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What Should I Eat Before a Workout? Part 1

What, when, and how to eat our meals is unique from person to person. But this becomes even more evident when it comes to our workout meals or lack thereof. Many people struggle to eat right before a workout. These are usually the people who are up at the crack-of-dawn who prefer to cram in a workout before a morning tea or coffee like most sane people! However, if working out after a greasy fry-up seems a more leisurely way to start the day, it’s bound to have some negative after-effects. Possibly even an immediate one as you find yourself throwing up into the kitchen bin. However, not eating before a workout can also have dastardly effects such as dizziness as your limbs decide to practice the hokey pokey! This could leave you confused about whether to eat or fast prior to a workout.

a breakfast omelette on a cutting board
Eating the proper nutrition is very necessary to fuel your body to benefit from exercise.

Make sure to read Part Two: What to eat AFTER your workout.

Table of Contents:

Pre-Workout Eating

It’s also crucial to eat on non-workout days to encourage muscle repair and maintain strength. So, to answer the question should I eat? …yes, you should. The key to a successful workout is planning what to eat and when to eat it. This applies to all forms of exercise, not just high energy cardio workouts. Even the slower movements required for core strengthening, yoga and pilates require energy and thus a good eating regime. However, if, like us, knowing what or when to eat to support your workout and rest days is something you wrestle with, you are not alone. Internet blogs, sports magazines, health-nuts, and friends all have their opinions on the matter. So if, after much head-nodding, you have found you are no wiser than before, this is the article for you! This article will focus on the foods we should be eating to support our bodies pre and post-workout plus every day in between – finally, a little bit of clarity!

Carbs vs Protein

Firstly, before we dive into the different types of workout food, it’s important to understand the role of carbohydrates and proteins in our diet. Both are crucial for getting the best out of our core-workout routines. Eating right ensures you get the best out of your workout without feeling too sluggish as you try to exercise around your ‘food baby’ or too lethargic because your body doesn’t have enough energy.

The Truth About Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are good for you. Those five words would typically have every health addict gasping for air as they struggle to comprehend such a statement! After all, aren’t carbs the bad guys? Unfortunately, carbs have a bad reputation; with so many diets slashing them from the menu due to their supposed health defects, it’s no wonder everyone believes they need to avoid them.

If you googled the side effects of excessive carbohydrate intake, you would discover a shopping list of carb related health problems. These include weight gain, fatigue, brain fog and even acne. So it would seem that carbs are virtually to blame for everything from climate change to a possible zombie apocalypse! However, the truth is that any food type in excess is bound to affect your body negatively, as we discovered after gorging on a bowl of fresh peaches while on holiday recently!

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of fuel and energy. Furthermore, a whopping 45%-65% of our daily calorie intake should consist of carbs, especially when exercising. But, before you start loading your plate with sweet treats, pizza and chips, the type of carb you consume is where the puzzle gets clearer. Carbs are classed into two categories, simple and complex. The simple carbs are the type our waistline and sweet-tooth love, processed foods, sweets and sugary desserts. While the complex carbs are the ones you should be feasting on, these are found in beans, vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

Whole grains are especially beneficial to our bodies as they are digested slowly (slow energy release), help us feel satisfied for longer and regulate the body’s sugar levels. In addition, they are packed with the vitamins and minerals required to keep our bodies functioning at their best. Fuelling up on complex carbohydrates ensures the body is energized and has the stamina to complete the workout.

Protein For Growth & Repair

Protein is often hailed as the king of the dieting world, and for good reason. It helps our bodies with growth, maintenance, and repair. You may think at this point that your growing years are over, and you would be right! Besides, at our age, certain growth-related things will not change dramatically. However, growth goes beyond physical height and shoe size. The body constantly generates new cells no matter how old we get. This cell growth affects things like our skin which replaces itself every 27 days, and even red blood cell production. Growth processes that continue well into old age can also be seen in hair, nail and muscle growth. Interestingly enough, our pelvic and facial bones continue to grow as we age, as does the cartilage in our ears! The point is, just because we are getting older doesn’t mean the body has stopped growing or repairing.

Without the body’s repair functions working correctly, we would soon be in a sorry state.

When it comes to workouts, proteins’ main function is to build and repair the muscles used when exercising. It can also be used as a short-acting energy source when carbohydrate levels are low, but its superpower is in the ‘rejuvenation’ department! The average adult requires approximately 0.8g of protein for every 1 kg of body weight (.36 grams of protein for every 1 pound of body weight). This amount increases to 1g for older adults who may need to take supplements, such as B12, to achieve the correct protein levels. If you think you are not getting enough protein from your diet, chat to your doctor, who can advise the best way forward. Lean protein sources such as eggs, legumes, beans, fish, chicken, and beef are healthy protein options to incorporate into your diet.

Healthy Fats

Is there such a thing as healthy fat? The answer to this is going to surprise you. Yes, there is! Healthy unsaturated fats provide essential fatty acids that keep the body moving, especially during vigorous activity or workouts. They are also a primary source of energy during long or intense workouts. However, even simple activities such as climbing the stairs and walking, benefit from the energy boost we receive from these healthy fats. Healthy options include olives, avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil.

Protein + Carbohydrate + Unsaturated Fat = Superhero

Achieving a balance of carbs, proteins, and fats pre and post workout will ensure your body is adequately fueled, energized, and ready for action. It also means you won’t struggle to complete your workouts, and afterwards, your muscles will have the necessary nutrients to recover, grow and repair themselves.

an omelette burrito on a cutting board

3 Reasons To Fuel Up Before a Workout

More Energy

The body converts carbs into energy (Adenosine triphosphate) faster than protein or fat. Therefore, topping up on complex carbs before a workout will ensure a star performance.

Retain Muscle

Eating the right foods (protein and carbs) at the right time tops up energy stores and helps the body maintain your muscle mass.

Prevent Muscle Loss

Exercise burns up glycogen stores (carb stores) quickly in the body. As a result, the body looks for another way of fueling itself – enter the muscle buffet!

Unfortunately, the body is indiscriminate in its search for energy and happily breaks down good muscle protein to generate amino acids and thus more energy. This is also known as the catabolic state (muscle catabolism), where muscle tissue is broken down, preventing growth and recovery. Can you imagine the damage if you haven’t eaten beforehand?

Timing Guideline Pre-workout

Pre-workout meals should contain a combination of simple carbohydrates (low GI) and some protein. This ensures your body has enough energy for the workout and protection from muscle catabolism. Eating a low carb meal before exercise provides enough slow-released energy for your workout and prevents a dip in blood sugar levels. Two to three hours before your workout, eat a light meal containing approximately 400-500 calories. This should consist of at least 20g of protein and 20-30g of complex carbohydrates.

Foods To Eat Pre–Workout


When to eat: 30 -60 minutes pre-workout. The banana is the powerhouse of pre-workout snacks. Packed with potassium, simple carbs and natural sugars, it provides a supersized energy boost for any workout. Add a dollop of peanut butter on the side for extra protein.

Chicken Rice & Vegetables

When to eat: 2-3 hours pre-workout. This meal combines complex carbs and lean protein. It’s the perfect slow-release energy fuel and promotes muscle growth (anabolism). Feeling full and energized while exercising is vital for endurance and a beneficial workout.


When to eat: 60 minutes pre-workout. Homemade fruit smoothies are an excellent source of micronutrients. Having one before a workout provides the body with beneficial pre-workout carbs and helps keep you hydrated. Add a scoop of peanut butter to boost protein levels.


When to eat: 2-3 hours pre-workout. Egg omelettes are an excellent source of muscle-building protein. They contain the nine amino acids needed for healthy muscle growth and repair. Throw in a handful of vegetables such as kale or spinach to increase your energy levels during your workout.

Apple & Peanut Butter

When to eat: 30 minutes pre-workout. Sliced apple wedges with a thin spreading of peanut butter are the tastiest pre-workout meal. This snack is low in calories and carbohydrates but is full of nutrients and protein, keeping you full and energized during your workout.


To achieve your fitness goals and optimize your performance, it’s essential to consume the right foods prior to a workout. A well-balanced meal or snack provides the body with the necessary fuel, including carbohydrates for energy, protein for muscle repair and growth, and fats for sustained endurance.

Consuming the right nutrients before a workout helps prevent muscle fatigue, reduces the risk of injury, and aids with post-workout recovery. Additionally, proper nutrition ensures you have all the right energy to get through the workout.

Life can be amazing after 50, especially when you're physically able to enjoy it. Make this the healthiest time of your life!


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