Want Better Workout Results? Eat These Foods And Drinks Before Exercising

You wake up early to rush to the gym before work. But you can’t run on an empty stomach, so what do you eat? The short answer: it depends on your exercise and diet goals. But you should get the best out of your pre-workout snack.

Some foods help you work out for longer. Others relieve soreness and build muscle mass. Whether you want a pre-workout snack, breakfast, or dinner, you’ll have plenty of food options to improve exercise. Here is the science behind these pre-exercise foods and drinks.

Don’t Save Water For After The Workout

To stay hydrated during a workout, you’ll want to drink water before, not after. In 2013, a study in Sports Medicine revealed that exercising while dehydrated decreases your strength, especially during high-intensity interval training. That’s a lot of muscle that could be gained through a glass of water.

A jogger with a towel around his neck drinks water.
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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Registered Dietitian Jessica Jones recommends drinking a glass of water 10 to 20 minutes before exercising. If you have time, you can drink two cups of water two to three hours before your workout. Remember to rehydrate immediately after.

Avocado Toast Isn’t Just A Trend

While protein is necessary for working out, you don’t want to overdo it and feel too full. Avocado is a light source of protein that includes healthy fats. Pair it with some whole-grain toast, and you’ll feel full enough (but not too full!) to hit the gym. Personal Trainer Frankie Holah recommends avocado as a choice breakfast ingredient.

A woman consumes smashed avocado on toast with arugula.
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Brendon Thorne/Getty Images for Virgin Mobile

If you’re aiming to lose fat, opt for this meal. Researchers from the University of Guelph have determined that eating avocado lowers blood pressure, which reduces your chances of obesity and diabetes. Unlike white bread, wheat bread was shown to assist weight loss during a 2018 study.

Get Energized With Coffee

A caffeine boost can enhance your workout, and coffee is the perfect source of that. According to research in Sports Medicine, caffeine helps people exercise longer and harder. It also prevents people from feeling fatigued. If you add some milk or cream, you’ll run off of protein, too.

A cup of coffee sits on a table at Colson Patisserie.
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Coffee can also help burn fat. In 2019, a study in Scientific Reports reported that caffeine burns brown fat cells after 30 minutes of drinking it. While this may not contribute to weight loss, it speeds your metabolism and can help if you pair it with exercise.

Beets Make Your Workout Sessions Longer

If you want to push yourself harder during exercise, eat beets beforehand. During a 2012 study, researchers observed people who ate beets 15 minutes before a workout. Beets lowered the amount of oxygen that the body needed to work out. As a result, participants lifted heavier and pushed themselves harder, says the study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

A farmer holds a freshly-rooted beet.

Beets can pull this off through their dietary nitrates, which convert nitric oxygen in the body. This improves blood flow and VO2 max, a fancy term for endurance. According to Registered Dietitian Heather Steele, juiced beets are more effective than whole beets.

Feel Fuller For Longer With Oatmeal

If you’re looking for a pre-workout breakfast, try oatmeal. It has more protein than other grains with 6 grams of protein per cup. Plus, oatmeal is made of complex carbohydrates. These digest more slowly, which lends you more energy throughout your workout instead of giving you a sugar spike.

Raw oats are in a white and blue bowl.

If weight management is your goal, oatmeal helps with that too. A 2016 study indicates that oatmeal helps people feel fuller for longer. That same year, research in Nutrients found that oats increase metabolism and promote weight loss in obese people.

To Prevent Cramping, Eat Trail Mix

Trail mix combines protein-packed nuts with dried fruits for a filling snack. Nuts–especially almonds and walnuts–also contain electrolytes, which prevent muscle cramping, according to Nutrition Coach Jessica Cifelli. If you don’t want a blood sugar spike from the M&Ms, make your own trail mix with dried cranberries or raisins.

Trail mix are in a glass bowl.
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Essdras M Suarez/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Many people exercise to live a longer, happier life, and nuts contribute to that as well. In a ten-year study that surveyed 120,000 participants, researchers found that people who ate nuts were more likely to live longer. Despite nuts’ fat content, they were also less likely to gain weight.

Apples Heal Your Muscles

While apples may not be a protein-packed meal, they offer other benefits for exercise. Apples have a flavonoid called quercetin, which accelerates muscle recovery. In 2013, research in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that quercetin boosts endurance in athletes.

A person holds a fork near cut apples.

Apples also may lower muscle swelling with its anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, they help burn fat. Researchers at the Nippon Sport Science University discovered that polyphenols in apples may decrease body fat by 30%. Pair that with exercise, and you’ll have a perfect diet snack.

A Spoonful Of Honey Does A Lot For Your Muscles

Most people don’t consider raw honey as a snack. But if you add it to another food or drink, it can help your workout. A 2013 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry discovered that honey has more antioxidants than sugars and energy gels. These help your muscles recover after the stress of exercise.

A honey comb drips honey into a yellow pot.

Pre-workout honey has other health benefits. During clinical trials from the National Honey Board, honey regulated blood sugar in athletes. It also boosted endurance when participants ate it before a workout.

Oranges Are Crucial For Muscle Recovery

If you eat oranges before exercising, the fruit will help your body repair muscle tissue. One orange provides 85% of your daily recommended vitamin C, which is crucial for muscle recovery. In 2001, researchers found that people who consumed vitamin C experienced less soreness and better muscle function during a workout.

French Thomas Voeckler celebrates after receiving the Orange Prize awarded to the nicest rider of the pack.

During the study, participants consumed 400 mg of vitamin C per day, and a typical orange contains around 70 mg. Even so, don’t discount oranges as a tasty and easy source of vitamin C. They have other exercise-promoting vitamins, such as selenium and calcium.

How Can You Relieve Soreness? Peppers!

Believe it or not, peppers make a great pre-workout dish, especially when paired with protein (such as stuffed peppers). Their main active ingredient is capsaicin, which can relieve pain even during exercise. According to a 2016 study in Nutrients, capsaicin boosts endurance and prevents fatigue during exercise.

Bell peppers packaged in plastic and loose bell peppers are for sale at a supermarket.
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Daniel Karmann/picture alliance via Getty Images

If you want to shed more fat, add some hot peppers to your pre-workout meal. Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that eating peppers before exercise results in more calories burned. Although the boost was modest, it’s still a perk.

Bananas, The Stimulators

Bananas work as both a pre- and post-workout snack. Nutritionist Dr. Anju Sood calls bananas a “stimulator.” With its carbs and fiber, bananas give you an energy boost that will kickstart your workout. “Banana works to prevent that by replenishing the glycogen depletion in your muscles,” she said.

A banana is held against a blue background.
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Bananas are 90% carbs, but don’t let that dissuade you. Their complex carbohydrates digest slowly to prevent you from crashing or cramping. Registered Dietitian Kim Larson, the founder of Total Health Nutrition, recommends eating more carbohydrates before you exercise.

Greek Yogurt Boosts Your Mood As Well

A typical six-ounce container of Greek yogurt has the same amount of protein as a two-ounce slice of meat. This protein helps people build muscle. In 2019, a study in Frontiers found that participants gained more strength and muscle thickness when they exercised after eating Greek yogurt.

A teenage girl eats from a container of yogurt.
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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

With the helping of vitamin D, Greek yogurt also improves your mood when combined with exercise. Research in Food Science & Nutrition determined that eating yogurt and exercising combated depression better than either alone. That’s just a plus of this perfect pre-workout snack!

Cottage Cheese Builds Muscle

Compared to other cheeses, cottage cheese is a low-fat, low-carb option. Over 70% of its calories are pure protein, which makes it great for exercise. Its special protein, cassein, has the same effect as whey in that it builds muscle mass.

Ceramic bowl of homemade cottage cheese sits on linen cloth over dark brown texture background.
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Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Research in Nutrients shows that cottage cheese’s protein absorbs slowly and prevents muscles from breaking down. Casein protein also helps the amino acid leucine that builds muscle, according to The American Journal of Physiology. Eat cottage cheese before working out to develop more muscle more quickly.

Athletes Need The Antioxidants In Blueberries

Blueberries have more antioxidants than most other berries, and this is necessary for athletes and active people. In 2012, New Zealand researchers discovered that eating blueberries before a workout aids muscle recovery. Blueberries’ antioxidants helped muscles for 36 hours after eating.

A person holds freshly-picked blueberries.
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Getty Images

Blueberries can also improve your performance while exercising. In 2018, a study in Nutrients revealed that berries improve reaction times and sharpen focus. Not only do blueberries help your physical performance, but they also benefit your memory and cognitive performance.

Gain All Amino Acids By Eating Eggs

With seven grams of protein, eggs make a great protein-filled snack. Eggs contain all essential amino acids, which form new muscles. One of these amino acids is leucine, which both burns fat and maintains muscle mass, according to researchers from the American Chemical Society.

A young participant cracks an egg while making challah during the Mega Challah Bake.
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Adam Berry/Getty Images

Although some people worry that egg’s cholesterol and fats will make them gain weight, the opposite is true. Researchers from the Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana found that participants lost 35% more belly fat than those who didn’t. You can’t go wrong pairing eggs with exercise.

For Enough Protein, Enjoy Peanut Butter Toast

Peanut butter toast is the perfect combination of carbs and protein. Together, whole-grain toast and peanut butter offer over 10 grams of protein to keep you full through your workout. Research by the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends this protein before a workout to improve your performance and metabolism.

Marmite peanut butter is spread on toast.
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Because of their heart-healthy fats and protein, peanut butter also repairs muscles. The Peanut Institute recommends peanut butter as a post-workout snack, but since it prevents blood sugar crashes, it works as a pre-workout snack as well.

Black Beans Fill You More Than Meat

Researchers at Iowa State University recommend eating complex carbohydrates before exercising. Black beans are a perfect example of these. With 20 grams of carbs per half-cup, black beans keep you full and energized through a workout.

Raw, dried black beans are in a heart-shaped container.
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Because of their high fiber, black beans also keep you more satiated for longer than meat. According to a study from the University of Copenhagen, black beans make people feel fuller than pork. In this sense, black beans can also assist in weight loss. Enjoy them with some whole-grain rice and vegetables for a fulfilling meal.

Increase Muscle And Decrease Fat With Milk

If you’re a fan of weight-lifting, you may want to buy more milk. Researchers from McMaster University in Canada found that drinking milk before a workout increases muscle and burns fat. In women, fat-free milk helped weight-lifting far more than sugary energy drinks.

LPGA golfer Sung Hyun Park (SHP) takes a drink of the winners milk after winning the Indy Women In Tech Tournament.
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Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The researchers were surprised by the fat loss and still don’t know what caused the results. A glass of milk supplies eight grams of protein and plenty of calcium, both of which benefit muscle growth. Since a little milk offers a lot of protein, it makes a quick and easy snack.

Broccoli And Cauliflower Have The Same Benefit

There’s a reason why bodybuilders often favor broccoli. Cruciferous vegetables–including broccoli and cauliflower–contain a compound called sulforaphane. According to an Italian study, low amounts of sulforaphane prevent cells from aging and dying, including muscle cells.

Chopped cauliflower, peppers, broccoli and brussels sprouts wait to be put in the oven.
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Whitney Hayward/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Because broccoli and cauliflower naturally have low amounts of sulforaphane, they’re perfect for muscle-building. With 2.6 grams per cup, they have more protein than most vegetables. Plus, they provide all essential amino acids. You can’t go wrong if you add these vegetables to a pre-workout meal.

Green Tea, A Great Fat-Burning Drink

If you want a small caffeine kick before exercising, but not as much as coffee, try green tea. This antioxidant-packed tea is perfect for working out. According to a small study in Nutrients, drinking green tea 30 minutes before a workout increased fat burning. It also raised epinephrine levels that gave participants more energy.

A woman drinks green tea in a terrace.
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marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

While green tea helps weight loss to an extent, it works far better with exercise. During an animal study, researchers from Penn State noted that weight and health did not change when mice drank green tea without exercising.