You may think just working out is enough to keep you healthy, but that difficult last mile you were attributing to an “off day” could actually be the consequence of not eating well before your workout. It may be tempting to grab a Pop-Tart on your way out the door or to skip the food altogether, but eating well before a workout is important for your health and performance. Nancy Clark, a Boston-based sports nutritionist and the author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, helped us create a list of college-friendly pre-workout snacks to maximize your performance at the gym.
Why Snack Before You Work Out?
While many collegiettes think that skipping the calories before a hard workout will drive your body to use its fat stores as fuel, Clark says fueling your body before a workout is just like putting gas in your car so you can drive. With a 100- to 300-calorie snack to jump-start your workout, you’ll sustain your energy levels, improve muscle toning and ensure that your efforts at the gym aren’t wasted.
Read on for a list of recommended pre-workout snacks and try one out the next time you’re headed to the gym for your mid-day spin class!
1. Oatmeal With Fruit and Nuts
According to Clark, the ideal pre-workout meal would be a combination of carbs to fuel your body with sustained energy and protein to power your muscles. Half a cup of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats has 150 calories and provides your body with 27 grams of carbs and 5 grams of protein. The great thing about oatmeal is that you can dress it up to fit your palate’s style. Top your oatmeal with peanut butter or nuts for extra protein, fruit for a sugary kick or cinnamon for a little extra spice.
2. Whole-Wheat Toast with Peanut Butter and a Sliced Banana
If a warm oatmeal breakfast doesn’t appeal to you, try a piece of toasted whole-wheat bread topped with peanut butter and a sliced banana. The bread and banana provide your body with carbs to power you through your workout, while the protein in the peanut butter will aid in muscle recovery.
One slice of Pepperidge Farm 100% Whole Wheat Bread will provide you with 100 calories, 20 grams of carbs and 5 grams of protein. Top with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter, like Skippy Natural Creamy Peanut Butter, which has 70 calories, 6 grams of carbohydrates and 7 grams of protein. You can also add a banana, which has about 27 grams of carbohydrates.
3. Turkey Sandwich
For a midday or evening workout, Nancy suggests fueling your body with a turkey sandwich. If it seems a bit heavy, you can always save half for later! Lean meats like turkey and chicken will feed your muscles the protein you need without weighing you down.
Spread two tablespoons of a healthy condiment like hummus (only 25 calories per tablespoon) over some whole-wheat bread and fill your sandwich with some of your favorite veggies, like spinach and tomatoes. To keep it healthy, use low-sodium deli-sliced turkey. If traditional bread feels like too much, you can always opt for sandwich thins or a wrap.
4. Apple With Peanut Butter
This is the easiest pre-workout snack to grab when you’re on the go! The apple’s 25 grams of carbohydrate will give you a quick burst of energy and the peanut butter will provide you with protein to repair your muscles. This snack is healthy, delicious and perfect if you only have a few minutes to spare on your way out of class.
5. Eggs in a Basket
Clark says eggs are one of the best protein sources, no matter what form they’re in. “Eggs in a basket” is a fun way to get your necessary dose of carbs and protein before a workout.
To make this snack, cut a circle in a slice of whole-wheat bread using the rim of a cup or a cookie cutter, place the bread in a heated pan (sprayed with canola oil or primed with a little butter) and crack an egg into the hole. Be sure to cook each side evenly and enjoy once your egg has cooked completely and your bread is nicely toasted. One egg will contain approximately 6 grams of protein to complement the carb-heavy bread.
6. Greek Yogurt Parfait
Fruit, nuts and Greek yogurt make the perfect trifecta to prime your body for the gym. A protein-rich Greek yogurt like Chobani’s plain Greek yogurt (90 calories, no fat, 7 grams of carbohydrates and 15 grams of protein) will fill you up and sustain your energy throughout your workout. Add nuts or granola for some added crunch and top with your favorite fruit for a sweet treat.
This parfait is made with fresh ingredients and is easy to make at any time of the day. Keeping granola and Greek yogurt on hand is a great way to ensure that you have a healthy snack ready to go!
7. Cheese and Crackers
Another quick snack that Nancy recommends is cheese and crackers. It’s just enough to fill you up but it shouldn’t upset your stomach before a workout. Seven of Kashi’s Heart to Heart Whole Grain Crackers have 120 calories, 22 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of protein. Spread a Laughing Cow Light Creamy Swiss cheese wedge onto your crackers for an extra 2 grams of protein.
That sluggish feeling you’ve been getting at the gym could be from bad pre-workout nutrition, so try eating a little before and feel your energy levels rise! A little trial and error is required to know what makes your body tick, so Clark urges you to take as much time as you need to prep for your workout. While some people can eat an entire meal right before a run, others might need an hour to digest before hitting the gym.
As a general rule of thumb, Clark says that “if you’re exercising at a pace that you can maintain for a half hour or more, it shouldn’t matter much how recently you have eaten, but if you’re doing an intense track workout, it would probably be best to let your digestive system rest before you put it to the test.”
Know your body and know how to fuel it with a proper balance of carbs, protein and, of course, lots of water!