Best Protein to Eat Before Every Workout
By Dana Leigh Smith
Whether you’re trying to perfect your tree pose or upping your weight on the squat rack, if you want to get the most out of your workout, you’ve got to eat the right foods to fuel up.
Though you may already know that what you put in your mouth before breaking a sweat can help you make it through your workout without getting light-headed or fatigued, you may not realize that the right pre-workout fuel can actually make your sweat session more effective and help you lose weight more rapidly. But what might work well for you before a run may not be the best way to fuel a HIIT session with your cute new trainer. Don’t sweat it: to help you get the most out of all your workouts, we checked in with some top nutrition and fitness experts and asked them to weigh in. Stock up on their recommended eats to ensure you're properly fueled for your next workout. After making these simple diet tweaks, we’re confident you’ll start seeing those results you crave!
The best pre-workout fuel if you... strength train in the a.m.
If you prefer to get your swole on before the sun comes up, proper nutrition must start the night before your workout, explains Jim White RD, ACSM HFS, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. He suggests having a cup of brown rice, a cup of steamed broccoli and 3 to 5 ounces of lean protein for dinner, and then having a small snack like a banana with a tablespoon of almond butter in the morning before hitting the weights. “You won’t have enough time to digest a bigger meal if you want to fit in a workout before heading to the office,” he notes.
The best pre-workout fuel if you... strength train in the p.m.
If you want to get the most from your after-dark sweat session, you’ll need to eat a combination of complex carbs, veggies and protein two or three hours before lacing up your sneakers. A medium-sized sweet potato, a cup of steamed spinach and 3-5 ounces of chicken breast, lean ground turkey, or white fish fits the bill says White. Speaking of healthy eats, get your flat-belly fix with the essential 8 Foods That Beat the Bloat.
The best pre-workout fuel if you’re... taking a pilates or yoga class
There’s nothing like a rumbling belly to ruin your zen. Doing downward dog with a stomach full of food? Also, not ideal. Keep energy levels high and ward off hunger without weighing yourself down with a low-glycemic, carb-rich snack about an hour before class, advises Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN, a dietitian with Just For Today, a nutrition counseling and yoga center. “Some healthy picks that fit the bill include whole-grain toast, a banana, an apple, a pear or some veggie sticks and hummus.”
The best pre-workout fuel if you’re... trying to lose weight
If you’re sweating it out in an attempt to slim down for your upcoming beach vacation, you’ll want to consume a carb-laden snack (like a slice of whole-wheat toast or a piece of fruit) an hour before jumping into your workout, says Kaufman. Totally shocking, we know, but here’s why: “Eating carb-rich foods before hitting the gym aids weight loss because your body burns this nutrient first. Once the carbs have been used up, the body can start using stored fat for fuel.” Armed with this information, it may be tempting to work out on an empty stomach to burn more fat, but Kaufman assures us this isn’t safe or any more effective.
The best pre-workout fuel if you...do cardio in the a.m.
There’s nothing like getting your workout out of the way while most of the world is still asleep—it makes you feel so accomplished! But fueling up beforehand can be a bit tricky. “I typically recommend that people wait an hour or two after eating to exercise. However, when you workout in the morning this can be unrealistic,” says Katie Cavuto, M.S., R.D., dietitian for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Philadelphia Flyers. “I recommend sticking with a small, easily digestible snack like 6-ounces of yogurt and a half cup of fruit.” This combo is easy on your stomach and gives you the rev your body needs. If dairy doesn't sit well with you or you’re a vegan, Cavuto recommends substituting in silken tofu for the yogurt and blending it with the fruit to make an energy-packed smoothie. (Make sure you're choosing the best creamy treat for your body by stocking up on brands that made our list of the Best Yogurts for Weight Loss.
The best pre-workout fuel if you...do cardio in the p.m
Going for a run or a bike ride after a long day at the office is a great way to blow off some steam—just make sure you fuel up properly prior to hitting the pavement. “Since you’ve already eaten two meals earlier in the day, I recommend eating a light snack an hour before your training session, says Debora Warner, founder, president and program director of Mile High Run Club. “I typically eat a bowl of mixed fruit or fresh papaya before heading out on a run. The high water content, potassium and vitamins help keep me hydrated and energized.”
The best pre-workout fuel if you’re...hitting the hiking trail
As the weather begins to warm up, you may consider hitting the trail for a fun weekend workout. While hiking may not leave you winded like some other forms of exercise, it’s still just as important to eat properly beforehand. “Choose a snack or meal with staying power by combining lean proteins, healthy fats and carbohydrates. A bowl of oats with fresh fruit and a sprinkle of nuts or seeds will do the trick,” suggests Cavuto. “If you’re short on time, grab a nut-based bar like KIND Nuts & Spices and pair it with some fresh, whole fruit like a banana or apple.”
The best pre-workout fuel if you...do HIIT
High intensity interval training (HIIT) is well, intense, making your pre-workout nutrition of the utmost importance! To power through your workout without running out of gas, White suggests fueling up with protein oatcakes. Here’s how to make them: Combine three egg whites, one whole egg, a cup of rolled oats and half a cup of blueberries in a bowl. Mix them together until thoroughly incorporated, and then throw them onto a skillet until they are cooked through. If you typically head to the gym after work, throw the hot cakes into a Tupperware container. Reheat and eat them about an hour and a half before your workout. If you have a bigger build, you may need additional carbohydrates to power through your sweat session. Adding half of a small banana on top of the oatcakes should do the trick, notes White.
The best pre-workout fuel if you’re…Crossfitting
If you’re striving for a PR during tonight’s WOD, you’ve got to fuel-up properly. “Crossfit workouts focus on both strength training and endurance, so it's important to have between 300 and 600 calories before your workout,” says White. A combination of protein, carbohydrates and fats will help maintain energy levels throughout your workout and ward off extreme hunger pains after your workout, he explains. “Before heading to your box, make a chicken sandwich with whole-wheat bread, 3 to 5 ounces of grilled chicken, an ounce of mashed avocado and as much spinach as you can fit in between. If you Crossfit too early in the morning for a chicken sandwich, substitute the chicken for egg whites and add reduced fat mozzarella cheese.” (Want to keep your metabolism humming long after your Crossfit session is over? Burn, baby, burn with the essential 6 Quick Ways to Boost Your Metabolism.)
The best pre-workout fuel if you’re...endurance training.
Whether you're running your first half or looking to take home a triathlon PR, you’ve got to eat right before your training workouts. “I recommend consuming a combination of fiber and healthy fats about an hour before an endurance workout. This winning nutritional duo slows the release of insulin, keeping energy levels even keel,” explains Warner. A banana with peanut butter, an organic whole-milk yogurt with ¼ cup of blueberries, or half a mashed avocado on whole grain toast are all good bets. Don’t forget, if your training session exceeds two hours or you’re running more than 15 miles, you should refuel mid-workout. Warner likes Clif Shot BLOKS.
The best pre-workout fuel if you’re...heading to a hot yoga class
When you’re stretching, bending and sweating in a sauna-like room for an hour, hydrating and eating properly beforehand is key. “I recommend having a fresh-pressed juice or a water-rich fruit such as an orange, peach or banana at least an hour before hitting the mat,” says Sunshine Daidone, Founder of POE Yoga in East Hampton, NY and Far Hills, NJ. “Eating or drinking too close to the beginning of class may lead to indigestion or bloating, interfering with your practice. I like these water- and carb-rich snacks because they keep you energized and alert, but don’t weigh you down,” she adds.