YOU’RE A FIT dude. You skip the bad stuff, always do #legsday, 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—that means eating the right foods before your workouts.
Think about it: A sports car still functions with regular old unleaded gas—but it won’t run as optimally or as long. Likewise, “would you expect to get to your destination if the tank was on empty?” says Jordan Mazur, R.D., coordinator of nutrition and team dietitian for the San Francisco 49ers.
And while fasted cardio has always been a diet trend among people hoping to lose weight, “going into your workout fueled and ready to go will maximize the work you do when you train,” Mazur explains.
For your pre-workout nutrition, you want to focus on foods that are high in carbs, moderate in protein, and low in fat and fiber. “Fat and fiber slow down digestion and can cause gastrointestinal upset during your workouts,” Mazur says. “Carbs are your main fuel source for activity and, just as important, it’s the primary fuel source for your brain. Additionally, the more substantial the meal is, the more time you want to allow for digestion, so it’s not sitting in your stomach.”
Here are 10 meals and snacks that’ll pave the way for gains, whether you train in the gym or on the road.
1. Plain Greek yogurt with berries and granola
“The berries and granola provide quick-digesting carbs to fuel your workout, and the Greek yogurt provides ample protein to prevent some of that muscle breakdown,” Mazur says. Look for a granola that contains nuts, seeds, and wholesome carbs (like oats, amaranth, quinoa, and/or millet). Try to find carb sources sweetened with coconut oil, dried figs, and/or vanilla; you want to keep sugar to a medium. Same goes for the yogurt: Stick to plain rather than fruit flavors.
2. Whole-fruit smoothie
“Fruit provides simple sugars that are easy to digest,” Mazur says. “They’re your body’s preferred source of energy for high-intensity workouts.” Check out our smoothie recipes for combinations that suit your preferences. Try whirling together banana, peanut butter, oats, flaxseeds, and almond milk (full recipe here). Alternatively, go with half an avocado, frozen blueberries, banana, and almond milk (full recipe here).
3. High-protein oatmeal and blueberries
If you’re always running late, whip up these blueberry-almond overnight oats. Almond butter, chia seeds, and oats, especially, “provide sustained energy for longer workouts,” Mazur says. This recipe also gets a protein punch thanks to plain Greek yogurt and protein powder (vanilla or unflavored). “A scoop of protein powder adds amino acids to aid your muscles that are breaking down.”
4. Banana with peanut butter and honey
“Bananas are mother nature’s power bar: They’re loaded with simple carbs for fuel and potassium, which helps with optimal nerve and muscle function,” Mazur says. Top one off with a serving of peanut butter—or any other nut butter you like. (Just try to stick to the recommended 2Tbsp serving size.) If you want a little sweetness, drizzle a bit of honey. It’ll release slow, steady levels of glucose into your bloodstream—great for grueling WODs and endurance workouts when your body can start using muscle glycogen as fuel if it doesn’t have enough readily available carbs.
5. Apple with almond butter and raisins
“Dried fruit, like raisins, can be a good source of natural simple sugar,” Mazur says. The small amount of fiber in the apples and raisins, plus the monounsaturated fats in the peanut butter, will curb your hunger without filling you up—ideal if you aren’t too hungry in the morning.
6. Nut butter energy balls
Making your own “energy balls” is easier than you think. “Look for no-bake recipes that include nut butter, protein powder, oats, honey, and maybe some dark chocolate chips,” Mazur says. Try these eight low-carb DIY protein bars, bites, and balls.
7. DIY sports drink
“Nix the artificial colors and ingredients often found in commercially available sports drinks,” Mazur says. “Just blend water, freshly squeezed citrus juices, sea salt (sodium chloride), and honey, and you have your own carb- and electrolyte-rich blend.”
8. Homemade granola bar
By making homemade granola bars, you can “fuel your body for a lot less money,” Mazur says. All it takes is a little prep work. Try these three protein bars you can easily make at home. Stick to ancient grains, wholesome carbs, seeds, and a little dried fruit.
9. Low-fat cottage cheese and dried apricots
Cottage cheese is a power-packed breakfast (or snack) that contains healthy amounts of casein and whey protein. Casein is a slow-digesting protein that fuels your muscles for hours, helping them grow and recover; whey is a bodybuilding essential that helps bulk muscle and burn fat. Add dried apricots to a serving of cottage cheese: The combo of protein and carbs is low in fat and fiber, which can sometimes cause belly bloat.
10. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
“This all-American pre-workout snack is easy, cheap, and a portable source of protein and carbs,” Mazur says. Use whole-wheat bread and natural nut butter, if possible.