The only thing worse than having your AirPods lose juice midway through a workout? Running out of juice yourself. Thankfully, you can avoid the latter by consuming a proper pre-workout snack before hitting the gym.
“A good pre-workout snack provides energy, aids in performance, and prevents hunger during a workout,” says registered dietitian and exercise physiologist Jim White, R.D.N., owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios. As a general rule, it should include a combination of carbohydrates for immediate energy and protein for muscle recovery and growth.
There are a million ways this can play out on your plate, which is why we asked trainers and sports nutritionists to share their all-time favorite pre-workout snacks for a little inspiration.
1. Eggs and Fruit
If you’re an early riser, late morning exerciser, or are a big fan of breakfast-for-dinner, take a page from the playbook of physical therapist and strength coach Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of digital movement platform Movement Vault, and whip up some eggs and a bowl of fruit salad before working out.
A fitness professional who primarily trains athletes online, Wickham works from home, which allows him to exercise in the later morning hours. “I wake up around 5:30 a.m., drink a cup of black coffee at around 7 a.m., then eat breakfast around 9 a.m.,” he explains. “My breakfast acts as my pre-workout fuel.”
For Wickham, the meal typically consists of four to six eggs, plus a few pieces of fruit (often a banana, an apple, and sometimes a mango). Since a single egg offers about six grams of protein, Wickham’s platter serves up 24 to 36 grams of protein, depending on how many eggs he chooses to fry. From there, the apple and banana contain about 25 grams of carbohydrates, while the mango has 50, he says. Together, they offer about 100 grams of quick carbohydrates that give Wickham’s body access to plenty of energy throughout his workout.
Read More: 5 Health Benefits Of A High-Protein Diet
“The meal is simple, but it works for me,” he says. “The combination of the choline—which is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine—from the eggs, caffeine from black coffee, and protein and carbs gives me the focus and energy I need to have a great workout.”
Worth mentioning: When Wickham is trying to lean out or increase overall strength, he ups his protein and decreases fat intake by scrambling half the usual amount of eggs with a scoop or two of raw whey protein powder mixed in. This slashes fat content and brings the overall protein content up to about 50 grams.
2. Greek Yogurt With Fruit
The perfect option for anyone who makes a pit stop at the gym on the way home from work, this pre-workout snack is quick, easy, and fairly mess-free. “Plain Greek yogurt with fruit is my favorite pre-workout snack because it has some carbohydrates for energy, some protein for muscle repair, and is easy for me to digest,” says exercise physiologist and certified strength and conditioning coach Sharon Gam, Ph.D,. C.S.C.S.
While she does not personally track calories or macronutrients, an average serving of Greek yogurt has 10 to 15 grams of protein and 100 to 150 total calories. This, combined with the 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates of fruit help her feel satiated and well-fueled all workout long. “It keeps me satiated without making me feel slow or sluggish,” she says.
If you’re chowing down more than an hour before you start your commute to the gym—or are simply on the hungrier side—Gam recommends zhuzhing up your parfait with granola. “Sometimes I sprinkle homemade granola with rolled oats, coconut oil, nuts, honey, and coconut flakes on top,” she says.
3. Cottage Cheese On Toast
If the prize you’ve got your eye on is major gains, then consider loading up on toast with cottage cheese ahead of your workout. That’s what certified strength and conditioning coach Jake Harcoff, C.S.C.S. head coach and owner of AIM Athletic, does when he’s trying to build strength.
Harcoff aims for a pre-workout snack that contains about 40 grams of protein and 65 grams of carbohydrates, which usually comes to life as three slices of toast topped with two cups of zero-percent fat cottage cheese. If he’s feeling adventurous or craving flavor, he tops everything off with a couple of drops of hot sauce (though a drizzle of maple syrup with cinnamon and berries could also work).
This pre-workout snack may sound pretty basic, but that’s exactly why it appeals to Harcoff. “The limited ingredients make it incredibly easy to adjust the macronutrient breakdown based on my specific needs,” he says. “If I want to lower my carb intake, for example, I can opt for low-carb bread or even switch it up with a rice cracker.” Plus, the snack takes three minutes to put together—less if you have an especially speedy toaster or use crackers instead of toast—which is perfect for people trying to fit the gym into their go-go-go lifestyle.
4. An Oat Smoothie
You may be used to whipping out the blender post-workout, but it’s a great option before hitting the gym, too.
“My personal favorite pre-workout snack is an easy-to-digest, nutrient-rich smoothie with one cup of coconut milk, half a cup of steel-cut oats, a quarter-cup of almonds, a banana, two dates, a scoop of chocolate protein powder, and raw agave, cinnamon, and pink salt to taste,” says Jim White, R.D.N. Consumed an hour or two before his workout, this line-up provides him with quick and steady carbs, some protein, and a little bit of fat for energy after his workout. Plus, the sprinkle of salt gives his body the electrolytes for optimal muscle function, he adds.
Not to mention, smoothies are quick, easy to prepare, and very portable if you’ll be on-the-go in the hours before you get sweating.
You’re not alone if a cup of coffee is the only thing you can stomach before a morning workout. An early morning exerciser currently dabbling with intermittent fasting, exercise physiologist Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., C.P.T., host of the All About Fitness Podcast, doesn’t have a true pre-workout snack. “The only thing I have before my workout is a cup of coffee with a dab of creamer for flavor,” he says. This gives him the caffeine he needs to feel energized and excited for his workout.
However (this is important!), while McCall skips out on a pre-workout snack, he doesn’t forgo a post-workout snack. “Within 45 minutes or so of wrapping up my workout, I have a protein drink,” he explains. The protein helps his muscles get the tools (namely amino acids) that they need to properly recover so he can hit the weights just as hard the next day.
If you’re wondering whether this approach is right for you, keep in mind that McCall’s number one health and fitness goal right now is longevity. “If I was trying to add mass or strength, I would quit intermittent fasting and have a pre-workout snack like two hard-boiled eggs and a piece of fruit (banana, apple, or half a grapefruit) about 90 minutes to two hours before training,” he shares.
If you share McCall’s mindset, just be mindful of how you feel exercising on empty. As McCall puts it, “I feel great with my current pre-workout routine, but not everyone will feel like they have enough energy to get through their workout on coffee alone.”