If you want to add an extra boost of power to your workout, take a look at what you eat before you hit gym. This list of the 40 best pre-workout foods keeps it simple and includes items you probably already have in your fridge. These delicious energy-boosting foods are tried, tested and scientifically shown to help keep your body going.
Trust me, giving your body the right food before your workout means your body will give you way more during the workout. As a morning gym-goer, I used to make the stupid mistake of going to the gym with little to no food in my stomach before an early-AM session (I know, I know…Not smart!). Since I started fueling up with the right pre-workout foods before the gym, I’ve been amazed by how much harder and longer I can train. Let the list below inspire you and try it for yourself!
1. Bananas: Bananas are like nature’s own candy bar—they even come with their own wrapper. Except instead of sugar, bananas are packed full of digestible carbohydrates and potassium. Potassium helps maintain nerve and muscle function, while digestible carbs boost energy.
2. Oats: Oats offer a great source of fiber, which offers a gradual release of energy-fueling carbohydrates into your bloodstream. Fiber also has some fantastic general health benefits, and has been shown to help prevent heart disease and diabetes—just an added bonus of this fantastic pre-workout snack!
3. Wholegrain bread: Chowing down on a slice or two of wholegrain bread ahead of your workout will give you the carbohydrate boost you need to maintain energy.
4. Wholegrain bread plus lean turkey: If you want to get more creative, add some slices of lean turkey to your bread for a carbohydrate plus protein double whammy. This kind of lean protein can help fuel your muscles, as well as the blood cells that are needed to keep the nutrients and oxygen flowing to your muscles during a workout. The result? A longer workout!
5. Yogurt: Greek yogurt—the real deal, not the sugar-infused mainstream stuff—is loaded with high-quality proteins. Protein is essential because it is a primary tool used by your body to grow and repair tissues. Protein is also useful because it takes longer to break down than carbohydrates. This means that protein continues to benefit your muscles during and after the workout.
6. Blueberries: Add some blueberries to your yogurt or oatmeal for some extra flavor. Why blueberries? They hold loads of anti-oxidants, which help combat cell-damaging free radicals in your body.
7. Yogurt Parfait: If you want to get fancy, you can whip yourself up a bona fide do-it-yourself yogurt parfait. Take your Greek yogurt and add blueberries, strawberries, and whole grain cereal—for crunch, as well as energy-fueling carbs!
8. Dried fruit: When you’re on the go, making something like a yogurt parfait isn’t an option. In these circumstances, opt for dried fruit. A mix of dried fruit including berries, apricots and pineapple will be high in natural sugars and fiber.
9. Hard-boiled eggs: Okay they don’t have to be hard-boiled but if you’re looking for another pre-workout food to enjoy when you’re on the go, hard-boiled is your best option! Eggs have a great amount of protein—specifically so-called “bioavailable protein”, which is the type of protein that can be effectively used by your body. Eggs are considered to be at the top of the totem pole when it comes to bioavailable proteins. Slice up your hard-boiled egg on wholegrain toast for a protein-carbohydrate combo!
10. Veggie omelet: If you want to take your egg preparation to the next level, whip up a veggie omelet. Add some spinach, which is loaded with nitrate, or some sliced mushrooms—which rival bananas for potassium count. In fact, a single Portobello mushroom has even more potassium than a banana.
11. Spinach: Remember Popeye? It worked for him! In all seriousness though, raw spinach offers a lot of nitrate. Studies have shown that nitrate can help boost muscle performance.
12. Sweet potatoes: With iron, fiber and Vitamin C, sweet potatoes are healthier than your average potato. This is also a versatile pre-workout food—you can bake it, mash it or even make baked sweet potato “fries”! These spuds are carb-heavy and nutrient-packed. They also offer electrolyte potassium that can help keep muscle cramps at bay.
13. Protein Creamcicle: Put a twist on this childhood favorite by blending orange juice, ice and vanilla whey protein to create a frosty pre-workout snack. Thanks to its muscle-boosting tendencies, whey protein is a favorite for those who like to lift.
14. Coconut shake: Shake up your whey protein routine by adding extra virgin coconut oil. Coconut oil is rich in medium chain triglycerides, which offer a high-energy fuel source for your body and also help prevent muscle loss—while also targeting fat!
15. Iced Coffee Shake: For a more grownup version of #13, try blending your morning coffee with ice and whey protein.
16. Almonds: These nutritionally dense nuts include vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The result? Almonds will help you build lean muscle mass while staying slim.
17. Fruit shake: Get the antioxidant boost of berries plus the potassium powerhouse of a banana plus the protein boost from Greek yogurt—all in one sip! Blending these ingredients together with ice makes for one of the best pre-workout foods.
19. Peanut butter plus apple: Slice up an apple and slather on a couple tablespoons of natural peanut butter. Avoid the sugar-infused non-natural stuff at all costs! Natural regular peanut butter has good fats that can help slow digestion and associated muscle breakdown.
20. Just a plain apple: The apple you’re slathering that peanut butter on in #18 is a good source of insoluble fiber, as well as phytochemicals, flavonoids and carotenoids—which help protect against cancer. There’s a reason for the saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”!
21. Fruit leather: Ditch the neon-colored “fruit” roll snacks of your childhood, and turn to the more nutrition-friendly adult version with fruit leathers! Fruit leather can be an easy low-calorie, low-fat snack to chomp down on before a workout. Look for brands that are natural and contain no added sugar. One all-natural fruit leather strip is the equivalent of a half serving of fruit. If you’re feeling super motivated, you can even make fruit leather at home.
22. Energy bars: This is one of the most obvious (and popular) among the best pre-workout foods. There are a lot of options so be sure to check nutrition labels carefully. Your best bet when choosing an energy bar is to find one with the most natural ingredients, low fat and low sugar content, and plenty of protein!
23. Peanut butter and banana toast: Looking back at #1, #3 and #19 on the list for this combo— bananas, wholegrain bread and peanut butter. Get a triple whammy that includes the benefits of all three of these foods for the perfect pre-workout meal.
24. Cottage Cheese: Cottage cheese is an excellent source of protein. Add fruit like blueberries to get your antioxidant boost! This is a perfect snack to enjoy before a workout.
25. Rice “con leche”: Try this concoction for when you have a long run or similar endurance-testing workout ahead. Mix cooked rice with milk, plus a sprinkling of raisins and a dab of cinnamon for flavor. Rice is considered a “slow burner” food so it will help keep you going over a period of time.
26. Wholegrain waffle with almond butter: Get a warm and toasty version of wholegrain bread with a wholegrain waffle—and slather on some yummy almond butter while your waffle is still hot for a deliciously melt-y treat! Almond butter is full of calcium, vitamin E and magnesium, not to mention protein and healthy monounsaturated fats. This makes it one of the best pre-workout snacks for supporting muscle building.
27. Veggie stir-fry: Throw together some tasty bell peppers, crunchy zucchini (which is chock full of Vitamin A) and sliced mushrooms. Remember, mushrooms are in stiff competition with bananas when it comes to potassium content, which maintains nerves and muscles!
28. Lean protein plus veggie stir-fry mix: Liven up your veggie stir-fry with lean protein, which helps keep nutrients and oxygen circulating throughout your gym session. Try lean turkey or chicken.
29. Salad: Too hot for a stir-fry? Try a simple salad to get some veggie-driven nutrients and minerals. You can add slices of hard-boiled egg for a protein boost.
30. Salmon: A slice of salmon on wholegrain bread is another great way to get some protein ahead of a workout. Plus salmon is known to have big amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and eating this flavorful fish increases enzymes responsible for fat-burning and decrease enzymes responsible for fat-storage in the body.
31. Trail mix: With the right mix of nuts, trail mix can be a great muscle-building snack. Throw together almonds, sunflower seeds, cashews and walnuts to get healthy omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and protein. Add cinnamon, light salt, cayenne pepper and chili powder for flavoring.
32. Sports drink: Staying hydrated before, during and after a workout is a must! A low sugar sports drink (try to find one that has less than 10 grams of sugar) offers electrolytes, which help your body’s cells work properly while you work out.
33. Sports drink or water with BCAA powder: Add Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) powder to your water or sports drink to help maintain muscle and tissue health.
34. Tuna on wholegrain bread: This is a healthy sandwich will get you through a hearty workout for sure! Like #4, this sandwich brings together energy-pumping carbs plus a lean protein.
35. Coffee: It’s been shown that drinking coffee before a workout can boost energy and give you a more intense workout, with greater circulation and increased muscle preservation.
36. Chickpeas: Season some washed, uncooked chickpeas with lemon juice. A quarter cup of chickpeas can equal up to 10 grams of protein, 30 grams of carbs and 9 grams of fiber.
37. Fruit cup: Skip the yogurt and simply slice up some of your favorite fruits for a pre-workout fruit cup.
38. Chicken breast and brown rice: If you have time to cook up a real meal, this is a go-to classic. Chicken breast gives you that lean protein that will help fuel muscles. Brown rice is carbohydrate-heavy and will provide your body with lasting energy.
39. Cottage cheese crunch: For an even sweeter take on #24 from this list of the best workout foods, take cottage cheese and add honey, whole-grain cereal and a sprinkling of cinnamon. This tasty treat will motivate even the laziest gym-goer!
40. Green smoothie: Green smoothies make a great pre-workout treat! Choose some berries, a cup of greens, and add in some flax seeds if you need it to be more filling. Green smoothies are packed with minerals and alkalizing nutrients.
41. Buckwheat: A wholegrain, low GI and composed of starch, fat and protein, that will give you the energy to burn whether you’re lifting heavy or running fast. Cook it on a stove top, then mix in a tablespoon of butter for some flavor. Add salt to taste.
42. Green tea: A cup of green tea is as good as a cup of coffee before a workout. It’ll give you a boost and help you work harder. Green tea is rich in antioxidants too.
43. Honey: Mainly made up of fructose, honey is a natural sugar and carbohydrate. Slide a teaspoon of honey over a piece of crispbread.
44. Wrap with almond butter: A combination of protein, carbohydrates and fat to get you working out to the next level. Almond butter is a healthier alternative to peanut butter.
45. Oat pancake: Grab some oats, grind them up, mix with an egg or two and make yourself a quick pancake before you head to the for the gym.
46. Pasta: Carbohydrates are your friends pre-workout and pasta is one of the best of them. Enjoy an entree sized pasta with a tomato based sauce and some protein like ground beef or turkey for a complete meal.
47. Bagel: Prepare a quick bagel with some cream cheese and a slice of smoked salmon. You’ll get your quick release carbohydrates and the fizz to get on with your workout.
48. Eggs on toast: Fried, scrambled, poached. Whichever way you like them. Eggs on toast are quick, easy, nutrient packed and perfect as a pre-workout meal.
49. Baked potato: Potatoes are packed with Vitamin B6 and potassium, and so much more. Bake them instead of frying, add a tablespoon of cottage cheese or sour cream, sprinkle with some chives and you’ve got a yummy snack before you hit the gym.
50. Baked beans on toast: Beans are often a misunderstood food. They’re delicious and nutritious, packed with fibre and protein, they ought to be a staple in your pre-workout meal repertoire.
51. Milk: It ain’t just for kids. Milk keeps your bones strong but did you know it’s also rich in protein and sugars that will give you more energy when you need it most.
52. Carbohydrate gel: While you want to stick to natural foods, sometimes you have to resort to gels. A carbohydrate gel is a good option pre-workout especially if you’re planning to go all out.
53. Jelly lollies: The purpose of pre-workout food is to give you energy to burn. You want to work hard, stay strong, and go the distance. As it’s low GI, a jelly lolly will give you a quick sugar hit to help you get through your workout.
54. Chocolate: Did you know chocolate contains antioxidants, magnesium, calcium and protein? It’s also a good energy booster before you start exercising. Just don’t go overboard with an entire block. Stick to 20-30g at most and opt for dark over milk or white chocolate.
55. Grilled chicken toastie: Protein, carbohydrates, both are required. A yummy toastie will satisfy your taste buds, fill your stomach and ensure you won’t run out of fuel during your workout.
56. Orange: Oranges are high in sugar which is great for fast release during a workout. They also contain folate, vitamin C and fibre. It’s the type of sugar that you want to consume giving you a natural energy boost.
57. Tuna sushi roll: Just one roll is all you need. Tuna is packed with protein and omega 3s. The rice will give you the carbohydrates, and the seaweed around it contains iodine which is good for your thyroid. If you can opt for a tuna sushi roll with brown rice over white. Brown rice is lower GI.
59. Pumpernickel bread & avocado: Pumpernickel bread is an excellent alternative to white bread. It’s a heavy and sweet rye bread that’s low GI and contains calcium and iron. Enjoy it with half an avocado and sliced tomato before your workout session.
60. Quinoa: Another low GI and versatile grain that is high in protein and carbohydrates. It’ll help with muscle repair and give you the energy you need. Cook up ½ cup of quinoa to half a cup of water and mix it up with either nuts and cranberries for a sweet meal or grilled vegetables for a savory alternative.
Something: Like I wrote in the intro, I spent years dragging myself to the gym every morning without fueling my body properly beforehand. It was torture! Once I finally got into the habit of putting the right foods into my body before hitting the gym, my workouts improved, as did my attitude to working out—I could finally enjoy it (okay not every second but more so than before!) So eat something before you hit the gym!
Fueling up before a workout will help you get the most out that workout. If you really want to take it to the next level, try some of the best pre-workout foods from the list above—and see how much further you can push yourself!