Good pre-workout nutrition (in addition to a well-rounded Paleo diet) can take your workouts from average to exceptional.
Whether you’re looking to lose fat or put on muscle, certain pre-workout snacks can give you a boost of energy that will get you closer to your goals.
Before we get into the best and most convenient snacks to eat before a workout, let’s review what makes up the perfect pre-workout snacks and why it is crucial.
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Carbs: What’s the Magic Number?
Oh, carbohydrates: one of the biggest sources of disagreement in the Paleosphere.
To be honest, the optimum grams per day for humans lies somewhere between you and your polar opposite living 3,000 miles away. Aka, there is no magic number concerning “optimal” carb intake other than the one that works for you and your body.
The reason for this is intricate personal genetic makeup, whether a person has gut issues like candida or leaky gut, whether they are insulin resistant, whether they have food sensitivities, etc… And somewhere at the end of all of these considerations, we can start to consider activity level. As you can infer, this is why so much confusion abounds regarding carbs, as one athlete may be able to sustain multiple weekly CrossFit workouts while in ketosis (very low carb), while another with higher carb needs will severely damage his or her metabolism trying to do the same.
Complications aside, what we can do is keep in mind that while there are people on opposite ends of the low and high carb spectrum, the majority of us seem to function optimally with moderate carb intake.
This is especially true for highly active individuals. Eating pre-workout snacks filled with a nutritious starch in the form of sweet potato, plantain, squash, and/or fruits is a great way to fuel performance, ensuring that you’re not putting undue stress on your body (1).
Of course, this isn’t the same recommendation as that of conventional sports science, which states we should be consuming extremely high amounts of carbs from this sports drink or that electrolyte gel in order to “perform” better. The truth is, unless you’re a competitive athlete working out at least twice a day, you’ll receive adequate electrolytes and nutrients from whole food sources. On that note, keep in mind that coconut water is a fantastic source of 100 percent natural electrolytes if you still feel the need to replenish during a workout. Just remember to purchase fresh coconut water (not from concentrate).
Protein is an important recovery nutrient, and one any Paleo eater consumes adequately. While research typically focuses on ingesting protein post-workout for muscle repair, new studies have revealed that ingesting protein before a workout can actually increase metabolism.
For instance, a study showed that individuals ingesting 18-19 grams of whey protein before a workout significantly elevated their resting energy expenditure compared to those ingesting carbs, for up to 48 hours following the workout (2).
Carbs and protein have rarely shared the fitness limelight with fats until recent years. Their emergence is well-deserved, however, with research highlighting their importance not only in recovery, but also in performance.
For example, one study showed that individuals who consumed a medium-fat diet (31 percent of calories) as compared to those who consumed a low-fat diet (16 percent of calories) improved their endurance time by 14 percent (3).
Another interesting study found that athletes who adopted a high-fat, low-carb diet two weeks leading up to their race, and then restored carbs shortly before the event, increased their ability to use fat for fuel without breaking down muscle (4).
The latter study shows us just how flexible the Paleo diet can be, and how you can adjust your diet and pre-workout macronutrient ratio to best suit your needs. The following pre-workout snacks vary from having a balanced ratio of carbs, fat, and protein to being higher carb or higher fat. Again, choosing which one is best for you depends upon your workouts and your goals. As the study above suggests, it may even be beneficial to switch them up as needed.
When to Eat a Pre-Workout Meal
When to eat a pre-workout snack largely depends upon your individual digestion. Some people can eat and work out straight away, while others can become sick if they don’t wait a sufficient amount of time. A good rule of thumb is to eat between 15-20 minutes before a workout. Also, remember that the less time you have before your workout, the smaller your meal or snack should be.
Now, without further ado:
The 11 Best Pre-Workout Snacks
1. Celery sticks with sunflower butter.
2. Handful of nuts and dried fruit.
3. Banana with 1 T almond butter.
4. Beef jerky and dried fruit.
5. Hardboiled eggs.
6. 2-4 ounces grilled chicken with carrot sticks.
7. 1/2 avocado or guacamole.
8. 1/2 sweet potato with coconut butter.
9. Coconut water.
10. Berry shake with 1/2 cup strawberries, 1/2 cup frozen blueberries, 1/2 cup coconut milk, 1 Tbsp almond butter
11. Plantains fried in coconut oil.
Again, feel free to rotate your snacks to keep boredom at bay and your body running with maximum efficiently.
(Read This Next: 11 Best Breakfast Foods for Digestive Health)