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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Pre Exercise Fuel

I had a request from a Diet Dish reader to give advice on what to eat before a workout and what to eat after a workout. Today I will talk about pre workout and tomorrow I will post about post workout.

The main goal for eating something before a workout is to get energy for the workout. Since carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy, a meal or snack fairly high in carbohydrate makes sense. You can either have all carb, or a mix of mostly carb with some fat and/or protein along with it. The type of carbohydrate can make a difference, especially for a competitive athlete or someone trying to improve performance. For the everyday exerciser, the most important thing is just having something 30 minutes up to 2 hours before exercise (or right before if you can stomach it). If you are not competitive, what you eat isn’t as important as the fact that you are eating it. That being said, let’s look at what is optimal.

You want to go for something that is low to moderate in glycemic index (GI). You want something low to moderate so that you get sustained energy from it. A high glycemic food can come and go from the bloodstream too quickly and may even be gone before you start your exercise!

Examples of Low and Moderate GI pre workout snacks:

  • Most fresh fruit (apple, orange, pear, nectarine, plum). Grapes and bananas are slightly higher but also a good choice
  • Nuts
  • Trail mix of nuts and dried fruit
  • Oatmeal
  • Cereal with greater than 3 grams of fiber (Wheaties, Total, Cheerios, Kashi, etc.)
  • Milk
  • Most nutrition bars (look for at least 5 grams of protein and 15 grams of carb)
  • Yogurt
  • Veggies and hummus
  • Cottage cheese and fruit
  • Hard boiled egg
  • Whole grain crackers and cheese
  • Tomato or vegetable juice
  • Whole grain English muffin or toast and peanut butter or cheese
  • Half sandwich (ie bread, turkey, lettuce, tomato)
  • Whole grain fig cookies

A few things to consider

  1. Make sure that what you eat sits well in your stomach. You do not want to be “tasting” your meal or snack the entire workout
  2. Hydrate well with water before, during, and after exercise. Aim to get 16 ounces of water 1-2 hours before exercise of any type
  3. It doesn’t matter if you are doing cardio or weights, the important part of a pre exercise meal is getting glucose to the muscles
  4. You can eat something 2 hours before exercise or right before, depending on the quantity and how comfortable you are digesting the food

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About the Author


Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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