Before you hit the squat rack, you may want to hit the fridge. It might sound counterintuitive, but having a little fuel in your stomach could help boost your performance at the gym — although deciding what to eat before a workout can be a tough decision.
When you’re on the hunt for the best pre-workout nutrition, it’s vital to understand that your body will respond to foods differently than the person working out next to you. So, you should listen to your body when choosing pre-workout snacks.
That said, when it comes to deciding what to eat before a workout, there are a few golden rules.
This guide will show you how to build a pre-workout meal and which supplements might be best for boosting your performance. You’ll also learn how to create a few snacks and meals that you can eat before hitting the gym.
Timing is crucial when planning your pre-workout meals. Most people find that eating 30 minutes to three hours before exercise is best, but you’ll have to fine-tune this window according to you and your stomach.
If the thought of eating anything within an hour of hitting the gym makes your stomach turn, you may need to give yourself a full three-hour window between your last meal and an intense workout.
How long you give yourself between your pre-workout snack and go-time at the gym may also depend on your scheduled workout for the day.
If you’re prone to getting exercise-induced acid reflux, and you signed up for your favorite HIIT class, you may want to keep your pre-workout meal light (and lengthen the window between your last meal and your workout)[*].
On the other hand, if you feel dizzy, lethargic, or fatigued from working out on an empty stomach, you may want to shorten that window, eating roughly 90 minutes before hitting the gym.
Before diving too far into the nitty-gritty nutrition details, there’s one thing to always keep in mind when deciding what to eat before a workout: Listen to your body.
You could read every last fitness magazine on pre-workout snacks and fuel, but if you can’t stomach the thought of eating certain foods before your workout, then you need to find a different snack selection.
Building the Best Pre-Workout Snack
Before your workout, you’ll want to eat a small meal with protein, carbs, and healthy fats. Now, if you read that sentence with a quasi-horrified expression on your face (“What!? Carbs?”) understand this:
When you exercise, your muscles burn glycogen, or stored glucose. That’s why exercise can be a tool to get into ketosis initially — because it burns up all the stored sugar and carbs in your body[*]. By slightly elevating your blood glucose levels, roughly two hours before a workout, you may feel better (and perform better) at the gym.
That said, if you’re following a keto diet and cut out most carbs and sugar, your body is going to be pretty upset if you start binging on not-so-healthy snack bars before your workouts.
Introduce potential pre-workout snacks slowly and intentionally, experimenting with different options to find the “right foods” for you.
Remember, a pre-workout meal should include all three macronutrients: healthy fats to provide energy, protein to build muscle, and carbohydrates to replenish your glycogen stores. Here are a few options to try:
- An egg white omelet with spinach and feta cheese
- A cup of cottage cheese and some low-sugar berries
- A fruit smoothie with plain Greek yogurt, blueberries, and chocolate Keto whey protein
- Keto cloud bread with half of a mashed avocado
- Low-carb hummus with cherry tomatoes, carrots, and other low-carb veggies
- A homemade trail mix with cashews, coconut flakes, and dark chocolate (skip the dried fruit, which is often high in sugar); or grab some keto-friendly pre-made trail mix for busier days
- Half of mashed sweet potato with unsweetened almond milk, cinnamon, and vanilla Keto Collagen
- A clean, low-carb protein bar
- A parfait made with crunchy keto granola, keto yogurt, and Perfect Keto Nut Butter (instead of peanut butter)
The amount of products advertised as pre- or post-workout nutrition is enough to make your head spin. Staying informed will help you determine which products are best, and which are clever marketing ploys.
When looking at the ingredient labels for pre-workout supplements, consider products that contain the following ingredients.
Just like your morning cup of java, caffeine can help keep you stay alert and focused during your workouts. Caffeine, taken anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half before exercise, can increase exercise performance, help burn fat, and negate signs and feelings of fatigue[*].
If you’re looking for ways to include caffeine as part of your pre-workout routine, you can get caffeine in a cup of coffee or most caffeinated teas. It’s also a regular supplement in pre-workout powders and caffeine pills.
Typically, about 200 milligrams of caffeine before or during your training sessions should suffice[*].
Creatine is one of the most widely used supplements in pre- and post-workout shakes and supplements. Creatine can potentially increase muscle mass and muscle strength, a common goal of strength training and bodybuilding.
New research shows that creatine may also improve exercise performance with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and endurance training[*]. Also, creatine may delay the onset of fatigue, which can help improve your workouts.
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that may promote muscle strength and endurance. Beta-alanine is found naturally in meat and poultry and has become a common supplement in sports nutrition as a performance enhancer.
Daily supplementation with 4-6 grams of beta-alanine for just two to four weeks has been shown to boost exercise performance and decrease neuromuscular fatigue[*].
L-Citrulline is an amino acid that can help improve blood flow, strength, and endurance. L-citrulline works by boosting nitric oxide production in the body, which helps your arteries relax and function properly[*]. This, in turn, helps increase blood flow, which is necessary for hard workouts.
L-Citrulline is an important amino acid when it comes to muscular and metabolic health. It’s been shown to help people combat aging, reduce inflammation, and even prevent cardiovascular disease[*].
When deciding what to eat before a workout, pay attention to your body’s specific needs. Try eating at different times, switch up various pre-workout snacks, and experiment with trusted pre-workout supplements.
Your pre-workout meal should carry a balance among your macros to give you some carbs, protein, and healthy fats. This is one of the few instances when you don’t have to fear carbs — snacks like veggies and hummus, smoothies, or homemade trail mix are all viable options.
If you’re looking for a pre-workout supplement, consider one with amino acids, caffeine, and creatine.
Plus, it comes in a delicious citrus flavor with a hint of stevia. No more sickeningly sweet pre-workouts now that you’re on a healthy keto diet. . Try it for your next workout to see how it can boost your performance in the gym.