A lot of people will tell you that losing weight is simple: you just need to burn more calories than you consume. Easy, right? This is why you often see people going to the gym on an empty stomach, because what’s the point of eating beforehand if it’s only going to give you more calories to burn off?

Of course, it’s more complicated than that. Generally, if you go to the gym on an empty stomach you will burn fewer calories, along with a few other negatives that can negate the hard work you put into your workout. Sometimes, you need a few calories to kick your body into gear and prepare it for exercise.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean you can stuff yourself full of junk before the gym. You will find that you achieve the best results when you eat a combination of healthy carbohydrates and protein as a pre-workout snack.


The science

When you exercise, your body needs energy. Usually, this comes from glucose from the food you eat, which is stored as a chemical called glycogen. However, if you haven’t eaten enough before your workout, you might not have enough glycogen in your bloodstream for your body to use.

If this is the case, you will start feeling sluggish and you will find it harder to get a good workout in. You will still burn calories, but you’ll find you’re much less able to do so. If you replenish your glycogen before the gym, the energy you receive from it will allow you to burn enough calories to negate the food you ate to get there, and more.

In addition, if the body has no glycogen to use for energy, it can end up breaking down your muscles. The amino acids that these are made of can be used for energy, but obviously this is bad as it reduces your muscle mass. On the other side of that coin, if you eat protein before the gym, your muscles will be able to grow easier.

The important thing is to eat the correct amount and type of food. For example, fats contain lots of energy, but it is released so slowly that your body will probably not get much benefit from it while you’re at the gym. In addition, eating too much fat or protein can drive blood flow to the stomach, which is not where you need it to be when your muscles are supposed to be hard at work!

Ideally, therefore, your pre-gym food should be mostly carbohydrates and protein. Simple carbs are best, as they release their energy nice and quickly. Here are some of the best things to eat about 30 minutes before a workout:



They’re probably the original superfood, and for good reason; bananas are packed with nutrients and energy. They also contain potassium, which is one of the minerals your body loses when you sweat, allowing you to work out for longer. It also helps with muscle function.

They are low in protein, however, so one option is to chop up a banana and mix it with about 100 to 150 ml of low-fat Greek yoghurt. You could even add some cinnamon, which not only tastes great with bananas but also helps stabilise your blood sugar, helping to prevent an energy crash.



Eggs are full of energy, as well as natural protein. You can boil them or poach them for the best results, as you don’t really want to be frying them in oil or scrambling them with milk and butter.

While the protein in eggs is great, you probably want to be adding some carbs to your pre-gym snack. You could toast some wholemeal bread for a good source of fibre and carbohydrates, which combined with the eggs will be a great source of workout fuel. Just remember not to cover it in butter!


Apples and peanut butter

Most fruit will serve as an excellent source of energy, but we’ve picked apples as a good workout snack. They’re sweet due to fructose, which is more easily digested by the body than refined sugar, and are packed with vitamins and antioxidants. On their own, they’ll give you plenty of energy.

However, you might want to add some protein, in which case peanut butter – or any nut butter – is a good choice. For the best results, try to find a brand that doesn’t add sugar or oil to its peanut butter, as this can be a source of unwanted calories and fat. Go easy on the portion as well, as too much peanutty goodness can be bad for you.