Fueling your workout: The what, when, and why of pre-workout nutrition

Whether or not to eat before a workout is a question that has been debated for years. There are valid arguments to be made on both sides of the issue.

Benefits of eating a little bit before a workout

  • Provides energy for your workout. When you eat before a workout, your body has the fuel it needs to perform at its best. This can help you to work out for longer and at a higher intensity.
  • Prevents muscle breakdown. When you don’t eat before a workout, your body may start to break down muscle for energy. This can lead to fatigue and soreness.
  • Improves performance. Studies have shown that eating before a workout can improve performance. For example, one study found that cyclists who ate a carbohydrate-rich meal before a workout were able to cycle for longer than those who didn’t eat.
  • Reduces hunger. Eating before a workout can help to reduce hunger during your workout. This can help you to focus on your workout and avoid distractions.

Reasons why it is not wise to do a workout without eating

  • Low blood sugar. When you don’t eat before a workout, your blood sugar levels may drop. This can lead to dizziness, lightheadedness, and fatigue.
  • Lack of energy. Without food, your body will not have the energy it needs to perform at its best. This can lead to a shorter and less intense workout.
  • Increased risk of injury. When you are tired, you are more likely to make mistakes. This can increase your risk of injury.

Fasting before a workout

Now, here’s a question I always have in my mind. Is it better to be in a fasted state before a workout? Fasting before a workout is a popular trend among some athletes. However, there is limited scientific evidence to support the benefits of fasting before a workout. Some studies have shown that fasting can improve performance, while others have shown that it can have a negative impact on performance.

If you are considering fasting before a workout, it is important to talk to your doctor first. They can help you to determine if fasting is safe for you and can provide you with guidance on how to do it safely. In my opinion though, and from what I’ve read so far, I think it is better to eat a little bit of good carbs to fuel an effective workout. We’ll talk about what kind of food to eat down below.

Recommended foods to eat before a workout

  • Good carbohydrates – carbs are the body’s primary source of energy. Good sources of carbohydrates for pre-workout meals include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and yogurt.
  • Protein – helps to repair and rebuild muscle tissue. Good sources of protein for pre-workout meals include lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and beans.
  • Fat – helps to slow the digestion of carbohydrates, which can help to prevent blood sugar spikes. Good sources of fat for pre-workout meals include nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil. I need to note, that we must all avoid unhealthy, heavily processed fats such as vegetable oil which has a lot of harmful omega-6 fatty acids.

How many hours before a workout should we eat?

The ideal time to eat before a workout is 1-3 hours before. This will give your body time to digest your food and provide you with energy for your workout. If you are eating a smaller snack, you can eat it closer to your workout time.

Examples of pre-workout meals

  • Oatmeal with berries and nuts
  • Yogurt with granola and fruit
  • A banana with peanut butter
  • A hard-boiled egg
  • A protein shake

Tips for eating before a workout

  • If you are eating a large meal, eat it at least 3 hours before your workout.
  • If you are eating a smaller snack, eat it 1-2 hours before your workout.
  • Avoid eating greasy or fatty foods before a workout. These foods can be difficult to digest and can cause stomach upset.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout.

By following these tips, you can ensure that you are properly fueled for your workout and can perform at your best.

The decision of whether or not to eat before a workout is a personal one. There is no right or wrong answer. The best approach is to experiment and find what works best for you. If you are unsure of what to do, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian.


American Council on Exercise. (2020). Should you eat before a workout? Retrieved from 
Jeukendrup, A. E. (2014). Nutrition for endurance sports: Marathon, triathlon, and road cycling. Human Kinetics.
Volek, J. S., et al. (2016). Intermittent fasting and resistance exercise. Sports Medicine, 46(1), 127-141.

Hannah completed Stanford’s Introduction to Food and Health and is also a certified XPERT Pole Fitness Trainer.

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