It may be tempting to skip out on eating before a workout, but the body requires adequate fuel in its tank in order to achieve maximum performance. If blood sugar levels are insufficient while exercising, headaches and fatigue will often occur.
Not just any snack will do, though. According to WebMD, the body requires carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats in order to sustain energy levels during a workout, so it’s important to nosh on foods that contain some, or all, of these nutrients—like these six.
1. Whole Grains
Whole grains are a healthy source of complex carbohydrates, which help to keep the body fueled over an extended period of time. This makes them an excellent snack before physical activity, regardless of whether they’re consumed as bread, cereal, pasta or brown rice.
If planning to workout within the next two to three hours, AuthorityNutrition.com suggests having a sandwich on whole wheat bread or a bowl of whole grain cereal with low-fat milk. Or try Shape magazine’s recommendation: ½ cup each of brown rice and black beans.
Bananas are rich sources of fast-acting carbohydrates, meaning they quickly convert into sugars the body uses as fuel. They also contain plenty of potassium, a nutrient that keeps the nerves and muscles functioning well.
Fitness magazine suggests eating sliced banana on a piece of whole-wheat toast with a dash of cinnamon. The source says this pre-workout snack combination provides the body with both types of carbohydrates: simple (from the banana, a quick kick of energy) and complex (from the bread, which helps to sustain energy levels). And the cinnamon isn’t just for added flavor; the spice “has been linked to stabilizing blood sugar and improving brain function.”
Like bananas, apples are full of carbohydrates that help the body get a rapid boost of energy. If planning to exercise within the hour, eating one on its own can be a good snack as fruit is digested quickly.
Because they digest quickly, however, it’s best not to engage in lengthy activity with just an apple in the stomach. To help the body stay full and fueled for longer, cut the apple into slices and eat them with a tablespoon of almond butter or a ¼ cup of walnuts.
Not only are oats a nutritious breakfast option, they also make for a great pre-workout snack. Thanks to their high fiber content, carbohydrates from the oats are gradually released into the bloodstream, providing a steady stream of energy during activity. The B vitamins in oats also help to convert the carbohydrates into fuel.
For maximum benefit, eat a cup of oats at least 30 minutes prior to activity. Try topping with fruit to up fluid intake and provide a boost of simple carbohydrates, or add nuts for some extra protein.
5. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt has gained tremendous popularity of late, and for good reason. Not only is it a source of quality carbohydrates, it is also rich in protein. Both of these nutrients make it a perfect pre-workout snack.
Fitness magazine suggests topping a bowl with trail mix, as the “healthy sugars from dried fruit provide that quick energy boost while seeds and nuts will keep insulin levels from dropping mid-workout.”
Smoothies are an easy and refreshing way to consume plenty of valuable nutrients before a workout. Health.com says it’s best to them drink approximately 60 to 90 minutes prior, and that they are especially valuable if planning to engage in cardio exercises such as running, hiking or biking.
The source suggests a smoothie made with almond milk, banana and berries, as it’s “low in fat and sugar, moderate in protein and high in carbs.”