Pre-workout eats mean serious business — you’ve got iron to pump, miles to run (or walk!), yoga strength-training poses to do, and high intensity exercises to activate all those hard-earned muscles — no wimpy bowl of sugary cereal or a donut is going to cut it. And skipping your pre-workout meal is even worse. Your body needs to be given fuel to produce energy and without quality fuel, your metabolism gets the message it needs to slow down to preserve what calories you do have left in your body or worse, try to eat away at your muscles when it runs on empty. This doesn’t just lead to a damaged metabolism, but also wreaks havoc on your blood sugar levels and ruins your performance, along with muscle maintenance. So give your body what it needs and your metabolism and workouts will both benefit immensely.
The Importance of Food Choices Pre-Workout
But pre-workout eats are important to customize in order to optimize digestion, energy, and overall performance. While a heavy meal might keep you full, it will also likely leave you with a tummy ache if you work out right after, or it might leave you tired and ready for nap. It’s also important not to overdose on sugary foods right before a workout, because though they’ll give you a quick shot of energy, refined sugars can also rebel against you through fatigue normally experienced 30 minutes later from a blood sugar crash. They’re also inflammatory, not something that’s going to care for your muscles. Your body needs quality fuel from amino acids (which will help stoke those muscle fibers and get them ready to roll), some type of whole food-based carbohydrate with fiber to slow down the release of sugars into the bloodstream, and a little fat to help stabilize blood sugar further.
If you’re doing a light workout, you want to choose just a small snack instead of a large meal, but if you have a long workout ahead such as a run, heavy weights, or a long session at the gym, be sure you eat something a little more filling.
Here are some great post-workout eats to keep on hand on a regular basis. These can easily be turned into meals when paired together or eaten alone as a quick snack; they all make top notch fitness foods.
Oats pack fiber, potassium, protein, and are usually digested pretty easily. Eat a small serving instead of a big bowl, and use almond milk instead of dairy milk to make these lighter on the stomach. Oats are also a great source of magnesium needed for energy, and can either be cooked or soaked overnight. Generally, 1/3 cup serving is plenty before a workout. Consider adding chia seeds, raisins, and some coconut yogurt if you want a more filling option. Or, turn them into muffins for quick eats on the go!
Also packed with potassium, B vitamins, and magnesium, bananas are a food you likely already love to eat pre-workout, which is a great thing. These fruits also offer fiber to keep your blood sugar stable, and they enhance blood flow to the muscles; it’s no wonder so many people consider them the perfect pre-workout food! Choose bananas that are slightly spotted which will digest easier and offer a sweeter treat. Bananas are also naturally energizing and calming at the same time to maintain a long steady stream of energy and good mood to boost your pre-workout motivation. Plus, they’re nature’s favorite travel food, as we all know.
3. Coconut Butter
This healthy fat is absolutely packed with benefits. Coconut butter is truly a miracle food when it comes to energy. Unlike coconut oil, coconut butter has more fiber, protein and enzymes to aid in digestion. It’s also great for low-carb eaters or anyone wanting a quick source of healthy fuel. Coconut’s fats are also digested quickly and easily unlike some other fats, so it won’t sit heavy on your stomach in a small amount. Two tablespoons is plenty as a pre-workout as a snack, or you could just add a tablespoon to your oats (or a smoothie) if you like. You can buy it or make your own; try a blueberry flavor for a fun flavor spin and a nice replacement to jam.
4. A Green Smoothie
Speaking of smoothies, green smoothies also make a great pre-workout treat. They’re not only packed with minerals, but also alkalizing nutrients that will prevent inflammation, such as chlorophyll and vitamin C. Choose a cup of greens, some berries, non-dairy milk, and a source of protein or carbs (oats, almonds, hemp seeds, chia seeds), and feel free to add in some flax seeds for fiber if you need it to be more filling. Keep your smoothie to a smaller serving though, so it has plenty of time to digest and won’t slosh around in your stomach before your workout; a two-cup serving is perfect!
5. Fruit and Nut Bars
Larabars made fruit and nut bars famous for pre-workout (and post-workout) eats, but you can make your own quite easily and much cheaper. Or, choose any other brand of fruit and nut bar on the market to eat pre-workout; most all of them are vegan, but check labels to be sure. Fruit and nut bars are a great workout food because they contain easy-to-digest carbs and fiber, along with healthy fats and protein to allow those carbs to digest more slowly give you a longer stream of energy. Dates are normally the fruit used in fruit and nut bars, but you can also find some (or make some) with figs, raisins, apricots, and even goji berries. Try These Raw Superfood Energy Protein Bars that would make great pre-workout eats!
6. Peanut or Almond Butter
Peanut and almond butter are both packed with protein, peanut butter having 8 grams per 2 tablespoons and almond butter containing 7 grams per 2 tablespoons. Many people just eat a couple tablespoons of these before a workout and call it a day, while others add them to smoothies, shakes, oatmeal, or a sliced banana for something more filling. These nut butters are also packed with magnesium, B vitamins, fiber, and potassium so they’re excellent foods for your muscles, brain, and heart.
Not into oats or trying to eat less grains? Try quinoa, the seed-like grain that’s packed with protein, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, and is even a complete protein source. You can either cook up a bowl of quinoa or use quinoa flakes to make your own pre-workout muffins, mixing them with bananas, sweetener, chopped apples or raisins, and baking them just like you would muffins made with oats. Or, add a few quinoa flakes to a smoothie to add a creamy texture just like you would with oats. Either way, quinoa is a great food to power you through a grueling workout and will digest more slowly than refined grains will.
8. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are one of everyone’s favorite pre-workout foods and there’s a reason why … chia seeds are a complete protein source, are packed with fiber, magnesium, iron, B vitamins, and they’re easy to use. You can stir them into anything, blend them up into a smoothie, or just mix them with some water as a pre-workout energy gel. These seeds were even used by ancient warriors for long battles due to their filling factor and punch of nutrition!
9. Hemp Seeds/Protein
We can’t leave out one of everyone’s favorite protein-packed foods — hemp seeds! You can use the whole seeds or protein powder form of hemp (ground, raw hemp seeds) by adding them to oatmeal, a smoothie, fruit and nut bars, or mix them into some coconut yogurt with a banana or berries. Hemp seeds are a complete protein with 13 grams found in 3 tablespoons. They also contain 20 percent of your daily iron needs in 3 tbsp. of whole seeds and 45 percent of your daily needs in 1 serving of hemp protein powder. These seeds are also one of the best plant-based sources of magnesium (45 percent of the RDI), fiber (9 grams), Vitamin E (10 percent), and chlorophyll to prevent inflammation. Check out why hemp seeds are every athlete’s dream food here for more benefits and recipe ideas.
Berries are a fruit everyone should keep on hand. Period. No matter what berry you choose from the most common such as blueberry and strawberry, to more exotic options like acai and goji, just get your berries in each day however you can. Pre-workout is a great time to consume berries because they add natural carbohydrates but also easy-to-digest fiber to stabilize your blood sugar. Berries are also anti-inflammatory so they can help nourish your muscles during heavy lifting or cardio. And let’s be honest, they’re also just a delicious excuse to add more fresh foods into our day however we can, right?
Give your body and workouts the best they deserve with clean, energizing fuel. No amount of sports nutrition supplement can provide what clean foods can. To re-fuel after your workouts, check out some simple tips for post-workout nutrition here, and be sure you talk to us in the comments below.
What’s your favorite pre-workout food for high energy and maximum nutrition?
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!
Lead image source: Raw Vegan Banana Hemp Seed Sushi Slices
Let’s try this Jonathan Paez
Jennifer Nicole Smith