How to Plan Your Pre-Workout Fuel


When chosen well, pre-workout fuel can help you to reach your optimal performance during exercise. Proper nutrition before a workout also helps to maintain your hydration status and stabilize blood sugar levels.

Nutrition Targets:

Macronutrients include carbohydrates, proteins and fats and these are what provide the body with energy in the form of calories. Exercising requires a lot of energy. The main goal of your pre-workout fuel therefore, is to do exactly that, fuel your body, particularly your muscles.  Some easy-to-digest carbohydrates coupled with some, but not a lot, of fat and protein is best for this. Meals that are comprised of macronutrients in opposite ratios will be counterproductive and redirect most of the energy to your digestive tract as opposed to your performance.


Pre-Workout Fuel as a Meal:

At least 2-3 hours before exercising, aim to fit in a meal that is rich in carbohydrates, a good source of protein and lower in fat. Foods that are higher in fat and fibre take longer to digest and do not offer as optimal fuel so keep their portions at a minimum. Some examples include:

  1. A fruit and yogurt smoothie bowl topped with granola
  2. A low-fat tuna sandwich served with a side of fruit
  3. A small burger (made with either lean ground meat or plant-based) served on a bun and with a side salad 

Pre-Workout Fuel as a Snack:

If time is of the essence and you do not have time for a meal, foods that are richest in just carbohydrates will provide the best, quickest-to-digest energy. Given your time, you are more likely to eat this type of pre-workout fuel on the go. Some convenient nutrition to pack in your bag includes:

  1. Fresh fruit (ie. bananas, apples, oranges)
  2. Dried fruits (ie. dates, apricots)
  3. Dried fruit and nut energy bars

If you are opting for one of these lighter snacks prior to your exercise, aim to enjoy them up to an hour before.


Suggested portion sizes of pre-workout meals and snacks are difficult to provide as your needs ultimately depend on a variety of factors including your gender and body weight. Also, be mindful of the intensity and duration of your workout when you are planning your pre-workout meals and snacks, as these will also dictate how much fuel you require. Finally, do not forget to pair your pre-workout fuel with some fluids, preferably water, to help maintain your hydration levels.

Now that you have an idea of how to plan your pre-workout fuel, you must be wondering what comes after. To learn more about how to optimally refuel following your exercise, check out my article, Post-Workout Smoothies 101, where I discuss some of the basic principles of post-workout nutrition.

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Mirieta Selimovska
Mirieta is a Toronto born and raised foodie and aspiring Registered Dietitian. Her motto? All foods fit! It’s no secret that keeping fuelled with food that is both nutritious and delicious can be challenging at times. Lucky for you, Mirieta is here to help inspire your own (realistic!) journey towards improved health. You can find her on Instagram (@thesweetenedpea) or grabbing a coffee wherever the photo-worthy latte art is.