From wrangling on a sports bra and workout leggings, to finding pesky earbuds and a reusable water bottle, gearing up for a workout requires a fair amount of prep work. But one step that often goes by the wayside is actually fueling up your body.
"The right pre-workout fuel will help to optimize your energy levels, your performance, and even how you feel after a workout," explains Molly Kimball, a registered dietitian at Iconic. "The proper fuel can also help you increase the intensity and duration of exercise, which will burn more calories in the long run."
However, fuel doesn't necessarily equal food. In fact, you don’t always need to eat before a workout, Kimball notes. "Our bodies typically have enough carbs stored to fuel workouts up to 60 to 90 minutes–even first thing in the morning."
That said, getting hydrated before a workout is key. The right pre-workout beverage can make a big difference in your performance and recovery. Just try to give yourself at least 30 minutes before exercising to allow time for proper digestion, Kimball notes. Ahead, the best drinks to have before your workout.
Maple water is having a moment—and not just because it’s autumn. "This is a great option to drink before a workout to hydrate the body without the unnecessary added sugar or heavy calories coming from standard sports drinks," says Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD and author of The Better Period Food Solution. One brand she loves is Drink Simple, thanks to the low amount of sugar and high antioxidant load.
Sometimes simple is best. That's the case when it comes to coffee and working out. Research shows that caffeine can help improve your athletic power and endurance. Kimball explains, "It also can buffer our perception of effort, pain and fatigue, all of which can translate to better performance."
Homemade Protein Shake
If you have time before a big workout, whip up a pre-workout shake, suggests Kimball. In a blender, mix up protein powder or reduced-fat greek yogurt to provide 15-20 grams protein, water or unsweetened almond milk, plus banana or other frozen fruit—this gives you the perfect combo of protein, carbs, and fluids. To top it off, add a dash of sea salt for extra electrolytes.
Ready-to-Drink Protein Drink
Short on time? Consider stocking your fridge with pre-made protein drinks, Kimball recommends. Look for one that contains 15-20 grams protein, no more than 5-8 grams sugar, and is rich in electrolytes, namely sodium, potassium, calcium. "I like at least 200 mg sodium, and 200mg of potassium and/or calcium is an added bonus," she says.
Caffeinated Tea With Honey
Go for green or black tea, which contains caffeine energy. But, the honey is also a key component: "I suggest adding a spoonful of honey," says Nealy Fischer, founder of The Flexible Chef and author of Food You Want for the Life You Crave. "Honey is considered a great pre-workout food because our cells break down the natural sugars, giving us an extra burst of energy!"
If you're expecting a tough workout, consider downing a green juice. This will provide you with some extra calories for energy, but it won't weigh you down like solid food, Fischer explains. Just make sure to buy one that only contains fruit and veggies — no added sugars.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Branched-chain amino acids, a.k.a. BCAAs, help maintain cellular energy levels before physical activity and support a workout as well as recovery by stimulating muscle protein synthesis, explains Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LDN. Add some BCAA powder to your pre-workout shake, or look for a pre-made product, such as RSP Nutrition's AminoLean. Plus, it also contains caffeine meant to lead to additional increases in strength, endurance, and power.
Pickering C, Grgic J. Caffeine and exercise: what next?. Sports Med. 2019;49(7):1007-1030. doi:10.1007/s40279-019-01101-0