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Essential Elements To Incorporate In Your Pre-Workout Routine for Peak Energy & Performance

Exercise offers a myriad of advantages—from enhancing cardiovascular health and lifting your spirits to improving sleep—but many individuals overlook the crucial impact that their pre-activity intake can have on maximizing these benefits. Consuming the right fuel before a workout not only boosts your energy levels for that intense cardio or pilates session but also enhances the mental acuity required to push through.

It’s crucial to focus on a snack that delivers sustained energy without causing stomach upset (this is not the ideal moment for your beloved high-fiber cereal—more on that later). “The best pre-workout food or snack should always include 20 ounces of water in addition to protein and carbohydrates,” states Leslie J. Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN. “Hydrating before a workout can enhance strength, velocity, endurance, focus, and reduce the risk of injury and dehydration, while protein, especially before strength training exercises, can aid in enhancing muscle protein synthesis and prevent muscle breakdown.” Bonci further specifies that carbohydrates serve as the primary fuel for working muscles—meaning that carbs are what provide the required energy for the workout.

But does this imply that devouring a substantial protein- and carb-rich meal right before your gym session is the way to go? As you might suspect, it might not be the most optimal approach.

“The ideal pre-workout snack should be substantial but not so filling that it leads to digestive issues, and it should ideally be consumed around an hour before your workout, although 20 to 30 minutes is also adequate,” advises Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, author of The Smoothie Plan. “For recreational athletes, the recommendation is to consume approximately 10 grams of protein along with one to two grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight. For instance, if you weigh 150 pounds, divide that by 2.2 to convert to kilograms—68—indicating that you would require between 68 and 136 grams of carbohydrates before your exercise session.” To ascertain where your snack falls within this range, Largeman-Roth suggests factoring in the duration and intensity of your workout, along with the time available for digestion prior to the workout. “A sample snack containing 68 grams of carbohydrates could be a bowl of cooked oatmeal paired with a medium banana, topped with a teaspoon of date syrup or honey.”

Another convenient pre-workout alternative highlighted by Largeman-Roth, especially for those transitioning from work to the gym, are the Clif Builders Protein + Caffeine bars. “These bars are particularly effective for strength training sessions,” Largeman-Roth comments. “They are available in a delightful Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough flavor and contain 65mg of caffeine, equivalent to a shot of espresso, along with 20 grams of complete plant protein. The caffeine provides an additional boost before your workout, while the protein aids in muscle building and preservation. The bar also offers 29 grams of carbohydrates to fuel your session.”

If your workout leans more towards yoga or pilates, Largeman-Roth suggests a serving of vanilla whole milk yogurt with a teaspoon of honey and a 1/4 cup of granola. “This combination is speedy, uncomplicated, and provides 51 grams of carbohydrates and around 10 grams of protein,” she advises. For a running session, Largeman-Roth recommends a frozen waffle toasted with a tablespoon of nut butter and half a cup of sliced grapes or banana, constituting about 50 grams of carbohydrate and roughly six grams of protein.

“Lastly, energy bites are a fantastic option to prepare and have on hand for athletes,” Largeman-Roth adds. “You can consume one or a few before your workout, depending on its duration or intensity. Attempt my recipe for the Ultimate Power Bites [detailed below]. I typically grab two before a three-mile run. Each bite contains 24 grams of carbohydrates and approximately two grams of protein.”

​​Following our discussion on beneficial choices, are there any less apparent foods that might upset your stomach or deplete your energy levels when it comes to pre-workout snacking? “Foods high in fiber or fat can be harsh on your stomach and may result in cramps or diarrhea during exercise,” warns Largeman-Roth. “For many individuals, spicy foods may not sit well before a workout.” If you’re preparing for an event like a marathon, she advises against trying out new foods right before the race. “Stick to easily digestible carbs, protein, and products that you’ve already tested out—pun not intended!”

Remember, post-workout nutrition is just as crucial as pre-workout. “It’s vital to focus on proper hydration before and during your workout, and to prioritize nourishment during the recovery phase,” notes Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN. Your post-workout intake should incorporate a blend of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

Recipe for Ultimate Power Bites by Frances Largeman-Roth, RD

1/2 cup puffed millet
1 cup puffed rice
1/2 cup diced pitted prunes
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/3 cup sunflower butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup honey
3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut


1. Combine the puffed millet and puffed rice in a large bowl. Add the diced prunes, chocolate chips, and sesame seeds. Mix in the sunflower butter and honey until a sticky mixture is formed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. Place the coconut in a small bowl for coating. Shape the mixture into one-inch balls using a tablespoon. Roll the balls in the coconut and transfer them into a container.

You can store these bites in the refrigerator for up to one week, or in the freezer in a zip-top freezer bag for up to one month, although they are likely to be devoured before that.

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