What To Eat Before The Gym

Eating before a workout at the gym
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Deciding what to eat before the gym is always about finding the right balance. You have to provide your body with the energy it needs to perform at your best during the session, but you don’t want to feel heavy or bloated from the food you’ve eaten while you’re working up a sweat. So for advice on exactly what to eat before all kinds of workouts, we spoke to Ben Samuels, performance nutritionist at Science In Sport.

If you’re returning to exercise after a break, though, the finer points of preparing your body for a weights session will be overkill. So we’ll start with some general advice about fuelling your exercise from Mike Naylor, lead nutritionist for Team GB at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Naylor was speaking on behalf of Red Bull.

“For people just starting to exercise again, the key thing to remember is not to make dramatic changes to your diet,” says Naylor. “Do things slowly and make incremental changes. Remember the key word – fuel. It’s what your body needs to do that exercise, so different carbohydrates and sugars are vital for you to get the most out of your new regime.

“For instance, if you’re going running and you’re not used to running, then you actually want to support your immune system and your bone health. Going out under-fuelled, especially if you’re doing it frequently, can actually have detrimental effects. So before your workout you need to eat enough carbohydrates to sustain your energy throughout your exercise.”

We have also advice on what to eat before a run and everyone’s favourite meal, what to eat after a workout

Early Morning Workout

When to eat: 30 minutes beforehand.

What you need: After your overnight fast, both protein and carbohydrate are required. You could also use stimulants to wake yourself up.

Real food option: Banana and 0% fat Greek yogurt with a coffee.

Supplements option: Energy bar and a caffeine shot.

Lunchtime Workout

When to eat: 30-60 minutes beforehand.

What you need: A light snack that’s mainly high-GI carbohydrate to deliver energy quickly before the session. You could also use stimulants such as caffeine.

Real food option: Rice cakes with jam and a coffee.

Supplements option: Energy bar and a caffeine shot.

Eating before a workout at the gym

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Evening Workout

When to eat: 15-30 minutes beforehand.

What you need: A decent breakfast and lunch during the day will have provided the energy needed, so the focus should be on hydration, plus a small carbohydrate snack if required.

Real food option: Handful of jelly sweets.

Supplements option: Energy gel.

Weights Session

When to eat: One to two hours beforehand to allow for complete digestion.

What you need: Carbohydrate and protein, with hydration being the focus during the workout.

Real food options: Porridge with honey, mixed berries and a handful of nuts if it’s a morning workout, chicken and avocado bagel if it’s later in the day.

HIIT Session

When to eat: 30-60 minutes beforehand.

What you need: Stimulants like caffeine are useful here – they will act on the brain and make exercise feel easier, which will be of benefit for high-intensity intervals. You can also have some carbohydrate beforehand to use as energy during the workout.

Real food option: Banana and a coffee.

Supplements option: Energy bar and a caffeine shot.

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Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.