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What to eat before exercise

Updated: May 7, 2022

We understand the confusion and frustration when trying to decide what to eat before training. Protein, fat, or carbohydrates? What should we eat? What should we avoid? How can we improve our training? In this article we will discuss our top tips on what to eat prior to exercise.

We all know that our bodies need energy for exercise but where does this energy come from and how can we increase this energy?

Energy in the form of ATP is produced in the body by the breakdown of carbohydrate, fat, and protein. Although all foods will provide energy, the body preferentially uses carbohydrates, in the form of glucose, as an energy source. Therefore, if we increase our carbohydrate intake prior to training we will increase the amount of energy our bodies can produce. This will increase our energy levels and allow for an improved exercise capacity.

There are two forms of carbohydrates: quick release carbohydrates and slow-release carbohydrates.

As their names suggest quick release carbohydrates are rapidly digested in the body but slow-release carbohydrates require longer digestion times before they can be utilised by the body to produce energy.
Confused what to have prior to a workout?
Pre workout nutrition

This is important when it comes to pre workout nutrition. If we eat quick release carbohydrates 30-60minutes before training, we will increase glucose availability to the muscles. Higher levels of glucose in the muscles will increase the amount of ATP produced. This will increase our energy and allow us to stay active for longer.

So, we know that we need quick release carbohydrates before exercise, but does that mean we shouldn’t eat complex carbohydrates?

The simple answer is no! However we do not need complex carbohydrates right before our session as this can draw blood to the gut instead of the muscles causing stomach discomfort! This is of course the last thing we need when we are training.

Complex carbohydrates are fibre containing foods which is known to have many health benefits including improved digestion and reduced disease risk.

Meals containing a combination of both quick release and complex carbohydrates are recommended when eating 2-3 hours before training.

The quick release carbohydrates will provide energy swiftly and the complex carbohydrates will be broken down to glucose and provide energy as we progress through our workout. Snacks consumed 30-60 minutes prior to exercise should be high in quick release carbohydrates to give our muscles a fast energy boost for training.

Here are some examples of snacks which can be eaten 30-60minutes before exercise to increase your energy levels:

· Fruit: ½ banana, apple, orange, pear

· 250ml 100% fruit juice or smoothie

· 250g fat free yoghurt with 150g fruit

· 40g dried fruit and 1-2 dates

· White bread including bagels (1/2 to 1) and English muffins (1-2)

· Granola bars

· 45g cereal and ¾ cup milk

· 200g cooked white rice

· 1medium potato

These snacks are low in fibre and fat and are rich in carbohydrates. The quick release carbohydrates in these foods will be easily digested by our bodies and therefore increase our energy levels during training.

If you are still confused about what to eat before exercise or you have tried increasing your intake of quick release carbohydrates and you still don’t have sufficient energy during training, then book a consultation with our expert Sports Dietitian's. A Registered Dietitian can give you tailored food and nutrition advice to ensure you are meeting all of your energy and nutrient requirements.

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