Eating before your workout is a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, you want to give yourself the energy to smash through your workout. On the other, you don’t want to leave yourself feeling sluggish, bloated and desperate for a nap. While the idea that you shouldn’t eat before your workouts is a myth, not all pre-workout meals are created equal. It’s important to fuel your body right to get through your session with comfort and ease, aid recovery and maximise those gains!
Read on for the foods to eat—and avoid—before your workout.
We all know the song “Beans beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat the more you toot.” Not exactly what you want during a workout, especially if it’s squat day or you’re going to a yoga class! Legumes like beans, lentils and chickpeas include both fibre and the carbohydrate called raffinose. The combination of those two things can cause gassiness, bloating and digestive discomfort. A perfectly healthy food, but one best avoided before your workout.
Smoothies seem like the type of thing that would be perfect before a workout. They’re convenient, easy to drink on the go and you can chuck all kinds of energy-boosting ingredients in there. However, they’re not necessarily the best option. Many of us slurp down our smoothies within a matter of seconds, meaning our bodies don’t have the time to digest it properly. Hello, bloating! This is one you particularly don’t want to have before a cardio session or anything that involves lots of jumping—there’s nothing worse than when you feel the contents of your belly swishing around! If you are going to have a smoothie before you work out, try to do it at least an hour before and if you’re at all sensitive to dairy, go for a plant-based alternative for the milk.
Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts are excellent for you. They’re loaded vitamins C, E and K, fibre, and disease-fighting phytochemicals. However, they also happen to be bloat central, thanks to that combo of fibre and raffinose. Like legumes, they can make you gassy as hell and uncomfortable during your workout. Eat these to your heart’s content any other time of day, but you may want them to give them a pass before your workout.
Carbs can be your friend before your workout—they give you energy and allow your body to use the amino acids needed for muscle growth and recovery. However, having heavy carbs before you hit the gym generally isn’t the best choice. You know the type—they put to sleep at the best of times: a huge plate of pasta, a hearty curry, anything fried… A rule of thumb is to opt for slow-release carbs like brown rice, wholegrains and non-starchy veggies paired with protein and good fats, and to leave the white stuff on the shelf.
There’s a good reason so many PTs eat bananas before they train—they’re pretty much the ultimate pre-workout snack! Not only are they convenient and easily transportable, they give you a quick hit of energy without the come-down. Pair it with greek yoghurt (which is high in both protein and good fats) for the perfect well-rounded snack before the gym.
Like bananas and yoghurt, apples with almond butter are a super quick and easy way to fuel up before your workout. With a combination of both simple and complex carbs, apples give you a sustained energy boost. Meanwhile, the almond butter provides your good fats and protein. You can use peanut butter too, but try to look for a variety that isn’t packed with sugar.
Rice cakes win the award for the most versatile pre-workout snack. You could combine them banana and almond butter or go for savoury with avocado and tomato. They’re also super easy to prep ahead and carry around with you. The rice cakes themselves are super light so as to not leave you overly full, but will still give you a fast-acting energy boost.
If you need a more substantial meal before your workout, you can’t go wrong with a chicken stir-fry. It’s basically the perfect combination of carbs and protein to get the most out of your session but generally isn’t too harsh on the digestive system. Just avoid using cruciferous veggies or heavy sauces in your stir-fry and you’re good to go!