The 5 Best Pre-Workout Foods

Most of us know how important it is to get in the right amount of protein after a training session to help with the recovery process. Recently however, it’s been shown how important the a pre-workout combination of protein and carbs is for fueling your workout and stimulating recovery. It’s been suggested that nutrient timing is less of a concern, and that it’s more important to keep your muscles sustained with glycogen while retaining muscle amino levels to keep the body in a state of muscle building to help avoid muscle catabolism or breakdown altogether. That means eating frequently throughout the day – every two to three hours – to help sustain and maintain your hard earned muscle! Here are five foods that will help make sure you’ve got enough energy in the tank to make it through the toughest of training sessions.


The 5 Best Pre-Workout Foods

The body needs both fast and slow-digesting carbohydrates to make it through workout. Fast carbohydrates are delivered and used up by the muscles quickly, while slower-digesting carbs help maintain energy levels longer. Bananas deliver both simple sugars and slow digesting fiber. One medium banana packs 27 g of carbs and 3.1 g of fiber! Bananas are also high in potassium, which is something the body tends to deplete through sweat and muscle metabolism during a workout. Potassium helps maintain muscle and nerve function, so getting in a banana pre-workout will help maintain energy levels but also help improve muscle function. Add a banana to a protein smoothie, or chop it up into some non-fat Greek yogurt or a bowl of oats.


The 5 Best Pre-Workout Foods
Not just for your morning breakfast, this complex carbohydrate is slow-digesting and packed with fiber to provide long-lasting energy. Eating complex carbohydrates prior to your workout can help preserve muscle glycogen – which is the stored form of carbohydrate in the muscle. When muscle glycogen is retained, the muscles have more energy to power through longer workouts without falling short. One cup of oatmeal delivers 27 g of carbohydrates, 4 g of dietary fiber. The best thing about oatmeal – it can be eaten however you like it! Oatmeal can be eaten plain, added to a protein smoothie, or served up with your favorite fruit. It can also be added to pretty much any recipe from protein pancakes, to tuna cakes to meatloaf!


The 5 Best Pre-Workout Foods
Whey protein is a convenient supplement for helping you achieve your daily protein needs. Not only that, a scoop or two of whey before your workout can help ensure your muscle amino levels remain elevated during and after your workout. One study showed the consumption of 20 g of whey protein before exercise elevated muscular uptake of aminos by nearly 4.5 times over of pre-exercise resting levels during exercise, and didn’t return to baseline levels until three hours post-workout! Why is this important? Amino levels in the muscle are an indication of protein synthesis, or muscle building. When amino levels dip, this causes the muscle to shift from maintaining a positive state of muscle anabolism (building) to muscle catabolism (breakdown). In essence, the muscle starts to deplete itself for a source of fuel.


The 5 Best Pre-Workout Foods

You may not be aware, but Greek Yogurt is nothing more than strained whey protein in the creamy version. And just like Whey Protein, Greek Yogurt is also packed with protein with 18 g in a ¾ cup serving.  If you’re not a fan of eating plain yogurt, add a scoop of your favorite protein powder to up the protein content and change the flavor from boring to dessert-like deliciousness. You can also mix yogurt into a protein smoothie for added protein and a creamy texture, or add your favorite fruit for the perfect pre-workout snack.


The 5 Best Pre-Workout Foods
Many of us reach for a pre-workout product to help boost up our energy levels and get us pumped for the workout ahead. Caffeine is often one of the main ingredients those products use to get the job done. If you’re looking for an alternative to your pre-workout or left it at home, consider trying a cup of coffee instead. Coffee delivers as much caffeine as most pre-workouts, providing between 100 to 200 mg per serving depending on the brand and strength of the brew. But caffeine doesn’t just boost energy levels – it’s also been shown to improve focus, reaction time, workout performance, increase time to fatigue, increase metabolism and improve workout pain threshold.   If you need a boost and don’t have access to a pre-workout, sip on a cup of black coffee about 15 to 30 minutes prior to your workout to ensure you reap the performance and energizing benefits.



Aragon A, Schoenfeld BJ. Nutrient timing revisted: is there a post-exercise anabolic window. JISSN. 2013. 10: 5

Goldstein ER, et al. ISSN position stand: caffeine and performance. JISSN. 2010. 7:5

Tipton KD, Elliott TA, Cree MG, Aarsland AA, Sanford AP, Wolfe RR: Stimulation of net muscle protein synthesis by whey protein ingestion before and after exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2007. 292(1):E71-6

Lauren Jacobsen

Lauren is a biochemist with a background in sports nutrition and supplement formulation. Lauren has over 15 years of experience as a trainer, consultant to the supplement industry and nutrition expert. She is also the TV show host of "Body Fuel," a former competitive athlete and regular contributor to various fitness publications.

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