When Michael Scott organized a “Fun Run” on The Office, he prepped himself for the race with a mega serving of Fettuccini Alfredo. Unfortunately, Michael Scott’s version of carb-loading did little to improve his energy and performance during the run.

Although it’s funny, Scott violated the basic rules for pre-workout snacks: include healthy carbs whether you’re doing cardio or not, and add a serving of protein if you plan on getting pumped.

A pre-workout supplement is also a great option.

Avoid pre-workout pitfalls with this solid list of 5 good carbs and 5 healthy proteins.

Banana and granola bar

1. Banana

Heart and skeletal muscles need potassium to flex and contract, something they’ll be doing a lot during your workout. Bananas hold about 400 mg potassium, making them a rich source of this essential mineral.

Plus, for only 100 calories, you’ll get 14 g sugar and 30 g total carbs to fuel your workout. [1] [2]

2. Oatmeal or Whole Grain Cereal

For an extended workout, a whole grain cereal or a serving of oatmeal delivers plenty of easily digestible energy that’ll stick with you. Stay away from packaged flavored oatmeal which contains unnecessary sugars. Instead, toss in some berries or top with cinnamon to sweeten the taste.[3]

3. Whole Grain Bread

With a multitude of pairing options, whole grain bread is the perfect canvas for the rest of your pre-workout snack. But beware: not every bread bearing the words “whole grain” on the label qualifies for the title. Make sure the bread contains 100% whole grain, lists “whole grain” or “stone ground” as the first ingredient, or at least holds 3 or more grams fiber per slice. [4]


4. Apple Slices

The most elementary of fruits, apples contain polyphenols which have multiple exercise benefits. Studies show fruit-derived polyphenols reduce fatigue and muscle damage during exercise.

Apples come in many taste varieties, so you can make this pre-workout option as sweet and snack-like as you wish.[5] [6]

5. Brown Rice

Just like whole grains are better than their refined and processed counterparts, brown rice packs more nutritional value than its white relative. Brown rice may be bland, but it rests easily in the stomach and isn’t likely to cause bloating. Just go easy on the salty soy sauce and fatty flavor enhancers which promote water retention and are heavy in the digestive system.

Peanut Butter

6. Peanut or Almond Butter

These spreadable nut butters contain protein to encourage muscle growth post exercise. Some athletes avoid peanut butter before a workout, thinking the fat content hampers exercise success.

However, those good fats are not only heart healthy but stomach filling. Plus, they pair well with fruits or whole grain breads.

7. Greek Yogurt

According to mythology, the Greek gods feasted mostly on ambrosia. And, with twice the protein of regular yogurt, Greek yogurt also qualifies as a divine superfood. Just 6 oz. Greek yogurt holds 15% to 20% of your recommended calcium intake but little sodium and less sugar than classic yogurt. [7]

8. Lean Meat

Lean meats satisfy taste buds with their rich flavors, fuel muscles with their packed amino acid profile, and keep the stomach filled but not weighed down. A small serving of chicken or salmon acts as a meal substitute, but a few slices of lunch meat or a can of water-packed tuna also does the trick.


9. Eggs

A memorable ad campaign didn’t call this inexpensive protein source “the incredible, edible egg” for nothing. Eggs have more bioavailable proteins than any other whole food. Enjoy eggs any way you like—hard-boiled, scrambled, poached, omelet, whites only—except for topped with creamy hollandaise sauce.

10. Trail Mix

The most snack-ish pre-workout snack was saved for last. Unfortunately, this doesn’t refer to sweet and salty grocery store trail mix with chocolate candy and butterscotch chips. Subtract the sweets, though, and you’re right on target: almonds, sunflower seeds, cashews, and walnuts make a perfect muscle-building pre-workout snack mix.

Final Thoughts About Pre-Workout Nutrition

Now that you have option for what to eat pre-workout, follow these rules for portion size and timing to set yourself up for workout success.

Size-wise, plan a pre-workout snack with about half as many calories as you plan to burn during your workout. That way you fuel up on adequate exercise energy without cancelling out the effects of your efforts.

When it comes to timing, give your body at least 30 minutes to start digesting your chosen pre-workout snack. Remember to mix and match protein and carb sources for an energized workout tailored to your muscles’ needs.


[1] “Potassium.” University of Maryland Medical Center, 2011. Available from: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/potassium.

[2] My Fitness Pal. “Calories in Fruit Banana, Medium, 7-8″ Long.” Available from: http://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/calories/fruit-banana-medium-7-8-long-94396562.

[3] “12 Best Breads: Does Your Fave Stack Up?” eBrandAid. 2013. Available from: http://ebrandaid.com/bread/12-best-breads-does-your-fave-stack-up/.

[4] Ataka, S, M Tanaka, et al. “Effects of Applephenon and ascorbic acid on physical fatigue.” Nutrition. 23.5 (2007): 419-23. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=apple%20polyphenols%20endurance.

[5] Connolly, DA, MP McHugh, OI Padilla-Zakour, L Carlson, and SP Sayers. “Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage.” British Journal of Sports Medicine. 40.8 (2006): 679-83. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16790484.

[6] My Fitness Pal. “Calories in Chobani Greek Yogurt Blood Orange (Corrected 6/17/13).” Available from: http://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/calories/chobani-greek-yogurt-blood-orange-corrected-6-17-13-85926535.

[7] Owen, Patrick. “Top 10 Pre-Workout Foods.” AskMen.com. Available from: http://www.askmen.com/top_10/fitness_top_ten/24_fitness_list.html.