An overhead shot of a woman preparing a healthy pre-workout breakfast containing oats, fruit, nut butter, and protein powder

What Should I Eat Before a Workout?

What you eat and drink before your workout matters. So when it comes to maximizing your workout performance, it’s best to start by taking a hard look at your diet. Is your caloric intake too high or low? Are your macronutrients at the right balance? There are a dozen other questions to ask, but you want to know what’s best for you.

In this article, we’ll give our recommendations on what to eat, drink, and do to maximize your workout performance!

What Comes First?

Let’s start with food. Hundreds of fad diets and workout blogs give conflicting information on what helps your body perform better. Maybe you’ve started a keto diet to lose weight but lack energy at the start of your workout. Or, perhaps you’ve been hitting the gym every day but feel more fatigued than usual before even getting out of bed.

You’ll get dozens of different recommendations, and your results will vary with each one. So how do you find out what your body needs before the gym? 

Our recommendation? Look at the science.

Complex carbohydrates — raw vegetables, fruits, whole-grain oats, nuts, etc. — are the quick-and-healthy option for getting energy on demand. Don’t mistake complex carbs for the simple carbs you’d want to avoid, like sugar-laden energy drinks, sugary breakfast cereals, or pre-mixed yogurts. Instead, opt for green tea, raw granola, and berries with Greek yogurt.

A recent study on endurance and exercise found that in longer exercise sessions, consuming approximately 70 grams of complex carbs pre-workout led to measurable improvements in performance. On the other hand, more than 120 grams made a negative impact overall. 

So if you’re a runner or enjoy a longer session at the gym, consider adding the right amount of carbs to your pre-workout snack — and avoid the bagel with cream cheese unless you’re an endurance athlete.

Of course, fats and proteins are also essential to your workout performance. Depending on your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), the number of calories and macronutrients in your pre-workout diet will vary. If you have a medical condition that affects what or how much you can eat, talk to your doctor first.

Regarding the little details of your diet, remember that an unhealthy diet can trigger your stress response. So you may need to cut the pre-workout attitude of “anything I eat turns to fuel!” and start finding long-term solutions. We’ll give a couple of examples next:

Examples of Great Pre-Workout Foods

Now, we’ve already suggested some pre-workout snacks. So here’s a list of some other ideas:

  • Bananas. High in potassium, fiber, and healthy carbohydrates. Also, they’re super easy to take for your walk, run, or drive to the gym!
  • Overnight Oats. This breakfast is an easy, healthy meal that you can prep the night before your gym session. You can add berries, peanut butter, Greek yogurt, or virtually anything else to meet your macro and micronutrient needs.
  • Coffee and Tea. Need a little energy to get started? These natural sources of caffeine can give you a much healthier boost of energy when you need it most, but we’ll talk more about this soon.

Eggs, nut mixes, berries, and yogurt with honey are all the classic recommendations for easy snacking before the gym. Everyone’s body will respond differently, though. Tip: When you try any of these suggestions, check in on your performance to see if it’s helping or hurting your workout.

Can I Replace Food with Supplements?

We’ve addressed how certain supplements help with energy and focus, but what about replacing foods with pre-workout supplements altogether?

A scientific study from 2017 found that protein-heavy pre-workout supplements helped prevent soreness and improved muscle in lean body mass. However, this was only the case if a diet of complete whole foods accompanied the pre-workout supplements.

So, yes, you can replace food with supplements sometimes, but always aim to get the majority of your proteins, fats, and carbohydrates from natural food sources.

Does Caffeine Help or Harm My Performance?

Many pre-workout supplements are loaded with unhealthy amounts of caffeine from ambiguous sources. Adding caffeine to your diet can provide exercise benefits but only in moderation. 

Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and is directly linked to increased performance in athletes — only in amounts from 4.4 to 13.2 mg of caffeine per lb of body weight, though. (That’s 2 to 6 mg per kg for our metric users.)

If coffee or tea aren’t for you, MANTRA Labs created GO to provide you with the energy and electrolytes you need for your pre-workout routine!

Although caffeine isn’t a must for your workout performance, it may be a way to achieve your exercise goals if you’re not where you’d like to be.

Woman trail running up a rocky path with a hydration pack

Rethink Your Hydration

Without proper hydration and electrolyte balance, you’re unlikely to see any performance improvements in the gym. HYDRATE by MANTRA Labs is another supportive supplement designed with natural ingredients, no sugar, and no artificial ingredients so you can stay hydrated without the guilt.

You may be experiencing electrolyte imbalance without knowing it, so we wrote a guide on how to identify the imbalance and what to do to fix it!

Find Your Balance

If any statement could best describe your approach to a pre-workout snack or drink, it would be “all things in moderation.” When your food or drink intake is imbalanced — in terms of healthiness, calorie count, quantity, or diversity — you’ll find your performance takes a hit. 

So put performance first and start your workout right by getting what you need beforehand! Browse other MANTRA Labs supplements.