Are you limiting performance by skipping meals? This is what to eat before exercise

The decision to eat before exercise is a double-edged sword because for some, the risk of digestive issues seemingly outweigh the performance benefits.

While there are instances when you can get away with skipping your pre-exercise meal – it may offer weight-loss and metabolic benefits when used strategically in specific circumstances1 – research confirms that going into a high-intensity workout on an empty stomach can negatively affect your performance and increases your recovery demands afterwards.

Based on the findings from a 2020 study2, researchers recommended that “athletes should avoid high intensity training while fasting”.

READ MORE | How And What To Eat For More Strength In The Gym

What to eat

A suitable pre-exercise meal should provide sufficient fuel – primarily from carbohydrates – to complete the activity while not excessively depleting your energy stores.

Easily digestible carbohydrate sources are ideal to ensure the body can process the meal and it can work through the gut to limit the potential for digestive issues during the activity.

A suitable pre-exercise meal should also include a small amount of protein to help limit muscle damage and, therefore, reduce recovery requirements after training, with limited amounts of fat and fibre to avoid potential digestive issues.

READ MORE | What It Really Means To Eat Clean To Get Lean, According To Research

Why eating is important

The main aim of a pre-workout meal is to top up glycogen stores so that you have sufficient energy available to perform at the target intensity.

Eating before exercise is especially important for those who train in the morning as you can deplete liver glycogen stores overnight as your body uses this fuel source for various metabolic processes that support recovery.

The right meal eaten at the right time also ensures there is some glucose circulating in the body to provide a direct energy source, which muscles can use to fuel your effort for a portion of the activity before tapping into muscle glycogen stores.

Providing a source of readily available essential amino acids (EAAs) from protein can also spare and preserve muscle and glycogen stores for an added recovery benefit.

Ending a workout with a significant calorie deficit can add additional recovery demands on your body. Leaving your body in a depleted state can also lead to overeating and poor food choices later in the day, which has the potential to undo some of the benefits of your exercise, especially if you are trying to control your weight.

READ MORE | Train More, Eat More (Not Less) To Maintain Your Weight

When to eat

Timing your pre-exercise meal is another important consideration – eat too little, too early and the meal won’t provide all the potential energy and recovery benefits.

Eat too late or too much too close to the activity and you could experience digestive issues or an uncomfortably full stomach.

However, it is important to realise that the right time to eat is highly individualised due to factors such as your weight, age, gender, metabolic rate, digestive efficiency and type of activity you are about to engage in.

The convenience factor

Choosing the right food sources to get the ideal combination of carbs and protein before an activity boils down to personal preference around palatability and digestive comfort.

Ultimately, finding the ideal pre-exercise meal requires some trial and error to find what works best for you.

Some people prefer whole food meals like a bagel with some nut butter or jam, some fruit, or toast and egg. Others struggle to tolerate a whole food meal or they might not have the time to prepare a full meal before heading out.

In these cases, an intelligently formulated functional food like Biogen Pre Sport Instant Energy Meal can offer a convenient and easy-to-make pre-exercise meal option that provides everything they need in the exact ratios and precise doses.

Mixing up a scoop or two of Biogen Pre Sport Instant Energy Meal with hot water or milk makes a tasty, easily digestible porridge, with ample energy from high quality carbohydrate sources like sweet potato, oats and rice, along with adequate levels of protein, fibre and fat to reduce the likelihood of digestive discomfort.

It is also a source of electrolytes to provide your body with the salts it needs during exercise to aid hydration and potentially prevent cramping.


  1. Jeffrey A Rothschild , Andrew E Kilding, Daniel J Plews. What Should I Eat before Exercise? Pre-Exercise Nutrition and the Response to Endurance Exercise: Current Prospective and Future Directions. Nutrients. 2020 Nov 12;12(11):3473. doi: 10.3390/nu12113473.
  2. Hassane Zouhal, Ayoub Saeidi, et al. Exercise Training and Fasting: Current Insights. Open Access J Sports Med. 2020; 11: 1–28. Published online 2020 Jan 21. doi: 10.2147/OAJSM.S224919
  3. Marie Dunford, J. Andrew Doyle. NUTRITION FOR SPORT AND EXERCISE, 3rd Edition. Cengage Learning, 07 Feb 2014 – Medical – 624 pages

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

When he's not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He's worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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