Nutrition Ask Me Anything: How to Fuel BEFORE Your Workout

Published on ‎10-04-2021 10:15 AM by Guide | Updated on ‎10-11-2021 03:39 PM

Join Nutrition Guide Heather Caplan RD during this Q&A to figure out how to fuel for YOUR workouts! There's no perfect meal or snack to get you going and fuel your body adequately, but there will be a few great options that work for you and your fitness goals. 


Questions we can cover: 

- Do I need to eat before exercise?

- When should I eat before exercise?

- What kinds of foods should I be eating before exercise?


Drop your question in the comments below, on or before Tuesday 10/19 at 4pm PT. (And yes, you can just copy one of those questions above, if that's what you're curious about.) 

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What do you think of macros?  I am following a set macro list, eating more calories than I have ever eaten and feeling good, not gaining weight. 


Hi @SamMax ! There's really no major difference between "counting Macros" and "counting calories" ; with counting Macros there is obviously more of a focus on the quantity of nutrient intake between CHO, PRO, and Fats, vs just focusing on total energy intake). If you're eating more but noticing a change in weight, that likely just means you're eating enough to meet your body's needs! Sometimes, because of how common VERY low-calorie dieting is, people are surprised by how much energy they really  need to eat each day to keep their body well-fueled (especially if/when active, but even without activity). If you're feeling good, that's great! 

My main concerns when someone is counting/tracking calories or macros are 1) the sustainability of that mental load, constantly counting/tracking/keeping up with numbers and 2) flexibility with those numbers. We aren't robots, so it's not possible to predict *exactly* what we need on any given day, even with all the science we have. We can generate *estimates*, but it's also so important to remember that some days you'll need more than others, and vice versa. And that's totally normal and OK! So I encourage people to also take into account their hunger and fullness cues, and to practice not being so rigid with their macro/calorie counts (or ranges). 

I'm curious -- do you feel like this is something that 1) helps you eat enough and 2) you can be flexible with to meet your needs on days you might want a little more or less? 

i have tried to just stick to the macros so i haven't tried eating more or less some days.  i do see your point on how sustainable it is as counting can be overwhelming.  i definitely realize i was not eating enough to fuel my body. i have given up afternoon diet sodas. don't even think about them - my energy is up.  



If you intermittent fast and don't eat until 11:00am or 12:00pm EST and you workout in the morning, how do you fuel before your workout?   Should you workout fasted or should you wait to workout after you've something to eat?

Hi @Strong-N-Fit ! Thanks for this question. It's a good one to help us see where we may need to kind of make our own rules to make a way of eating work for us, instead of always feeling like we have to make ourselves fit into the narrow box of certain diets/trends. 🙂 My suggestion would be to still eat something before your workout on those days! If you regularly work out in the morning but don't eat until a few hours later, you're missing a key window of opportunity to help repair and rebuild muscle tissue, and replenish glycogen stores. These two things are what actually help us build strength and endurance over time. Without that process, what's likely happening is that muscles and glycogen stores are being gradually broken down/depleted, and that may eventually leave you feeling fatigued, sore, and/or not noticing your usual benefits (whatever those may be) from your movement routine. 

So, a few things to consider: 1) changing the hours you fast to accommodate *your* schedule and preferences, 2) keeping the IF hours you have now (if you feel like that works for you) but make your own rule to eat something before and/or right after exercise in the morning and/or 3) reconsider whether IF feels sustainable/necessary for you and your exercise goals. 

Totally up to you! Out of those three considerations, what thoughts come up for you?


Should I emphasize protein and carbohydrate equally? How much water should I have beforehand for feeling best (and not stopping for pit stop too often)?

Hi @Alexandra36 ! Great questions for getting down to some specifics that will work for you. 🙂 

Generally, the guidelines for sports nutrition are to emphasize carbohydrates *before* exercise and emphasize both carbohydrates and proteins *after* exercise. That said, most people I know do still have protein and fat in their pre-workout meal/snack to some extend, it's just mostly carbs. The (simplified) reason for this is that carbs are more easily and quickly (and efficiently) digested, so they provide quickly available energy to your muscles etc. After exercise, including some protein (and often, naturally that includes some fat as well) with those carbohydrates will provide some nutrients to help your muscles rebuild and repair tissues (e.g. build strength and endurance). 

Re: water intake, this varies so much by individual! Factors to consider are how dehydrated you feel upon waking (you can assess this quickly by urine color -- the lighter the urine, the more hydrated you are, and vice versa), any recent illness, altitude, heat and humidity, how long or intense your workout will be, etc. I also recommend drinking water and/or electrolytes mixed with water during exercise if you are doing anything over 30 (some people even benefit from hydration when exercising <30 min). This is something you can experiment with a bit to see what works for you! 

Are you finding that you often need a  pit stop? What time of day do you typically exercise?


Looking forward to Tuesday. I feel my best on a full stomach mostly because I feel so weak if Im hungry.. What is a healthy carb/ protein meal before a 2-3 hour hike or bike ride? Sometimes I grab a cheeseburger and fries because I know the hunger wont sneak up on me for a while.

Kittie B

Age 60

Hi @kittiemae , I love this option! 🙂 If it works for you, then it's a great thing to go for when it sounds good. I also love for my clients to have a few go-to meals/snacks, so that when their preferred pre-workout meal/snack isn't available, they feel confident eating something else. My take on what's "healthy" is dependent on what's healthy (e.g. realistic, sustainable, practical, etc) for you and your preferred form of movement. I love cycling because I find that most clients who are cyclists can be a little more flexible with that they eat before a ride, compared to running or swimming (for example). 

So, I'd turn the question back to you, first! What time of day are you usually cycling? Is there anything you know doesn't work for you? What are some pre-workout meals/snacks you've had in the past that you like? 


What types of workouts are better fasted vs. 2-3 hours after a meal? 

Hey @erincyu ! I don't know of any workouts that are "better" fasted, but some people will say they feel better when they exercise fasted vs. with a meal or snack. And most times, having a snack 30-60 minutes before working out is plenty of time for some digestion. A meal, yes, you would probably want closer to 2-3 hours. 🙂 


What are your preferred types of workouts? Do you usually fast, or have a meal first?

Thanks! I either run or do strength training circuits. Strength I can do with food in my stomach, but when running I always get side stiches / cramp up unless my stomach is totally empty. I was just wondering if it's unhealthy to work out even though I can feel hunger... like does that mean I'm burning muscle, or is that a myth?


How do I figure out the best eating and exercising combo for me? I am 51, and vary my routines regularly. I cycle, walk, run, strength train, do yoga, Pilates, etc. I  am grateful to be strong and healthy, but am frustrated not to see the results I want in my body. 

Hi @AndreaD , I love that you have so many forms of movement that you like and are able to regularly enjoy! I resonate with that -- my preferred form of movement is running, but I also love hiking, strength workouts, yoga, etc. I'm curious how you would define "the best eating and exercise combo" for you, that would be a good place for us to start. 🙂 It sounds like maybe you have some current habits/routines, but they aren't translating to "results" that you're expecting. Do you mean body composition? Or the results you're expecting from your workouts (e.g. maybe a running pace, strength goals, etc.)?
Sometimes what I have clients do is put a specific (e.g. measurable) body goal aside, and assess how they're feeling, first. Based on what you're eating and how often you're exercising, how do you feel during your workouts? How are you feeling throughout the day? How would you assess your quality of sleep? (We have some great sleep info on here, too! cc @Valerie_C !) 

Thank you for your response. I guess I’m looking to be leaner and want to balance my eating and movement to better reflect that. How does one know if they’re eating too little or too much or overdoing it with some exercises or should be adding more of others? I will absolutely look at the sleep component for tips. 


Hi all! Popping in a little bit early to answer your questions, so if you have any follow-ups, we can cover those extra details later today 🙂 


Did I miss info for a call in for this event? Or is it simply the Q and A here? Sorry if there is an easy answer, I just don't want to miss anything!


Hi @CarrieJ ! Just a Q&A here for this event 🙂 We’ll do a live one soon. 
you’re welcome to add any more questions you have about fueling before workouts — or chime in on another thread here if you’re curious for more info! 

Perfect, thanks!