Four Benefits to Pre-Workout Fueling

red strawberry and raspberry on white ceramic bowl

Long ago, despite knowing better, I would avoid eating anything before heading out for a morning run. Knowing and doing are two different things. It was like I was afraid to consume more calories during the day because  consuming calories at the end of the day (or in the middle of the night) was more satisfying and comforting.

After registering for my first trail race however, this all changed. I wanted to feel as good as possible for every workout so I could get stronger and fitter to do what made me feel more connected to myself, the outdoors, and a community of outdoorists.  Feeling good meant practicing what I preached and timing food to fuel the work I was doing finding real means of comfort.

Here is a short list of benefits pre-exercise fueling (especially in the morning)

  • Increases energy to your muscles
  • Avoids “grumbling stomach”
  • Improves energy level and mood
  • Helps avoid overeating after exercise or later in the day

The loss of fluid and a reduction in the body’s carbohydrate stores are the two major causes of fatigue in exercise lasting more than one hour.  To achieve your goals it is essential that you define your optimal nutrition and hydration strategies.

When you exercise your body needs energy. This energy comes from what you eat and what you drink. The body’s preferred source of energy is carbohydrates that are stored in your muscles and liver as a ‘fuel’ called glycogen.

The body’s glycogen stores are limited and fatigue occurs when glycogen stores are depleted resulting in significant reduction in performance. Crossing the start line with already low glycogen stores is like taking a car out with a half empty fuel tank – you will run out of fuel more quickly and may suffer premature fatigue.

Are you cheating yourself out of optimal training for better performance because you believe it will help you burn more fat? If you are skipping out on pre-exercise fueling opportunities in the form of breakfast, you are losing out on fat burning AND energy in your late afternoon workout according to a recent study discussed here

All that time and effort needs to be supported with fuel to do the job and get the results of increase strength, staminia, endurance, speed, and agility. Working out without having eating anything in the one to four hour “window of energy optimization” only leads to shorter workout times at lower intensity simply because you don’t have the energy on board to do what your training plan asked of you.  


Remember, knowing and doing are different things.

This guide reminds you what to eat and when in the one to four hours before a working out. That is the ‘knowing’ part. The ‘doing’ part is writing down your go-to options for each time frame. By doing this your are accomplishing three things:

  1. Creating a pre-exercise fueling routine depending on when you workout. The idea is NOT to eat every hour in these four hours but to instead determine based on your schedule that day which hour you will be able to eat.
  2. Having foods you know you tolerate well planned out ahead of time so you have the food you need when you need it. For example, I always have energy bars and bananas on hand for my two hour time.
  3. You will create a positive routine with nutritious options that becomes a reflexive action and takes you less time to incorporate into your exercise routine.
1 hour or less2 hours3 hours4 hours
Water & easily digested carbsWater & carbohydratesMini meal with fluidsPre-Exercise meal
low to no protein, fat, fiberlow protein, fat, fiberInclude some protein, fat, fiberlean protein, starchy vegetables, fruit, (carbs + fiber), Fat (avocado, nut ro seed butter
100- 200 calories200-300 calories300-400 calories 400- 500 calories
Banana, 16 oz sports drink, or 1/2 sports bar + water
Examples: Pretzels with water + banana, bagel w/jelly + juiceExamples: Greek Yogurt, 1/2 strawberries, 1/2 granolaExamples: Bean, cheese, & rice burrito OR banana/honey/sunflowerseed butter sandwich with a glass of milk


Some people can eat a burger and hop on their bike while others need food to be totally digested before they can even think about exercise. Just ask Scott Jurek, the ultra runner with an ultra digestive system. He has been known to eat pizza and burritos during his run.

Create a plan using the free downloadable at the BUTTON below (created by my friends at Oregon State University Health and Human Performance lab). Try out different foods at different times to see what works best for you prior to different types of workouts. Be ready to scratch out foods that didn’t sit so well and write in new items to try.

Keep in mind that a dehydrated body can lead to an upset stomach during exercise no matter what you eat before the workout. For more on hydration read on here.

Bottom line is to eat and/or drink something before you workout to improve the quality of your exercise and ultimatley you performance in life and sport!

This entry was posted in: Nutrition


Nutrition Strategist and Registered Dietitian with twenty years of experience creating nutrition strategies that influence and inspire people to accomplish big things.

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