ow often do you arrive at the gym after a hard day’s work on an empty stomach?
No wonder you lack the energy to move!
Because eating well at least a few hours before weight training or sport is important. Here are 12 quick and easy natural pre-workout snacks and the timing and composition of pre-workout meals. (Full details after the following infographic).
BONUS: Download these healthy, balanced and easy breakfast, lunch & snack ideas! This will allow you to create your own balanced menu quickly! Download them right here.
Table of contents
Benefits of eating before weight training or sport
When and what to eat to build muscle or tone up
Benefits of eating before weight training or sport
Some women tend to forget that eating nutritious food before exercise makes a big difference to their energy levels and motivation to get moving after a hard day’s work. Not to mention that you’ll also get the results you want faster! Specifically, you’ll have:
More energy during your workout
Replenishing your glycogen stores before a workout can significantly help your energy levels. If you are on a low carbohydrate diet, an intense workout can be very difficult to manage because your stores are low. Without this energy, you are more likely to burn out your muscles than build them up. This is why this type of diet is often not recommended for athletes and people who want to build muscle mass. Energy levels are also affected by your sleep patterns, hydration and stress.1
Better protection and recovery for your muscles
When you lift heavy weights and train intensely, your body is in its catabolic phase. This means that it can break down muscle tissue and use it as an energy source. A proper pre-workout, or at least post-workout, meal and certain supplements can therefore prevent muscle breakdown as well as improve muscle repair, recovery and strengthening.
Better muscle tone
Consuming protein before your workout can help release amino acids for protein synthesis during your session. By training intensely and eating enough, you will build muscle faster.
Your bodybuilding nutrition program, including a pre-workout meal, can make the difference between reaching your goals and staying on a plateau. Of course, there are certain criteria to follow, especially if you want to lose weight or at least keep it off. Here is some information to help you.
You will also need a good training program. Try the FemmeFit Program to get Fit, Firm and In Shape!
For a complete and personalized program on your health habits: check out my private coaching page.
When and what to eat to gain tone or muscle
To optimise your performance and build muscle, you need to eat. But what you eat and when you eat it also affects your results. (See examples of pre-workout meals and snacks depending on how much time you have left before training, below).
Carbohydrates: These are the quickest to be absorbed and converted into energy. The first phase of their digestion takes 2-3 hours, depending on the source. And, as they replenish your glycogen stores and give you energy, they should be the most important part of a pre-workout meal.
But be careful! You don’t want to fall face first into the maple taffy. Small jujubes or any other quick sugar will only cause blood sugar fluctuations! Result = a crash right before your workout…
Instead, choose low-glycemic carbs like oats, basmati rice, quinoa, legumes or sweet potatoes a few hours before your workout. Have some fruit if you need energy in the hour before your session.
If you are on a weight loss or muscle building diet, prioritise your carbohydrate intake around your workout. A little before and a little after to keep you toned while you lose fat.
Obviously, the quantities will also differ from those of a sports performance or mass gain diet.
Protein: Protein normally requires 3 to 4 hours for absorption. As it is also important for protein synthesis and reducing muscle breakdown, your pre-workout meal should also contain a good amount of protein.
Fat: It takes the longest time to be converted into energy, between 6 and 8 hours. Your pre-workout meal and snack should be relatively lower in fat. Unless you are doing a moderate intensity endurance session that will require more fat to be used as an energy source (cycling, jogging, long-distance swimming).
*Good fats such as nuts, seeds, oils and avocado can be eaten in small amounts. Avoid large amounts, especially from fatty meats or fried foods and desserts, which cause inflammation and require more time and energy for digestion.
Timing: Depending on how long it takes for the nutrients to be absorbed and digested, the best time to eat your pre-workout meal is about 2-3 hours before.
You don’t have to tell me… I know! Who has the chance to plan their meal before the gym so precisely?
Unless you always train at the same time and have a schedule that allows you to eat that full meal 2-3h before… time often flies! By the time you eat it, you may only have 1 hour left. Sometimes, an extra task at work delays you and your meal that was supposed to give you energy to move is now more than 5 hours old…
Well, don’t worry, it’s not that bad. A pre-workout snack can do the trick just fine. Here’s how:
2 to 3 hours before a workout
Normal protein and carbohydrate rich meal: Lean meat + carbs (basmati rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes or legumes) + vegetables.
In general, a meal around 400-500 calories should provide a good pre-workout meal if you are following a weight loss program.
Calculate 1/2 to 3/4 cup of cooked carbohydrates (basmati rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes) + 130 to 150g of meat.
If your priority is mass gain or toning and you don’t have any weight to lose, you can combine a larger meal (1 cup of carbs) with a pre- or post-workout shake with fruit.
For athletic performance, increase your carbohydrates as needed and/or take them during your training in liquid form. This can be the case if you are doing high intensity training of more than one hour or endurance sports; running, cycling, swimming… of long duration.
Examples of pre-workout meals:
Quinoa salad (1/2 to 1 cup cooked) with chicken breast prepared one of 8 quick ways + vegetables.
Ham and vegetable omelette with oatmeal (1/3 to 1/2 cup uncooked) with berries.
Spinach, avocado, red beans (1/2 to 1 cup) and tomato salad with 1 stick of tuna in olive oil.
Fish fillet with basmati rice (1/2 to 1 cup cooked) and steamed vegetables.
For more examples of quick and easy healthy meals, download more here!
45 minutes to 2 hours before a workout
If you have less than 2 hours to digest a full pre-workout meal, you may prefer to snack.
Easier to digest protein source + carbohydrates.
Examples of pre-workout snacks:
Hiking mix for an energy boost.
Handful (1/4 to 1/3 cup) of nuts with dried fruit (2 tbsp to 1/4 cup). Superfood blend: Almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, goji berries, cocoa beans, coconut shavings, dates or cranberries
Smoothies for a vitamin boost
Protein powder, 1 banana and berries with almond milk and 1 tbsp of almond butter. Or try this creamy green smoothie: In a blender, grind 1 tbsp creamy natural almond butter, 2 cups fresh spinach (well packed), 1 cup vanilla almond milk, ½ ripe banana, ¼ cup frozen pineapple, chopped, 1 tsp chia or flax seeds
Peanut butter and banana patty for indulgence
Plain rice cake or Ryvita style healthy crackers, peanut or almond butter if you prefer, it’s that good 😉 , banana and sprinkled with cinnamon!
Choco & Almond Protein Shake for your muscular side
1 to 1 ½ scoops of a good chocolate protein powder, 3/4 to 1 cup of almond milk, 1 to 2 tbsp of shredded coconut, 1 tbsp of sliced almonds
Greek yogurt parfait for the perfect snack
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt, 3/4 cup fruit, 2 tbsp to 1/4 cup healthy cereal and a few chopped almonds.
Cottage cheese & avocado for a high protein snack
Cottage cheese, avocado, tomato, on healthy toast or plain rice cakes.
Tuna on crackers because a can of tuna is a good thing!
A small can of tuna on a whole grain pita.
Apple, nuts and low-fat cheese for a simple snack
30-45g of low fat cheese (allegro) with 10-12 whole nuts and an apple.
Avocado & chocolate pudding for your sweet tooth
See the recipe here.
1/3 to 1/2 cup (uncooked) oatmeal with 1 scoop of protein, 1/2 banana or an apple and almond pieces, cinnamon.
Hummus & vegetables to eat more vegetables
Vegetables of your choice, hummus as natural as possible!
Protein bar made from natural ingredients. Not the bars that look like an Oh Henry bar!
Less than 45 minutes before a workout
This can be the case if:
You work out early in the morning,
Your pre-workout meal was more than 3-4 hours late.
Also, if you are on a muscle building and fitness program, especially if you are having trouble gaining muscle, it can greatly help to add this snack right before your workout. Even if you have eaten for less than 3 hours.
Quickly digested sources of protein and carbohydrates.
Examples of pre-workout snacks:
A fruit (pineapple, apple, orange..) and 1-2 scoops of protein in water or almond milk.
A shake with fruit and protein.
Protein mocha shake: 1 cup of coffee and 1 scoop of chocolate protein (you can add 1 tbsp of coconut oil). Since this fat is digested more quickly, it is a good source of quick energy and taste).
A small cup of tea or coffee can always be a good option to combine with your snack or just before your workout. The effects of caffeine vary from person to person, but in general terms it acts as a stimulant to help:
So having an espresso (50-60mg caffeine) or a coffee (60-90mg) can give you a nice little boost for your session. But, BE CAREFUL not to take it within 6 hours of bedtime.
Of course, some supplements can also support your training. It all depends on your goal and your budget. The most commonly used are BCAA and glutamine for muscle growth and faster recovery. Creatine for muscle growth, strength, power and resistance to fatigue. Usually taken before and/or during.
What to eat after a workout
If you are unable to eat a meal within an hour or so of your workout, a shake (1 to 1 1/2 scoops of protein + 3/4 to 1 cup of fruit) can allow you to quickly assimilate protein and replenish glycogen. This will help reduce the energy loss that can occur after a session.
This shake should be followed (or can simply be replaced) by a good balanced meal 1 to 2 hours later (protein + fat) with carbohydrates depending on your goal or if you eat it immediately after your workout so don’t take the protein shake with the fruit.
Oh and, hydration is also a very important factor for better performance, energy, recovery and muscle health!