Why You Need a Pre Workout Snack

workout snack

What’s all the buzz about a pre workout snack?

As a Registered Dietitian, we know that diet is crucial for athletic performance. Imagine that your body is like a sports car. A fancy sports car needs premium fuel in order to reach maximum horsepower. If you give it the regular-grade gas, the car will still run, but it won’t accelerate as quickly, and your gas mileage will go down.

Our bodies work in a similar way. If you fuel your body with poor-quality food you still get energy and can run, lift weights, and throw a basketball, but you won’t truly reach your maximum athletic performance until you fuel your body with top-notch fuel. Your pre workout snack or meal turns into the energy that you use during your performance. 


Carbohydrates (carbs) are a key ingredient for a pre workout snack. Protein usually gets all of the glory when it comes to sports nutrition, but carbs are just as, if not more important! Carbs are digested very quickly and turned into energy for your muscles. Even your brain needs carbohydrates! Without enough carbohydrates in your diet, we can feel sluggish and unmotivated. 


Protein is necessary for maintaining and building muscle mass. This is because you create tiny tears in your muscles during exercise, and protein helps build new tissue to repair those tears. As a result, we get muscle growth! More muscle = more strength and a faster metabolism. It is important to eat enough protein throughout the day, but especially before a workout so that protein is already in your system and ready to repair your muscles. 

What Should I Eat Before a Workout? 

Protein and carbohydrates are your two main ingredients for a powerful pre-workout snack. Carbs are going to be your quick-energy to burn during exercise and having protein in your system helps repair muscle tears faster and speed up recovery. 

blueberries and yogurt


Pairing Foods for Sustainable Energy

To avoid an energy crash, we recommend pairing a protein source with your carbohydrate. 

Workout Snack

Try These Ideas for Healthy Pre Workout Snacks for Energy:

Banana + Peanut butter

Apple + Peanut butter 

Fruit + Greek yogurt 

Granola + Greek yogurt 

Toast + Peanut butter 

Oats + Peanut butter

Toast + 1 egg 

1 slice of whole-grain bread + 2 slices of lunch meat

Cereal + milk 

Low-fat granola bar with at least 7g of protein 

 Milk + whey protein powder 

These snacks earn their title as best pre workout snacks because they’re affordable and have enough carbohydrates and protein to keep you full, but they aren’t too heavy to slow you down.

Super Quick Energy Workout Snack

If you are on your way to the gym or practice and need super quick energy, you can try eating just a simple carbohydrate source. These have fast-acting carbohydrates and are easily digested. 

Super Quick Pre-Workout Fuel 

Gu gel


Fig Newton’s 

Swedish Fish 

Remember to eat the appropriate serving size, because quick energy sources tend to also be high in sugar! 


Packaged Foods for Pre Workout Snacks

If you exercise after work or in between classes, it may be easier for you to pack a shelf-stable pre workout snack. These types of pre workout snacks are great because they can be eaten on the go. 

KIND Healthy Grain Bars

LARA bar

Fresh fruit + Justin’s peanut butter pack

Sargento balanced break snack packs

Dry cereal + 1 handful of pistachios

1-2 oz of jerky


How Much Do I Need to Eat?

Your goal is to eat enough to give you energy to sustain your workout, but not eating too much to give you a stomach cramp. How much to eat in your pre workout snack (or meal) depends on the length of your workout, and where your workout falls in your schedule. 

Length of Workout 

The longer your workout is, the more energy you’ll need, right? So, the longer your workout, the more carbohydrate (quick-energy) you should eat. 

If you’re eating…

Time before workout

Grams of carb

30 minutes

15 grams 

1 hour

 30 grams 
1 – 2 hours

45 grams 

2 – 3 hours

60 grams 


The goal is not to eat too much too slow to your workout because: 

  1. You are likely going to feel uncomfortably full 
  2. Your body will not be able to use the energy from this food yet, because it is still being digested! 


When Not to Eat a Pre Workout Snack 

Pre workout snacks are crucial if your last meal was over 4 hours ago. However, if you ate a balanced meal for lunch at 1pm, and you’re working out at 4pm, an extra pre workout snack may not be necessary. Also if you aren’t hungry and you’re planning on eating dinner immediately after exercising, you may not need a pre work out snack. Or if you are waking up at 5:00am to squeeze in a morning run before work, eating a snack before can slow you down. In this situation, it would be better to focus your nutrition into your post workout meal. 

What Should I Eat to Lose Weight? 

You may think that not eating before exercise will help lose weight. But actually if you do not fuel enough before an exercise and you start your workout hungry, your performance suffers and you end up not burning as many calories during your workout. Having a light pre workout snack will get you through your workout, and you won’t be starving after exercise which could lead to overeating! 

What Not to Eat Before a Workout 

We don’t see fat as a part of the equation because fats take longer to digest, so if we eat a meal high in fat right before a workout it could result in an unpleasant stomach cramp. A small amount of fat is okay before exercise, like the fat in 1 tbsp of peanut butter, because it will be just enough to keep you full but not uncomfortable. Fiber also takes longer to digest and can lead to discomfort if eaten right before exercise, so it’s best to aim for low-fiber carbohydrates. 


Remember to hydrate throughout the day, and especially the hour before your workout! You can tell if you are hydrated enough by the color of your urine. If it is a dark or bright color yellow, drink an extra 8-16 oz of water.

water bottles

If you have any questions about fueling for an activity or sport visit our website or call us at 301-474-2499 to talk to one of our dietitians!

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