What is the best pre-workout snack?

The global fitness scene is thriving; new gyms open monthly, social media fitness challenges are on the rise and governments are encouraging us to move our bodies more in order to optimize our health and wellbeing.


Our fitness goals are wide-ranging – we want to get stronger, run faster, beat a personal best, or improve our overall health. And, while many of us have a large appetite for improving our workout, we are often not fueling ourselves adequately.


Do you have to eat before a workout?

The answer is not as straightforward as one may like it to be. Here are some common scenarios that can help you decide whether you would benefit or not from a pre-workout snack. 


1)You usually work out very early in the morning.

Most people tend to not have an appetite very early in the morning and eating so close to working out can actually cause some gut discomfort during your session. It is also not advisable to force yourself to wake up much earlier than usual to try and eat; this can lead to sleep deprivation which can negatively impact the intensity of your workout.


2)Your session isn’t very long.

Our bodies can store enough fuel to keep us going during a workout for approximately 90 minutes. As long as your day-to-day diet is well balanced and provides enough fuel, then it isn’t necessary to make yourself eat before your workout if you don’t want to.


3)You last had a balanced meal less than 3 hours ago.

As a rule of thumb, if you have had a balanced meal of complex carbs, protein and healthy fat within 2-3 hours of your training session and you are not hungry, then you are good to go! 


4)You haven’t had time to eat for several hours/skipped some meals.

In contrast, if you haven’t had anything to eat for over 3 hours, you are likely to feel sluggish which can negatively affect your workout. This is where a pre-workout snack can come in handy!


Should you eat carbs before a workout?

The primary nutrients of importance when it comes to pre-workout fueling are carbohydrates – carbs are the nutrients you should be basing your meal or snack around if you’re heading to the gym or out for a run later.


Carbohydrate rich foods are the body’s preferred source of fuel and are necessary for our bodies to perform at their best when training. Consuming the right type and quantity of carbohydrate prior to working out will help optimize your performance, whether that be a cardio session, a resistance session, or even yoga. Not all carbs are created equal, however. Here are the key differences: 


  • Simple carbohydrates: These are short chains of sugar molecules that require minimal digestion so they provide a form of instant energy.

  • Complex carbohydrates: These types of carbs are made up of much longer sugar chains, meaning that it takes longer to break down the chains to their simplest, usable form. This leads to a steadier provision of fuel that will allow you to maintain the intensity of your workout and keep fatigue at bay.

  • Fiber: We do not digest this type of carbohydrate and so it will not provide us with energy. However, high fiber foods take longer to digest and so having them too close to a workout can impact performance.


How soon before a workout should you eat?

The timing and composition of a pre-workout snack or meal can make the difference between a great workout and a poor one – impacting focus, mental alertness, and performance. 


As a general rule of thumb, if you do opt for a pre-workout snack, you will need to give your body sufficient time to process and absorb all the nutrients before your session. During exercise, blood is diverted to the muscles to help fuel them, meaning less blood reaches your digestive organs. Therefore, if you have eaten foods that are difficult to digest close to a workout session, you may experience gut discomfort which can then go on to negatively affect your performance.


So, how should you time your meal and snacks? If you find yourself needing to have a snack quite close to working out then you are better off having a simple carbohydrate such as fruit or crackers. 


In contrast, if you have more time between your workout and your meal (at least 60 minutes), your body will be able to process the fat and protein which means you can be a bit more generous with adding something Iike cottage cheese to some crackers.



How much should you eat before a workout?

There is no set rule as to how much one should eat before a workout but a decent rule of thumb is that you should focus on getting in the following amounts of carbohydrates before a session to help optimize performance:

-If eating one hour prior to a workout session, one gram of carbohydrate per kilogram in body weight

-If eating two hours prior to a workout session, two grams of carbohydrates per kilogram in body weight

-If eating three hours prior to a workout session, three grams of carbohydrates per kilogram in body weight


So, what are some of the best pre-work out foods to help fuel your workout session?


The best pre-workout foods


Oats are a good pre-workout snack because they contain a specific type of fiber called beta-glucan which gives cooked oats their gluey texture. This also means that the carbohydrates of the oats are broken down slowly over the course of two to three hours, fueling you for longer and subsequently allowing you to train harder.


Additionally, oats are a source of B vitamins which are used to help convert carbohydrates for use as energy. 


Whole grain bread

A slice of wholegrain toast is a great complex carbohydrate option and one of the best pre-workout snacks out there. Have it on its own when your workout looms or if you have some more time, add some hard-boiled egg for a protein-packed snack.


Want a hint of added sweetness? Easy! Spread some peanut butter on your whole grain bread and then add bananas and chia seeds for a delicious combo of long-lasting energy! 


Fruit and Greek yogurt

Another healthy pre-workout snack comes in the form of a classic combination: fruit and Greek yogurt. The fruit is packed with simple carbohydrates to give you an energy boost whereas the Greek yogurt is a good source of protein. Greek yogurt is a better choice than regular yogurt as it contains almost double the protein.


The protein from the Greek yogurt will be broken down into amino acids after digestion which will then go on to be the building blocks of muscle. By having them as part of your pre-workout snacks, they will be ready to be used straight away for repair.


Dried fruit

Dried fruit such as dates, apricots, dried berries, figs and raisins contain simple carbs which will give you instant energy- these will come in handy if you need a good pre-workout food close to your workout time. All you need is a handful and you’re good to go! An alternative to dried fruit? We’re big fans of our gumdrops for a little pre-workout pick-me-up.


Trail mix

Finding yourself intrigued by all of the suggestions thus far? How about a snack that combines elements of almost all of them! This nutrient-dense option of healthy fats, proteins and carbohydrates offers prolonged energy and helps to regulate appetite. You can create your own or buy a pre-prepared mix from the supermarket. If you choose the latter option, however, aim for one without a ton of chocolate or yogurt-coated goodies – the added simple carbohydrates from sugar might make you feel jittery. 


Grilled chicken

While protein is often only considered to be important as part of a post-workout meal or snack, having it before working out can help to ‘prime the pump’ with the goal of making amino acids readily accessible to your muscles.


For those of you who eat meat, you can also pair grilled chicken with a complex carbohydrate source such as brown rice which will help fuel you for the duration of your workout.


Not keen on chicken or want some variety? Some pre-workout meal ideas that include lean protein include turkey breast, white fish or plant-based options such as tofu and tempeh. These will also make great post-workout recovery foods to help with muscle growth and repair.



Another option that is not so much a pre-workout food, but rather, the best pre-workout drink, is a smoothie. If you are getting close to your workout session and need a quick pick-me-up, they can make for great options. Due to their liquid nature, the nutrients are already in a broken-down state, meaning that they get absorbed much quicker and don’t hang about in the stomach for too long. 


They can be a great choice because there are so many add-on options. Think: whey protein, greek yogurt, fruit, vegetables and any milk of your choice.


Sound good? Then go ahead and try a kencko smoothie! A convenient, pre-workout snack packed full of delicious, healthy ingredients to fuel your workout, with the added option of protein powder for even more power.


Rice cakes

If you’re not big on toast, going gluten-free or just want some variety in your diet, rice cakes are a great option to help fuel your workout. They are a form of complex carbohydrate but due to their low fiber content, are actually relatively easily broken down, making them a great option if your snack time is quite close to your workout.


If you have a bit longer between your workout and your snack, you can add extra protein and healthy fats to make a more balanced snack: think avocado topped with nuts, nut butters topped with banana, or soft cheese topped with berries and a drizzle of honey. 


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