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The best pre-workout foods

Gearing up for a nastily exhausting workout? Top off your tank with the snacks that'll keep you going strong.

You're a fit dude. You skip the bad stuff, always get #legday in, and hit the heavy bag hard. But if you want your body to continue performing like a Lamborghini, then you've gotta put in the high-octane fuel—and that means eating the right foods before your workouts.

Even though you may be tempted to skip the calories, don't. Not eating before a workout can result in low blood sugar, which leads to light-headedness and fatigue. “If I don’t have my pre-exercise meal, my workout isn’t the same and it feels like a waste,” says Manuel Villacorta, R.D., author of Eating Free and Peruvian Power Foods. “If you fuel correctly, you’ll work out harder.”

We'll repeat that: fuel correctly. Pigging out on junk will just be counterproductive, and can leave you feeling queasy. So get the good stuff—it'll maximize your energy, and your gains.

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Here are the best foods you can eat within an hour before your workout:

Bananas: “They’re nature’s PowerBar,” says Dr. Louise Burke, head of Sports Nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport and coauthor of The Complete Guide to Food for Sports Performance: Peak Nutrition for Your Sport. Bananas are loaded with digestible carbohydrates (read: fuel) and are packed with potassium, which aids in maintaining nerve and muscle function. The body doesn’t store potassium for very long, so a medium banana before a workout will help keep nutrient levels high. Villacorta especially recommends bananas for morning exercisers: “Get up and eat a medium banana with 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt. Wait about 30 minutes and then hit the gym. Your body will need the carbohydrates and protein.” 

 

Oats: Oats are full of fiber, which means they gradually release carbohydrates into your bloodstream, Burke points out. (But they’re not so full of fiber that they’ll cause gas.) This steady stream keeps your energy levels consistent during your workout. Oats also contain B vitamins, which help convert carbohydrates into energy. Help yourself to one cup at least 30 minutes before you begin exercising.

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Wholegrain bread: A slice of wholegrain bread is a good source of carbohydrates. “And it has flexible partners,” says Burke. “Top it off with jam or honey for more fuel or sliced up hard-boiled eggs for high-quality protein.” If you’re hitting the gym during your lunch break, grab some bread about 45 minutes before you head out. “Top it with a couple slices of turkey,” suggests Villacorta. “At this time of day, you should eat about 30 grams of carbohydrates and 15 to 20 grams of protein.”

 

Fruit and Yogurt: Fruit is high in carbohydrates and Greek yogurt is packed with high-quality protein. “People tend to skip fruit and other foods that are high in carbs,” says Villacorta, “but protein doesn’t break down fast enough to become fuel for a workout. The carbs from fruit break down quickly and the protein is used later to prevent muscle damage.”

What to avoid: If you're going to stray from this list, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Be sure to avoid fatty foods before working out—fat leaves the stomach very slowly, which means you’ll feel full and sluggish and could cramp up easily. Although carbohydrates are good, you should not get them from raw sugar or candy. Either of those foods will cause a sugar rush—and probably a crash—while you’re mid-workout. Also, don’t overeat before you workout. These are all snack suggestions, not meals. Eating too much can cause indigestion, sluggishness, nausea and vomiting.

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