The Perfect Pre-workout Nutrition

What you eat before the gym can make or break your workout. Too much fat and you'll be a slug. Too many carbs, and you'll likely not have enough protein to start your recovery. Yes, you should still get in protein after, but having a proper stockpile before you hit the weights is important too. But it's not just an immediately pre-workout snack. Your pre-workout nutrition has to start earlier.

For that reason, it's crucial to think about it as a pre-workout meal AND a snack. Not only is it important to get both for the calories, but the macro make up of each is completely different. So let's start chronologically and talk about that meal.


When: 2-3 hours before workout

What: 300-400 calorie balanced meal with ~20g protein

Why: Slow burning carbs to fuel workout + protein to build muscle

Example: Whole grains (quinoa, oats) & lean protein (chicken, tofu, protein shake)

If you're eating with the right macro ratios 24/7, chances are whatever you would naturally eat before the gym will suffice. However, if you're like most of us, your lunch is probably a little too carb heavy. Carbs are important to fuel you through the workout, but you can't consume them at the expense of protein.

A good rule of thumb to follow is to get about as much protein for this meal as you would from a shake, but drinking 3 or 4 shakes a day is no fun. Change up how you get it. Add some extra lean-protein to your meal and shoot for 20 grams.

Additionally, make sure those carbs are complex. No Wonder Bread. There's a time and place for simple carbs, but your meal should be rich in whole grains like quinoa. Plus, better grains tend to add a little bit of protein to the mix. If you're someone who struggles to hit that 20-gram mark, swapping pasta for quinoa, or even just changing the bread, can make all the difference.

Lastly, timing for this meal is important. If you work a 9 to 5 job, you eat lunch at 12, but don't hit the gym until 6. That's no good. Your pre workout meal needs to be eaten around 2 hours before, or else you'll have burned through too much of your stores. And no, overeating at noon won't help.

The biggest obstacle here is that most jobs won't let you take a second lunch break. If eating at your desk isn't an option, look into a suitable meal replacement shake. Some of these might be a little two low on carbs, so choose wisely. While we wouldn't recommend replacing a REAL meal with a shake, a 200 calorie shake with balanced macros is a great option for cramming in an extra one.


When: 15-30 minutes before workout

What: 100-200 calories of simple carbs and a little protein

Why: Quick burning carbs for a last minute pre-workout boost

Example: Fruits (banana, apple, raisins), granola bar, or energy bar

The next piece of the puzzle is the snack. This should be about 15 minutes before your workout. It's important to note that this is completely different from a pre workout supplement. While there are brands that make pre-workout drinks and powders with carbs, most of these products focus on the caffeine, and are definitely not for casual fitness.

For that reason, we recommend sticking with whole foods. While just about any light snack, like any of our Youtopia® snacks, will do, it's crucial that you're getting some simple carbs. One of the best options is just a piece of fruit. You might be concerned about the sugar, but when eaten so close to vigorous activity, your body doesn't receive an insulin spike. It just uses the sugar as quick-burning energy.

If you do need a little bit of a caffeine kick, a simple cup of tea or coffee should be your go-to. You can afford SOME sugar, but a soda or energy drink is going to be overkill. In addition, avoid things like keto coffee (coffee with added fat). While it can be a great way to add some extra healthy fat to your diet, a serving of coconut oil before hitting the treadmill is not going to be pretty.

Here's a simple infographic we made for you:


If your diet is perfect, all you need to worry about is timing. But being perfect is hard, and not much fun. For the rest of us, it’s about making sustainable changes, even if it’s one meal/snack at a time. Use these tips as a stepping stone to better eating habits. If you can get your pre-workout nutrition in line, you're on your way to healthy eating habits.

If you're interested in trying out snacks which were specifically designed around the macronutrient ratio that dietitians recommend (and make for a great pre-workout snack), take a look at these delicious snacks which are high in protein, low in sugar, and full of healthy fats.