramps. You may want to have a light meal prior to your workout. The time between your meal and workout will affect your choices. For instance, if you have a gap of three or four hours, you can enjoy any one of these combinations: a fruit smoothie with granola, low-fat Greek yogurt with cereal or whole-grain toast with nut butter and jam or honey. If you are exercising one or two hours after eating, keep your meal light.
Most nutrition experts recommend eating a meal low in fat and moderate in carbohydrates and protein approximately 400-500 calories 1-2 hours before exercise. 15 minutes before exercise a small meal of approximately 100 calories of mostly fast digesting carbohydrates may also be advised along with adequate amounts of fluids to stay hydrated.
Eating is necessary to fuel exercise, but it's important to time it correctly.

You should not eat within 30 minutes to an hour of exercise or they might experience discomfort.

By not eating close enough to exercise, your will not have enough fuel to make it through their session.

So here are a few of the foods to eat before a workout to ensure a properly fueled session:
  • Protein shake with at least 10 to 20 grams of protein, and 20 to 40 grams of carbohydrates
  • Cup of fruit yogurt
  • Glass of chocolate milk
  • Tuna or turkey sandwich
Please avoid these types of foods:
  • Fatty foods: Foods with a higher fat content can take longer to digest and can therefore make exercise soon after a meal more uncomfortable.
  • Trigger foods: Those with gastric reflux should avoid their trigger foods before exercise, whether it's alcohol or spicy food. Exercises that compress the abdomen will aggravate the condition.
  • Caffeine: Caffeine can dehydrate you and should be avoided before and after exercise.
Power up before a workout to ensure that you have enough energy. Eat a meal three to four hours before a workout and a small snack about an hour prior. This helps ensure the energy is in your muscles when you need it.

Plan meals with protein and carbohydrates: a lean deli-meat sandwich, cereal with fruit and milk or pasta with meat sauce. For your pre-activity snack, eat something low-fat and low-fiber, like a cup of low-fat yogurt or a piece of fruit.

Refuel afterward with similar food combinations, in portions that are right for your body size. And of course, remember to drink plenty of fluids.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.