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Pre-Training Nutrition: Should You Eat Before Working Out?

eat or fast before workout

Are you having a hard time getting energized for your workouts? Or, maybe you’re hitting a wall in the middle of your workout.

If this is the case, you may find yourself wondering not only, should you eat before working out, but also:

  • What should I eat?
  • How much should I eat?
  • How soon before my workout should I eat?

These are questions we hear all the time.

Let’s face it—no one wants to feel sluggish at the gym, but you also don’t want to find yourself feeling sick because of a full stomach.

So what should you eat, and when?

In this guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about pre-workout meal timing and the foods you should eat before working out.

Table of Contents

healthy pre workout carbs

What is the Importance of Nutrition Before Exercise?

Is it best to eat before a workout?

In short, yes. But…

What, and when you eat will differ depending on your goals that day. Pre-training nutrition is specific to the type of workout that you have planned.

Are you trying to improve your cardio? Then you should probably avoid sugar because you’ll inevitably crash 15-20 minutes into your endurance conditioning.

Maybe you’re planning an explosive strength day, in which case, fats won’t be of much help because they’re slow digesting and won’t provide the intense energy you’ll need.

Pre-workout meals are beneficial and should not be skipped, but knowing how to make the most of your pre-training nutrition will help you achieve your fitness goals sooner.

3 Benefits of Pre-Workout Meals

We often get the question, “should I eat or fast before a workout?”

While some studies have shown a higher rate of fat loss during fasted workouts, there is research that indicates no difference in overall fat loss between people who fasted before exercising and those that ate before working out.

Don’t be fooled. Your body needs fuel to effectively work out, which is why, in this article, our focus is on eating pre and post-workout meals for optimum results.

So, what are the benefits of eating the right foods at the right time before your workout?

#1: Increase Performance

Going to the gym with no energy is never a good idea. A proper pre-workout meal will supply your body with everything you need for peak performance.

When you exercise your body converts glycogen into glucose. This plays a crucial role in muscle contraction.

By giving your body the right pre-training nutrition, you’ll reduce muscle glycogen depletion. What’s the best way to do this?

Carbs. Glycogen storage must be replenished with carbs so that they don’t run out.

#2: Prevent Fatigue

As you work out, your energy levels deplete, and your muscles can become exhausted. However, when your pre-workout nutrition contains the right nutrients, you’re giving your body the fuel it needs for optimum performance.

When your body has energy to burn, you can make every exercise count and avoid tiring out too quickly.

#3: Reduce Protein Breakdown

Not only do you want to gain muscle, but you want to make sure you’re maintaining those gains. For this to happen, protein synthesis should be equal to or exceed protein breakdown.

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are like the building blocks of protein. You can supplement prior to a workout, or find ways to source these amino acids through your regular protein sources, such as:

  • Poultry, meat, and fish
  • Dairy products
  • Soy products
  • Legumes; and
  • Nuts and seeds

When you saturate your muscle stores with protein, you prevent muscle breakdown for energy.

The Importance of Timing — When To Eat A Pre-Workout Meal

Now that you know why you should eat before you work out, let’s take a look at when you should eat before working out.

If you plan to work out in the morning hours, try to wake with enough time to finish breakfast at least an hour before you exercise.

If you plan to exercise within an hour of breakfast, then focus on eating a light snack consisting of carbs (for energy) such as:

  • A banana
  • Granola or cereal
  • Whole grain toast
  • A glass of juice or a sports drink

Portion size matters. If you’re working out later in the day, consider these simple rules:

  • Large meals should be eaten 2-3 hours prior to working out.
  • Small meals or snacks should be consumed 1-2 hours prior to a workout.
  • Snacks for quick energy should be eaten 30-60 minutes before exercise.

You want the right amount of energy to get the most out of your workout and eating too much can leave you feeling sluggish.

should you eat before working out

Best Pre-Workout Fuel Depending On Your Workout

The internet is full of contradicting information regarding what you should eat before—and after—your workout.

So, what should you eat before working out?

That depends on the workout.

Our goal at In Motion O.C. is to break things down simply, so that no matter what type of workout you have planned, you’ll know exactly what kind of fuel you need to feel strong for the duration.

The worst mistake you can make as a beginner, or even a professional athlete is to deny your body the nutrients it needs to succeed.

Whether your goal is to improve your endurance or put on some serious muscle mass, your body needs to be properly fueled.

Strength Training

If your workout involves explosive movements such as…

  • Sprints
  • Jumps
  • Heavy lifting
  • Quick turns
  • hitting/pitching a baseball

…then healthy pre-workout carbs are the solution for you to give you the bursts of energy needed for power movements.

Best Foods To Eat Before A Workout to Build Muscle

A good pre-workout meal for strength and muscle building will consist of both quick and slow carbs.

Quick carbs are derived from simple sugars that digest quickly and give you immediate energy.

Before your strength training workout, consume quick carbs such as:

  • Fruits
  • Juice or a sports drink
  • Honey

Slow carbs digest slower and provide long-lasting energy.

Eat these slow carbs before your strength workout:

  • Oats
  • Whole grains
  • Beans

Endurance Training

You don’t have to be training for a marathon to include endurance training in your weekly workout schedule.

Endurance workouts consist of…

  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Aerobics; and
  • Jogging

Consuming healthy fats prior to your cardio days will help to sustain your energy levels for a long, slow, burn.

Best Foods To Eat Before A Cardio Workout

At least an hour before hitting the treadmill, taking that cardio kickboxing class, or hopping on your mountain bike for a trail ride, try one of these healthy, slow-digesting fats for some long-lasting energy:

  • Avocado
  • Nuts or seeds
  • Salmon

eat or fast before workout

Protein As A Pre-Workout Meal — It’s A No-Go

Protein, unlike fat and carbs, is not the greatest source of energy for your training needs.

As the builder macro involved in the construction and maintenance of pretty much every cell in your body, including muscle, protein does not provide fuel as well fats and carbs do.

The best time to consume protein is after a workout to protect your muscle mass.

The Importance of Post Workout Meals: The 3 R’s

Now we know that the question is not, “should you eat before working out”, but rather what and when you should eat before working out.

But what about eating after your workout?

Post-workout meals are just as necessary as pre-workout meals for three important reasons.


Post-workout recovery begins by refueling your body with glycogen (or carbohydrates) because they provide your body with the energy needed to adapt to and recover from the workout.

Refueling within 15 to 30 minutes is advised to allow for optimum replenishment of the muscles’ cells.


The next step to your post-workout recovery is to maximize muscle repair by focusing on protein and amino acids.

Even following a quick cardio workout, approximately 20-40g of protein is essential in muscle protein-synthesis rates during the initial hours following your workout.


Last, but certainly not least important, is rehydration. The body is 60% water and fluids are important, not only to regulate body temperature but also transport nutrients and energy throughout the body.

Replenishing sodium and rehydrating can alleviate post-workout symptoms such as muscle fatigue and cramping.

eat or fast before workout

What To Eat Post-Workout

Now you understand the importance of eating after a workout, but what are the best foods to refuel, rebuild, and rehydrate?


Protein should be prioritized as the main source of calories post-workout. When you work out, your muscles breakdown and dietary proteins help to rebuild and repair your muscles.

Your post-workout meal should include approximately 20-40g (depending on your body size) of high-quality protein, such as:

  • Meat
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Soy

In addition to your post-workout protein, try to consume the same amount another 3-4 times a day to maintain your workout results.


Carbohydrates are essential to recovery after any workout and should be included in your post-workout meal or snack.

During your workout your glycogen stores are depleted. The more you workout, the more you need to replace.

Adding carbohydrates to your post-workout nutrition will restore your energy and aid in your overall recovery.


Fat should generally be avoided directly after a workout as they don’t play a significant role in your recovery and can slow down the absorption of the carbs and proteins your body requires.

If your high-protein and high-carb meal contains some fat, don’t sweat it. But, also don’t worry about targeting a certain amount of fat for recovery purposes.


Replenishing the water lost through sweat as you workout is critical to your recovery.

Depending on the intensity of your workout you may lose an additional 200-300ml of water per hour.

In addition to the loss of water, your body also loses valuable sodium.

Replacing both the water and the sodium while you workout, as well as after, will ensure a smoother recovery.

Individualized Nutrition

Your nutrition needs are determined by the size of your body and your desired caloric intake.

A 150lb woman who is trying to gain lean muscle will have different dietary needs than a 220lb man who is trying to lose weight.

If you’re unsure what you should be eating before and after your workouts to achieve your goals, then you may want to consider working with a fitness coach.

Let In Motion O.C. Help You Figure Out Your Fitness Goals

At In Motion O.C., your goals matter.

We don’t want you to be left guessing what and when you should eat to reach your desired results.

Our fitness coaches specialize in individualized diet and exercise plans that fit your lifestyle and your schedule.

Not only are we dedicated to helping our clients look and feel better, but we also work to improve…

  • Posture
  • Flexibility
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Balance

…and prevent the recurrence of pain or injury.

Whatever your fitness level, and no matter how steep your goals, our fitness coaches will work one-on-one with you to achieve results efficiently and effectively.

Call us for a free consultation today and get started tomorrow.

eat or fast before workout

In Motion O.C.