Ultimate Cheat Sheet For What To Eat Before The Gym

If you’re like most people, the last thing you thought about lately was what to eat before the gym. It’s all a mind game, right? The only real prep you need is to tell yourself to get up and go, and to stretch out.

Unfortunately, that’s incorrect. There’s more to it. Does this sound familiar at all?

You’ve been on the treadmill for 35 minutes and you’re feeling pretty proud of yourself for hanging in there. Or, you’ve made it halfway through the ultimate group fitness class (CBXT, anyone?) and you’re still going.

But in the next five minutes or so, you hit a wall. And you hit this wall time and again.


The truth is perhaps there are any number of reasons you’re consistently running out of energy in the middle of your workouts, but we’d place a bet that you’re not adequately amping up for a solid workout with a good pre-workout meal.

In other words, maybe it is time to start thinking about what to eat before the gym. The good news is that we’ve got you covered.

Why Eat Before Working Out?

The very simple answer to the question, “Why should I eat before working out?” is that your body needs fuel. The right fuel. Getting into a high intensity workout without a decent pre-workout meal is very much like taking your car out for a drive with just a little bit of fuel. You might make it. But you might not.

But there’s more to it. Your performance could be impacted. How do you know what you can really do – what your real personal best is – if you’re not sufficiently supported? A pre-workout meal provides your body with the nutrients and energy you need to put out your personal best, every time.

Before a meet, track and field athletes are known to eat a snack or small meal packed with carbs and some proteins to provide enough energy to put out a powerful performance. It is really that simple.

When you eat a decent pre-workout meal that works with your body and not against it, you’re supplying yourself with the calories and nutrients you need to maximize your output. You’ll avoid the crash and burn halfway through, that makes it so difficult to keep going. You’ll also feel better and probably be happier with your overall results.

What NOT To Eat

Before we go down the list of what to eat before the gym please heed this warning: it’s not a free for all! Some foods are decidedly off limits and don’t count as food pre-workout food. You should work with your body by providing it good foods that are healthy and give lasting energy. Avoid foods that spike your blood sugar unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

So, what should you avoid? Read this short list based on an article published by MyFitnessPal, and why we think you should avoid these foods.

  • Spicy foods – Avoid the heartburn that comes with enjoying spicy foods before a workout. That’s really the main reason; heartburn definitely has the capacity to derail your performance and cause you to slow down – or sit down!
  • Sweets – Who doesn’t want a slice of apple pie as a pre-workout snack? All of us do. Unfortunately, while carbs are great, simple carbs like white sugars and very sweet fruits generally don’t work. Don’t eat donuts, cake, jello,ice cream or anything else that is just a bowl full of sugar before a workout.
  • Fatty foods – While delicious, these foods should be avoided before a workout. Beside the potential to cause stomachaches or digestive issues, most fatty foods won’t supply your body with the lasting energy it needs for a full workout. Some fatty foods – such as olives – are not as bad as, say, a huge piece of fried dough covered in powdered sugar.
  • Dairy – Dairy before working out is a recipe for digestive disaster. The body doesn’t always digest milk well, and even people who haven’t been formally diagnosed as lactose intolerant may experience the symptoms of it. Dairy can also make it difficult to digest other foods in your pre-workout snack.
  • Others – These foods didn’t make the list either, for somewhat obvious reasons: soda, alcohol, and 100% fruit juice. Beans and veggies like broccoli cause gas and bloating and therefore are also off the list.

What To Eat Before The Gym: 5 Ideas

What to eat before the gym

Now that it’s clear what not to eat, figuring out what to eat before the gym should be pretty simple. If you’re advanced in your fitness regimen, you could take this to up a notch in complexity. You could determine whether you should carb-load or fat-load, or a number of other strategies for improving performance.

Your pre-workout meals or snacks should be:

  • Light. No need to go all out, but you should eat something.
  • Timed well. Don’t eat run before jumping on a treadmill. It takes time for your body to digest food. Experts suggest eating 45 minutes before a workout.
  • Eaten slowly. Eating fast just creates heartburn and leads to upset stomach. Both of these things.
  • Carb-rich. Complex carbs provide you with energy and stamina. Proteins are harder to digest, so if you eat a lot of protein before your workout, make sure you eat it well in advance.

For now, we’ll keep it very simple and list five ideas for delicious, energy-boosting and performance-sustaining pre-workout meals.

No superior cooking skills are needed for these, so the ideas will work for just about anyone.

1) Protein Smoothie

If you’re a CompleteBody Gym member, you have access to our full-service juice bar. Choose from plenty of options to support and sustain your workout. Make sure you arrive early enough to drink your smoothie and also start digesting it, too. The last thing you want to do is get heartburn from drinking it too quickly and then not get the benefit of the energy it provides.

2) Turkey and whole grain bread

A light snack that includes a decent amount of slow-burning carbs, such as whole grain bread, is a good idea. Proteins, such as turkey, help, too, but there’s no need to go heavy on the meat. For best results, skip the mayo or spicy mustard and just eat the simple sandwich.

3) Oatmeal with bananas or other fruit

Oatmeal gives you the sustainable energy you’ll need for an intense workout, and bananas and other fruits also provide a stamina-boost. You can do refrigerator oatmeal, or, just make a batch at the beginning of the week and use portion bags or cups to separate it out for your workouts.

4) Pasta salad

As long as you’re using whole grain pasta and skipping the fatty salad dressing, a pasta salad works as a great pre-workout meal. Pasta salad snacks are ideal for those of you that don’t have a sweet tooth and don’t like to eat breakfast foods in the middle of the day. Like the oatmeal, you can prepare it at the beginning of the week. Throw in diced chicken or turkey for a bit of protein. Just avoid a lot of salt, oil, or anything else that might mess with your digestive tract during your workout.

5) Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes make good pre-workout snacks. Most people won’t want to make them just for a pre-workout snack. If that’s you, just work them into your weekly meal plan and keep the leftovers. These are complex carbs that taste great on their own, so you won’t need to add any fats, sugars, or spices to them. They’re energy boosters that have plenty of other benefits, too.


Choose foods you enjoy eating that meet the criteria for good pre-workout meals. You’ll feel better during your workout and probably perform much better than before. The key is to avoid the foods that are derailing your workout and to give your body the fuel it needs to perform.

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