What should an athlete eat before exercise?

Athlete's diet: what to eat before physical exercise?

What should you eat before physical exercise ? Fruit, protein bars, a pasta dish?

If scientific studies recommend practicing physical activity on a full stomach, the idea is not to overload your digestive system.

Physical activity would be more effective when preceded by a meal or snack. Eating before exercise would optimize your sporting performance.

However, overeating or eating the wrong foods before exercise has the opposite effect, because saturating your intestine leads to fatigue, muscle weakness and reduced efficiency during exercise.


Here is what to eat before exercise when you are athletic:

  • carbohydrates (preferably low glycemic index);
  • vegetable proteins ;
  • light foods that are well tolerated by the body;
  • antioxidants to strengthen muscular effort and bodybuilding.

Eat carbohydrates before exercise

Carbohydrates provide all the energy you need to carry out intense physical effort. They prevent muscle weakness and hypoglycemia which can cause discomfort.

Once concentrated by metabolism in the liver and muscles, carbohydrates become glycogen which is the most quickly available energy source during physical exercise. The more energy you have to expend, the better your effort is achieved.

So remember to consume carbohydrates before going to the gym.

Good to know : the amount of energy differs depending on whether you eat simple or complex carbohydrates

Energy efficiency is better when an athlete consumes carbohydrates with a low glycemic index (cereals, legumes, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, etc.). We are talking about complex carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (sweet drinks, cakes, white bread, etc.) are recommended for sports recovery in order to replenish glycogen quickly.

High GI foods cause an insulin spike and promote the storage of carbohydrates in the form of fat. These are simple carbohydrates. Limiting their consumption allows you to better control your body mass and weight.

A stable blood sugar level influences your physical fitness and therefore your abilities during sporting activity.

Pay attention to the type of sugars you consume. Sports nutritionists advise consuming low glycemic index carbohydrates composed of glucose and fructose to maintain a good stock of glycogen.

You can drink a plant-based drink made from water and honey for example, or eat fruit a few hours before training.

Don't skimp on your lunch, during which you can replenish your energy stores for a late afternoon workout.


Consume plant proteins before a sports session

Having good protein intake is essential for stabilizing energy and maintaining muscle tissue.

During the meal before exercise, add a good amount of protein to your plate.

Choose low-fat proteins like plant-based proteins . They contain few lipids and are more beneficial for your health, because they are less acidifying for the body, more digestible and better for cardiovascular health.

Discover the 7 benefits of consuming plant proteins.

Attention. Protein takes about 4 hours to digest. It is therefore advisable to consume them during the meal before training, because the digestion of proteins requires energy from the body. Energy that you would like to conserve for your sports session.

The ideal snack before sporting activity would consist of fruit, a mixture of oilseeds (nuts), dried fruit, fruit or vegetable juice, etc. It should be taken within 2 hours before training to allow time for assimilation.

10 fruits rich in plant proteins to eat before exercise

  1. prunes;
  2. bananas (this is THE sportsman's fruit par excellence);
  3. apricots (very rich in potassium, iron, copper and magnesium);
  4. kiwis;
  5. the lawyers ;
  6. raisins;
  7. plant-based yogurts;
  8. the walls ;
  9. guavas;
  10. figs.

Eat light, digestible foods before sports training

The athlete's diet just before exercise must remain light with simple, easy-to-digest foods. Limit ingredients that can cause bloating or cause digestive discomfort, such as legumes (beans and beans for example) or cruciferous vegetables.

Also avoid nutrients that require a lot of energy during digestion and slow down the metabolism. Proteins, especially animal proteins, should be consumed within 4 hours before the sports session.

Plant proteins remain better for digestion since they digest faster. You can therefore consume them a little earlier before sport.

Here are 5 examples of light foods to eat 1 to 2 hours before sport:

  • fresh fruit ;
  • compotes without added sugar ;
  • oilseeds (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, etc.);
  • spirulina (an algae with a protein content sometimes higher than meat and certain animal products);
  • seeds (soy, squash, etc.).

Consume antioxidants before muscular effort

Eating blueberries, berries, broccoli or any food rich in antioxidants is recommended before exercise, particularly for muscle strengthening .

Antioxidants help muscle fiber to regenerate. They protect cells from free radicals generated when the body experiences stress, such as when you participate in a sporting activity.

Favoring colorful fruits and vegetables, rich in vitamins and minerals, will help you recover after sport.

Consuming them before practicing sports will have a beneficial effect on post-workout recovery.

Good to know :

Vitamin C supports the immune system and reduces the risk of weakening the body after a sports session. It fights against oxidative stress and allows good absorption of iron which is essential for bodybuilding, in particular because it forms red blood cells.

You consume vitamin when you eat before physical exercise:

  • citrus fruits like clementines and oranges;
  • vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts;
  • fruits like pineapple, strawberries, mango…

Vitamin E is also an essential vitamin for athletes. Integrate it into your diet with nuts and oilseeds.

When should you eat before exercise?

The real question is… When to eat before sport? Should you have a snack a few minutes before your workout or stay fasted?

The ideal is to eat 3 to 4 hours before the start of the exercise . Waiting 4 hours between exercise and meal gives the body time to digest the nutrients.

Digestion results in energy expenditure which can make you tired. Waiting for this metabolic process to end optimizes your sporting performance during exercise.

If you feel hungry before training, it is better to eat foods that are easy to digest , such as fruits and drinks specific to training.


What foods should you avoid before a workout?

Before a workout, avoid eating processed, fatty, and high-sugar foods . Industrial dishes that are too fatty, too salty and too sweet should be avoided.

Anything that weighs down the stomach and slows down the work of the digestive system should be avoided before a sports session. Too long digestion can reduce the effectiveness of training.

Note that :

  • lipids take a long time to be digested;
  • bad fat or saturated fatty acids stiffen the arteries, which must remain flexible to promote oxygen supply to the muscles;
  • snacking increases blood sugar levels and can create a blood sugar spike responsible for sluggishness during exercise (hypoglycemia);
  • Exciting drinks like coffee and soda can be dehydrating, while sport requires intense hydration before, during and after exercise.

What should you eat after exercise?

Post-workout sports nutrition should help you recover after exercise. You must therefore eat foods that promote muscle and cell regeneration .

Sports recovery aims to replenish nutrients lost during training. Eating the right foods will increase your energy intake and help you replenish your calorie reserves.

Just after exercise, you can eat a fruit rich in carbohydrates such as bananas, which is one of the foods favored by an athlete.

The consumption of proteins is also recommended, because they are made up of essential amino acids . They are essential for rebuilding muscle fiber.

Click here to learn more about the essential role of amino acids in sports.

For hydration, consider post-workout powders made from plant-based proteins. They are 100% designed to promote recovery.

Conclusion: athletes, what should you eat before exercise?

As an athlete, you should ideally eat foods rich in carbohydrates and proteins before exercise.

It is best to consume sugars with a low carbohydrate load to limit the insulin peak and hypoglycemia during physical activity.

Complex carbohydrates digest more slowly than simple carbohydrates, but provide a greater amount of energy.

Complex sugars are therefore better for sports.

Also think about plant proteins which strengthen muscles. Vegan proteins are more digestible and assimilated by the body. They are perfect before sports training.

To conclude, an athlete must above all eat foods which will give him the energy necessary to sustain physical effort.

It is recommended to consume these foods 3 to 4 hours before training if they require effort during digestion.

You can nevertheless eat a fruit or a light food that is easily assimilated by the body 1 to 2 hours before the sports session.

Naturally, these dietary tips for athletes must be part of a balanced diet .

⇒ Discover all the protein packs and shakes for after exercise.