Easy Pre-Workout Snack Ideas

Quick & Nutritious Energy Before Exercise

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: March 1, 2024

Choosing the right pre-workout snack is crucial to enhance your energy levels and performance during exercise. But preparing a complete meal isn’t always realistic when you have a busy schedule.

That’s why I am sharing my top pre-workout snack ideas that are quick and effective.

Best Pre-Workout Snack Ideas

If you’re like me, a snack means a fast meal that requires minimal prep time or no cooking at all. The best pre-workout snacks are foods that are easy to eat and can be taken with you on the go or thrown in your gym bag for later.

This article features simple snacks providing essential pre-workout fuel to help you train longer and harder. So, let me introduce you to your new favorite pre-workout snacks!

Understanding Pre-Workout Nutrition

When choosing a snack to eat before your workout, it’s essential to consider the types of foods and nutrients you consume. You should also keep in mind the timing of your snack in relation to the length and intensity of your workout.

Proper pre-workout nutrition is essential for fueling your workouts and promoting muscle growth. It involves balancing carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to maintain steady energy levels and replenish glycogen stores.

The Role of Macronutrients

Carbohydrates are the primary source of the energy you need before a workout. They are further categorized into complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates.

Complex carbs, like whole grains and starchy vegetables, provide a sustained energy release. Meanwhile, simple carbs, such as fruits and honey, offer quick energy boosts.

Proteins break down into amino acids, the building blocks for muscle repair and growth. Aim for a lean protein source without too much fat.

Healthy fats should not be overlooked, however. These include avocados and nut butter, which can help sustain energy levels.

Your pre-workout snack should contain a blend of carbs and proteins with a small amount of fats. Here’s a quick guide:

  • Carbohydrates: Aim for 30-50 grams of carbs. This can be from complex carbs for longer-lasting energy or simple carbs for quick energy.
  • Proteins: Include 15-25 grams to facilitate amino acid delivery for muscle repair.
  • Fats: Keep it light with only 5-10 grams of fats to avoid digestive discomfort during exercise.

Types of Foods

Whole foods are a great choice before exercise because they provide natural nutrients without added sugars and preservatives.

On the other hand, processed snacks may lack the essential nutrients your body needs and could contain high levels of sugar, which can cause a mid-workout crash.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t eat processed foods in moderation. They can be a convenient option when whole foods are unavailable, or you’re on the go.
Strawberry Cheesecake Smoothie Pre-Workout Snack

This Avocado Tuna Sandwich combines healthy, whole food ingredients and only takes a few minute to whip up. Click here for the full recipe.

Best Pre-Workout Snack Ideas

Here are my favorite pre-workout snack ideas ranked from best to good. The items at the top of the list contain all the proper nutrients with minimally processed ingredients. As you move down, the snacks get more convenient but also more processed.

  1. Protein oatmeal (proats) or overnight oats
  2. Protein pancakes with maple syrup
  3. Fruit smoothie with protein powder
  4. Hard-boiled eggs and a bagel
  5. Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruit
  6. Cottage cheese and whole-grain toast
  7. Avocado tuna sandwich
  8. Rice cakes with peanut butter
  9. Protein coffee and a banana
  10. Protein shake and a piece of fruit
  11. Low-fat chocolate milk
  12. Granola bar and a protein shake
  13. Sports drink with protein powder
  14. Protein bar

Pre-Workout Snack Ideas for Specific Goals

Choosing the right snack before exercising can set you up for success, whether aiming to build muscle or slim down. Pairing your goals with the proper nutrition for optimal results is essential.

For Muscle Growth

To support muscle growth, you need snacks packed with carbohydrates and protein. Here are some of the best examples of pre-workout snacks for building muscle.

  • Protein Oatmeal, or proats, is a simple and nutritious snack consisting of old-fashioned oats mixed with a scoop of your favorite protein powder. Just add boiling water or heat it in the microwave for 90 seconds. You can also make overnight oats by leaving the mixture to sit overnight for a ready-to-eat meal in the morning.
  • Protein Pancakes combine wheat isolate with traditional pancake mix to give your flapjacks a protein boost. Adding Greek yogurt and whey can make your cakes even more nutritious.
  • Fruit Smoothies are an easy way to get natural sugars and nutritious carbs before a workout. And you throw a scoop of protein into the blender to give your smoothie an added protein punch.

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For Weight Loss

If your goal is weight loss, focus on low-calorie, high-protein snacks. A good rule of thumb is to start with a protein source like hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese. Then, add an appropriate amount of carbs to provide energy as needed.

Here are some lower-carb options that provide satisfying protein that helps curb hunger.

  • Greek Yogurt is an excellent low-carb, high-protein snack for any time. Add some berries or mix in your favorite flavor of protein powder to make it even more nutritious. Try this Greek yogurt protein pudding recipe.
  • Rice Cakes are a low-calorie source of clean carbs for your workouts. Topping them with peanut or almond butter is a perfect pre-workout snack with protein and healthy fats.
  • Protein Coffee can be as simple as mixing a scoop of protein powder into your morning cup. There are also specific products like protein coffee creamers and coffee-flavored protein powders. These coffee drinks sometimes include carbs and fat, or you can add a piece of fruit to round out your snack.
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Pre-Workout Snack By Exercise Type

It’s typically a good idea to consider the duration and intensity of your workout when choosing a great pre-workout snack. Here are some examples of snacks for different types of workouts.

For Short Intense Workouts

Smaller amounts of simple carbs can support short training sessions lasting less than one hour. But complex carbs can prevent energy crashes mid-workout.

  • Hard-Boiled Eggs and a Bagel or whole-wheat bread provide an efficient bioavailable protein source with complex carbs to sustain sprints or one-rep maxes.
  • A Protein Shake with Fruit is a simple grab-and-go option with all the necessary nutrients to fuel a hard workout.
  • Low-Fat Chocolate Milk is a self-contained superfood packed with protein and sugars for a quick burst of energy before the gym.

For Endurance or Long Workouts

For enduring long workouts, you’ll need snacks that provide ample energy and are slow to digest. You may even consider intra-workout carbs for sessions lasting longer than one hour to ensure a steady energy supply.

  • A Sports Drink mixed with unflavored whey protein powder provides a quick energy source with electrolytes and aminos. Powdered sports drink mix or energy gels also work well during a workout. You could use fruit juice like apple or orange juice for a more natural option.
  • Granola Bars often contain complex carbs like oats for sustained energy in longer workouts. Combine this snack with your favorite protein shake, and you have an easy meal.
  • Protein Bars are a good pre-workout snack you can pick up at any convenience store. Look for something with complex carbs or sugar to boost energy before training.
High-Calorie Protein Bars for Pre-Workout Snack

Practical Tips for Pre-Workout Eating

Eating too close to your workout may cause discomfort while eating too early could leave you with insufficient energy. Pay attention to your body and adjust your pre-workout nutrition according to your needs and goals.

Timing Your Snack Right

To prevent discomfort during your workout, aim to eat your pre-workout snack roughly 30 to 60 minutes before beginning.

  • <30 minutes before your workout:
    • Choose something light, like a banana or a small granola bar, to give you a quick energy boost without weighing you down.
  • 45-60 minutes before your workout:
    • To provide sustained energy, your snack can be a bit larger, such as a slice of toast with almond butter or Greek yogurt with berries.

If you prefer a fasted morning workout, it’s generally okay to exercise on an empty stomach if you’re doing something light. But in those cases, it becomes more important to consume carbs and protein immediately after your workout.

Read More: My 6 Best Post-Workout Meal Ideas

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