As part of our partnership with the North Carolina Fusion Soccer Club we would like to offer supplemental resources for members of the club. Please see below for helpful sports nutrition information.

Exercise: The Pre-Workout Meal

Everyone seems to have an opinion about what to eat before exercise; information abounds. Personal trainers, magazines, the media, coaches, and anyone that eats has a philosophy about this topic. 

Some say protein is essential to build muscle. Others tout the importance of carbohydrate for immediate energy. Everyone agrees that water is important, but when and how to consume it varies, depending on whom you ask. Much research is performed with financial support from the industry, with sometimes questionable credibility. The following guidelines are based on current nutrition research and strong empirical data. 

For the majority of exercisers, those who perform cardiovascular or light strength training as physical activity for an average of 35-40 minutes, a few days a week, the most important thing is overall good nutrition. A strong foundation of a healthful diet is enough to provide sufficient energy, prevent fatigue, and aid in cardiovascular and muscle work. 

A simple pre-exercise snack with plenty of water should fuel the body sufficiently. The best pre-workout meal is one that works best for the individual and is not digested too rapidly. 

Try these ideas:

A banana with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
Low-fat yogurt and a piece of fruit
Oatmeal made with skim milk and fruit
Trail mix with nuts and fruit
Granola with low-fat milk and fruit
A smoothie made with low-fat yogurt, fresh fruit, and wheat germ or flax meal

Sip water throughout the activity and after exercise is completed. Exercisers or athletes in training may require a more substantial meal or snack to optimize performance. The best pre-workout meal for athletes is one that is full of nutritious and wholesome foods. More importantly, it is one that is tried and true for them.

Factors that may contribute to how well a pre-workout meal is tolerated include: 

Allergies and intolerances
Dietary intake during exercise
Gastric motility and emptying time
Genetic factors
Overall diet
Type of training

Pre-workout meal tips

The following are some ideas that you may want to try:

Choose high-carbohydrate, low-fat foods (whole-grain, high-fiber foods consumed 1 hour prior to exercise are ideal) such as: 


Avoid high-fat protein sources (fried meats, cheese, and hamburgers) because they take longer to empty from the stomach and may contribute to a sluggish or nauseated feeling.
Take time to digest your pre-workout meal; the blood used to digest foods in the stomach is required in the muscles for exercise, so food will remain in the digestive tract longer if improper time for digestion is allowed.
Eat familiar foods prior to competitions and intense practices.
Use energy bars and protein shakes as alternatives to whole foods. Make sure to realize that the needed calories come primarily from sugar:

The energy boost does not come from consuming the ingredients in these products, but from consuming the 200-300 calories needed in a pre-workout meal.
These products are not more digestible than whole foods.
Adequate water consumption is essential for complete digestion.

References and recommended readings

Dorfman L. Nutrition in exercise and sports performance. In: Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S, Raymond JL. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. 13th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:507-530.

Kreider RB, Wilborn CD, Taylor L, et al. ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review: research & recommendations. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010;7:7. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-7-7.

Nutrition411 Staff

Review Date 5/25/15