Here's what you should eat before you work out

From the best foods to fuel your body before you hit the gym to when the best time to eat before your exercise session is - we take the questions to the experts.

By Anya Truong-George
If you're anything like me, I find it difficult to exercise in the morning if I haven't had a quick bite to eat.
I unfortunately have a very vivid memory of sitting on the gym floor one morning eating a dollop of peanut butter and an apple after I almost fainted – safe to say from then on I learned my lesson and always make sure to eat a snack in the morning or train in the evenings after I've eaten.
However, my flatmate is the opposite. She almost exclusively heads to the gym in the morning and is perfectly fine doing intense workouts on an empty stomach.
The moral of the story? Everyone's different. And it can also depend on what you eat (if you do), when you work out and what kind of exercise you're doing, in other words, it's complicated. That's why we've taken our questions to the experts.

Should you eat before you work out?

According to nutritionist Zoe Bingley-Pullin, this can change from person to person and can depend on a number of factors including your fitness and training goals, how long and how intense your exercise session is, your current health status and the timing of your last meal.
"For example, if you wake up and go to a 5.30am Pilates class, you don't necessarily require a pre-workout snack," Zoe explains.
"If you have a HIIT (high intensity interval training) or strength training session planned for 6pm and your last snack was 3pm, a small pre-workout snack could be beneficial, especially to see you through to dinner."
Whether you should eat or not before you work out all comes down to a number of factors including your fitness goals, what time of the day you're working out and the intensity of your exercise session. (Image: Getty)
Personal trainer and founder of Flowathletic Ben Lucas says he personally prefers eating a light snack like a banana or some toast to get the metabolism firing pre-workout.
"While I wouldn't eat right before the workout, I prefer to eat around an hour before," he says.
"Good nutrition can help your body perform better and recover faster."

What should you eat as a pre-workout snack?

"The main purpose of a pre-workout snack is to fuel your body for the exercise session," Zoe says.
"Ideally you want to be consuming a mix of easily digested carbohydrates and protein."
Some of Zoe's suggestions include:
  • Natural yoghurt with or without berries/fruit
  • Piece of fruit and small piece of cheese or smear of nut butter
  • Slice of toast or wholegrain crackers with ricotta/cottage cheese or nut butter and banana
  • Smoothie with milk, fruit and yoghurt
  • Homemade nut/seed/oat bar
Ben adds the key is to eat something that will give you energy – think full of protein, carbs and healthy fat – but not make you feel too tired or full.

How much should you eat and when?

If you're eating a snack before you exercise, aim to consume it around an hour prior to your workout session Zoe says.
"If you are eating one hour or less before you work out, I would suggest a very small portion," Ben adds.
Some of Zoe's pre-workout snack suggestions include yoghurt with berries, a slice of fruit and cheese or a smear of peanut butter. (Image: Getty)

Are there risks if you don’t eat before you work out?

"The big risks are losing energy and not performing as you should," Ben explains.
"It may make it harder for you to recover post work out; you may get tired and struggle to get the energy back all day."
Not having enough fuel in the tank can also hinder your stamina and endurance of your exercise session Zoe adds, which may mean you're not getting as much out of it as you could.
At the end of the day, the best idea is to listen to your body.
It's a good idea to experiment with different food combinations and timings to see what works best for you, Zoe says.
"We are all different and what works for one person, won't work for everybody!"