Fuelling up before a workout can help you get the most out of your gym session, bike ride, or time on the running track. The right kind of pre-workout snacks can keep hunger and fatigue at bay so you can get through your workout. Smart snacking can also help minimize muscle soreness, support healthy immune function, and may even maximize muscle growth.
Snacking is Not One-Size Fits All
What constitutes smart snacking is somewhat contentious, however, with athletes and trainers, and even dietitians and nutritionists quibbling over what’s best to eat before exercising. In part, this is because different types of exercise place different demands on the body and, thus, respond differently to whatever we eat beforehand. Additionally, every individual has their own quirks of digestion and metabolism, meaning that what works for one person might not have the same results for another.
The Basic Guidelines
Does this mean it’s anyone’s guess, then, as to what to eat before a workout? Well, not quite. There are some key tenets that do seem to apply across the board, such as:
- Avoiding large amounts of fibre and dairy just before a workout
- Choosing easily digestible carbohydrates (such as from fruit)
- Including a little monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat
- Eating a snack containing some protein (but not too much)
These basic rules help to keep low blood sugar at bay, minimizing the likelihood of fatigue and poor exercise performance.
Fats and Protein
Healthy fats provide energy and can support a normal inflammatory response, which may help prevent muscle soreness post-workout. Fats and protein assist in slowing digestion, helping to maintain a steady release of energy. Protein is needed for healthy immune function and to build and repair muscle tissue.
Without further ado, here are 5 food combinations that are killer workout snacks:
1. Chia Pudding
Everyone loves chia pudding these days and no wonder. These little seeds are a source of healthy fats and protein and are versatile and delicious.
Mix half a cup of almond milk with 2 tablespoons of chia seeds in a Mason jar, then add a dash of maple syrup or a teaspoon of coconut sugar, shake it up and refrigerate overnight. Grab it on your way out the door to the gym in the morning for a quick burst of energy.
2. Whole Grain Toast with Peanut Butter and Blueberry Jam
Spread a tablespoon of peanut butter and a teaspoon of blueberry jam onto one slice of whole grain toast for a snack high in carbohydrates with antioxidants, a little bit of fat and a decent amount of protein to boot.
3. Banana with Almond Butter
Bananas are hands-down one of the best pre and post workout foods. They are convenient, delicious, readily available, and full of easily digestible carbohydrates and potassium (a vital electrolyte lost in sweat), as well as being a source of tryptophan which the body converts into serotonin, helping you to feel good about exercising!
Eat a tablespoon of almond butter with your banana for extra protein and healthy fats, as well as for additional calcium, which is needed for proper muscle contraction.
4. Walnuts and Beet Juice
Walnuts are an excellent source of protein, minerals, and essential fatty acids that can help support a healthy inflammatory response. Eat eight or so walnuts along with a glass of beet juice before a workout – the nitrates in beets appear to support healthy oxygenation of muscles, helping to enhance performance and recovery, especially during intense physical activity (Breese et al., 2013; Jones et al., 2013).
5. Raspberries, Avocados, and Spirulina or Cocoa
For a powerful antioxidant pre-workout smoothie, mix up half an avocado with a cup of almond milk, a cup of frozen raspberries and a tablespoon of high quality cocoa powder or spirulina. The avocado offers healthy fats to fuel your workout and maintain muscle health; the almond milk is a source of calcium and protein; the raspberries, cocoa powder, and spirulina have antioxidants that help stave off free radical damage associated with exercise; and spirulina has also been shown to help in endurance exercise (Lu et al., 2006).
Some other great food combos that are excellent snacks to eat an hour or so before a workout include:
- Granola with almond milk and apple sauce OR banana slices
- Mango smoothie with hemp milk and turmeric
- Roasted salt and pepper chickpeas
- Dates stuffed with almond butter
- Cashew beet pate on a slice of toast
Breese, B.C., McNarry, M.A., Marwood, S., et al. (2013). Beetroot juice supplementation speeds O2 uptake kinetics and improves exercise tolerance during severe-intensity exercise initiated from an elevated metabolic rate. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol, Dec 15;305(12):R1441-50.
Jones, A.M., Vanhatalo, A., & Bailey, S.J. (2013). Influence of dietary nitrate supplementation on exercise tolerance and performance. Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser, 75:27-40.
Lu, H.K., Hsieh, C.C., Hsu, J.J., et al. (2006). Preventive effects of Spirulina platensis on skeletal muscle damage under exercise-induced oxidative stress. Eur J Appl Physiol, Sep;98(2):220-6.