5 best pre-workout meals for better performance and faster recovery

From apple with peanut butter to oats and egg, here are the best pre-workout meals you should eat

Woman packing vegan food into plastic free lunchbox at home
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At first, it might seem a good idea to exercise with an empty stomach, especially if you're planning on losing weight. And although it's okay to work out on an empty stomach, you get more out of your sessions if you consume the correct pre-workout meals as these will help boost metabolism (better for weight loss) and help you recover faster, enabling you to work out more often and with higher intensity.

What is a good post-workout meal? Is it a good idea to chow down on a big roast dinner before you hit the gym? "It's important to never exercise after a big meal as your body is trying to digest food, and this could result in nausea", says Joanna Dase, fitness expert at Curves (opens in new tab). She recommends having a smaller meal an hour before your workout as it leaves enough time for your body to digest the food and release energy from it.

If you want to keep on building muscle and exercise to your full potential, it's recommended to choose the foods listed below. 

Best pre-workout meals

Person eating a yoghurt snack with berries in the kitchen


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1. Yogurt with fruit

As Joanna explains, "Having yoghurt and fruit pre-workout will send digesting carbs to your muscles for energy. Fat-free plain Greek yoghurt is packed with protein and will fill you up without leaving you feeling heavy." If you find the taste too tart, fruit like blueberries will give the snack a sweet finish. Always stick to plain yoghurt to reduce adding extra sugars from flavoured options.

 2. Apple with peanut butter

This combination is the perfect way to fix your sweet and savoury cravings. "Chop ½ an apple up and dip into ½ tablespoon of reduced-fat (or full-fat if you're a hard-gainer) peanut butter", Joanna recommends, "The apple is your source of glucose and carbohydrates, and the peanut butter brings in protein and healthy fats."

Smoothie on a table surrounded by its ingredients

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 3. A fruit smoothie

A smoothie is a quick yet perfect snack before exercise. They provide the body with the two most critical pre-workout macronutrients: carbohydrates and protein. "Pack yours full of nuts, yoghurt, and soy milk to help contribute to muscle growth", Joanna adds, "If you can, try not to add any sugar to the mix; there is plenty of sugar coming from the fruits. A strawberry oatmeal smoothie has a rich and creamy texture and is perfectly packed with vital ingredients."

Here are a few smoothie recipes to get you started: Chris Hemsworth's favourite smoothies and 5 simple protein blender smoothies to supercharge recovery after exercise.

 4. Oats with eggs

"If you want a fuller breakfast before you exercise, try having 40 grams of cooked oatmeal with two egg whites or a whole egg", says Joanna, "Oats provide a slow release of energy throughout the morning and helps to protect your heart health." Eggs are a great source of muscle-building protein and choline, which is a nutrient vital to brain and liver health.

 5. Trail mix

"Trail mix is great before any workout", Joanna chimes in, "The raisins provide a quick burst of energy whilst the almonds are high in protein and filled with beneficial unsaturated fats. The added dried fruits, nuts and grains are packed with vitamins and minerals which your body needs before exercising." Be wary of serving sizes as the calorie count can be high (nuts are generally high in calories); try to control portion sizes by storing them in small containers or food bags.

Two bodybuilders drinking mass gainer shakes in a gym

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+1 Mass gainer

A weight gainer shake might be a good option as a pre-workout meal for those who find it hard to put on weight and need something that doesn't require assembly or cooking. Mass gainers are a type of protein powder that contains high amounts of carbohydrates that fuel muscle growth and give you the energy to work out.

You can make your own weight gainer shake by mixing protein powder, oats, flaxseed and water or milk. Make sure you keep track of your calorie intake to avoid overconsuming energy.

Matt is T3's Fitness Editor and covers everything from smart fitness tech to running and workout shoes, home gym equipment, exercise how-tos, nutrition, cycling, and more. His byline appears in several publications, including Techradar and Fit&Well, and he collaborated with other fitness content creators such as Garage Gym reviews.