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We have all been there. Leaving work late, tired, and hungry. Gym clothes are packed and ready to go, but your stomach is rumbling. Not knowing what to eat, you grab the first thing you see and hope it’ll work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. If the snack is too dense or fatty, it will make you feel sluggish and tired. You’ll feel like you’re doing a chore when you start working out. If the snack is too light, the energy provided may not last long enough. Of course, there is the option of just not eating, and hoping you don’t pass out from low blood sugar.

So what do you eat prior to exercise?

Well in an ideal scenario, the last meal should be between 1-4 hours prior to exercise. The actual time depends on the individual and the size of the meal. If it is now 5pm, and you haven’t eaten since noon, your pre-workout meal should be moderate protein, moderate carb, and little to no fat. The body’s main source of energy is focused on carbohydrates and protein which will help promote muscle growth. You are looking for something easy to digest but will provide the calories needed to keep you focused and strong.

Try These Snacks for Your Next Pre-Workout Meal

  • Protein shake with an apple
  • Nut butter with apple (think peanut butter, almond butter, etc.)
  • Protein shake with a handful of almonds
  • Banana with 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup of Oats, cooked, or raw
  • Whole Wheat Toast and/or Crackers with Nut butter
  • Energy gels
  • Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

Avoid anything with TOO many fats, carbs or sugars; this includes candies or greasy foods like pizza, they will kill your workout.  If you drink coffee, make it black or put as little creamer or sugar as possible. Save the venti mocha choco latte for another time.

Pre-workout nutrition will be heavily dependent on the type of workout you are planning. For a regular weight training session, you need more protein and moderate carbs. For an endurance session, you need moderate protein and more carbs. This is a good starting point, but everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another.

Can I Workout on an Empty Stomach?

You can train your body to work out on an empty stomach, but it will take time to adapt and you need to make sure your post-workout nutrition is on point. Getting used to this may involve some light headed and dizzy workouts which may not be worth it, especially if you have issues with blood sugar levels.

Your best bet is to keep a couple snacks at your desk or in your car, gym bag, or any place that is easily accessible when your schedule is hectic. Energy gels are a great go-to in a pinch. They are small, easy to carry, and can have a significant impact, one or two is all you need. Same with a good Branch Chain Amino Acid supplement – the powder makes it really easy to carry and you only need to add water.

More Water!

One important thing to note is hydration. Make sure you drink water throughout the day. Working out may be possible on an empty stomach, but will be less so if you are not hydrated. Have water by you at all times, and drink it regularly. Also keep in mind, that while supplements are good in a pinch, they are meant to supplement your diet not take the place of it. Make an effort to plan ahead and pack your snacks/meals on the go.


Need a little more personalized guidance? Schedule a strategy session with one of our staff by contacting us!