what to eat before a workout crossfit

What to eat before you workout?

Nutrition is a topic we always get lots of questions about.

Undoubtedly how you fuel your body has a crucial role in how you’ll feel and perform.

When it comes to diet it’s important to always look at the big picture first and then zoom in.

It would be only stressful and non-beneficial to buy lots of expensive supplements and only organic groceries if then you are not eating enough protein or fruits and vegetables.

This is the reason why we always recommend our athletes to work with a nutrition professional to make sure their diet is spot on so they can reach their goals faster and more efficiently.

However, there are always some general guidelines and solid notions everyone can follow and build off of. 

what to eat before crossfit

In this article we will be discussing:

  • What foods to eat before your training 
  • When to eat before a workout
  • What foods not to eat before you workout
  • Some recipe ideas from our nutrition coaches and athletes

What foods to eat before training?

The most simple and generic answer applicable is: a mix of carbohydrates and protein with little fats and fiber. Based on the main focus of your workout, the duration of the workout and how early before the workout you are eating the specifics will vary.

There are two main options for eating pre-workout: full meal and snack.

The closer to your training session you eat the smaller the meal should be, the less fats and fiber it should contain and the “simpler” the carbohydrate sources should be.

If you’re eating a full meal then these are our recommendations:

Full meal recommendations

Carbohydrate sources:

  • sweet potato
  • normal potato
  • whole wheat pasta
  • rice
  • oatmeal.

These are all complex sources of carbohydrates that will take longer to digest therefore providing you with longer lasting energy throughout your workout.

Protein sources

  • Lean cuts of meat
  • lower fat yogurt or skyr
  • eggs
  • egg whites
  • cottage cheese
  • protein powder.

These are easily digestible protein sources that won’t sit on your stomach while you’re trying to survive a nasty workout.

Fats

Use fats of your choice but try to keep them to a low amount as they will slow down digestion.

If you’re having a snack then these are our recommendations:

Snack recommendations

Carbohydrate sources:

  • rice cakes
  • fruits (such as bananas, apples, pears, mango, pineapple)
  • bread
  • granola bars
  • juice and jams.

These are simpler, more easily digested sources of carbohydrates that won’t take as long to reach your bloodstream and provide Glucose to fuel your training.

crossfit athletes what to eat
picture courtesy of @vicmcleod

As a form of reference the more processed and high in simple sugars the food is the closer to your it should be eaten to the workout to fully take advantage of the spike in blood sugar levels.

Protein sources

  • protein powder
  • low fat dairy such as yogurt (best if Greek)
  • skyr
  • cottage cheese and kefyr
  • egg whites
  • very lean meats preferably “white” (such as poultry).

We are going for very lean protein sources in this case so that they can be easily broken down without having fats interfere with the digestion.

Fats

Best if avoided 1.5 hours out. Of course there will always be some fats coming from your protein and carb sources but it would be best to intentionally avoid adding more.

When should I eat before a workout?

Nutrition timing around training is highly variable. There is no right answer as long as you are eating the right type of food for the eating window you have before your workout.

As we previously explained you want to favor more complex sources of macros in bigger portions the longer the wait between your session and your meal time is.

Similarly if you’re eating very close to your session (30 to 15 minute window max) smaller meals that are higher in simple sugars and easily digestible protein are the way to go. 

If you are in a rush and have a packed schedule that makes you unable to eat anything up to the last few minutes before your training session then liquid sources of calories consumed in a 15 minute window are your best option.

Just make sure you are getting in a nutrient dense balanced meal soon after your training session.

To recap when you eat is not as important as what you eat.

Choose your food sources according to your meal timing and in a suitable manner to your schedule.

You can simply refer back to the previous section of this article to identify what to eat based on when you plan on fueling up before your training session.

What foods NOT to eat before you workout?

– Don’t eat foods you have a hard time digesting
– Don’t eat foods high in fat if eating sooner than 2.5 hours from training
– Avoid high fiber content foods 2 hours from training
– If it’s highly processed, carb and fat heavy it’s probably best avoided.

We’d like to mention that as a general rule it would be best to avoid eating foods that you’ve never had before and are unsure of how they will sit with you (and your digestive tract).

This is especially true when you are eating before an important training session like a qualifier or even a competition event.

Recipe ideas from our nutrition coaches 

Grams are not included as everyone is different and requires different portion sizes for their own specific goals and needs.

2/2.5 hours before training

Protein oatmeal

Oats + 3 to 4 times liquid (we recommend half water and half milk of choice) + Choice of added protein: cottage cheese, egg whites or egg added when oats are almost halfway cooked. 

crossfit protein oatmeal

Once cooked we recommend topping with some fruit for extra carbs, fiber and micronutrients. As you have time to digest before training peanut butter is also a good topping option. 

Rice and sweet potato bowl

Probably the most straightforward meal of all these options.

  • Split you carbs between sweet potato and rice to have more variety or feel free to just stick to one carb source.
  • Add some veggies of choice (frozen veggies are a great and convenient option if you’re short on time).
  • Pair with your choice of protein (we recommend lower fat proteins such as chicken breast, lean ground beef, tofu or egg whites)
  • and lastly make it more fun by adding some spices, hot sauce and a fat source such as avocado, oil or nuts.
sweet potato bowl

1.5 hours

Chicken wrap

Keeping it simple and easy to digest but still filling with this option. 

One tortilla smeared with hummus, avocado or low fat cream cheese. Add on your chicken + a couple slices of tomato or your veggie of choice.

1hour/30 minute hour

PB2, banana and jelly sandwich

2 slices of whole wheat bread, peanut butter made with deffated peanut butter mixed with water. banana slices and jelly. Sprinkle some cinnamon before closing up the sandwich and eating up.

30 minutes before

Banana or other high sugar fruit, rice cakes with jam or honey, granola or cereal bar, sports drink, carb shake.

With so little time sticking to only carbs that are quick to digest is the way to go. Don’t feel like you NEED to use a sport specific product in these cases. Simple carbs from fruit or grains also do the trick.