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What is the Best Pre-Workout Meal?

What should you eat right before a workout? Contrary to what many people believe, neither a protein-rich smoothie nor a complex carbohydrate whole grain cereal would be your best bet right before exercising.


best workout meal

The Best Pre-Workout Fuel is Easy to Digest

It is never a good idea to exercise when you are hungry. You simply will not be able to get the best workout if your energy stores are low. However, when and what you eat can play a big role in how you feel and how you perform when you exercise.

For many years, gym goers have been told to consume either protein or complex carbohydrates (such as oatmeal or whole grain bread) before a workout. Yet both protein and complex carbohydrates are digested relatively slowly and therefore do not efficiently transfer calories into much-needed quick energy right before a workout.


Carbohydrates Digest Faster than Protein

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy and they pass through the digestive tract more rapidly than protein or fat. So it is definitely better to choose carbohydrate-rich foods rather than protein or fat-rich foods right before working out.

But not all carbohydrates are digested at the same rate.


Simple Carbohydrates Digest the Fastest

Simple carbohydrates such as glucose and fructose found in fruits, sprouted seeds and sprouted grains are digested easier and more quickly than the complex carbohydrates found in carbohydrate-rich foods like regular whole grains, potatoes, pasta, etc.


Sprouting Makes Grains & Seeds Easy to Digest

Sprouting breaks down starches and turns them into easily digested simple carbohydrates.

In addition to making the grains or seeds easier to digest, the process of sprouting also increases the nutrient content of the foods. 

Additional Perks to Sprouting:
    • Sprouting breaks enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients (such as calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc). 
    • Sprouting increases the vitamin and mineral concentration within the whole grain. Antioxidants vitamin C and E as well as the B vitamins all become more concentrated and more bioavailable when sprouting. 


Guidelines for Building the Best Pre Workout Meal

A bowl of oatmeal would definitely be a better pre-workout meal than protein-rich eggs or a protein shake, but oatmeal is still a complex carbohydrate, so it will not be digested as quickly as fruit, sprouted seeds or sprouted grains.

In addition to being easy to digest, the best pre-workout meal will also be nutrient-dense.

Although complex carbohydrates that have been heavily refined and processed (such as white bread or the typical breakfast cereal) will be quickly digested, they are also a source of empty calories. It is never a good idea to load up on empty calories, but it is especially a bad idea to do so if you are planning to workout. Contrary to what some people believe, exercise is NOT a “free ride” to eat whatever you want. Exercise puts great demands and stress on your body and you need solid nutrition to properly recover. Clean eating should most definitely be an important component in any workout regimen!

The best pre-workout meal will have the following nutritional qualities:

  • Easy to digest
  • Rich in antioxidants (exercise temporarily increases oxidative stress on your body; antioxidants help combat oxidative stress)
  • Rich in phytonutrients (plant-based phytonutrients are rich in antioxidants and also help detox the body and speed post workout recovery)
  • Anti-Inflammatory (exercise temporarily promotes inflammation and the oxidative stress from the workout forces your body to build up antioxidant defenses. Eating antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory foods before and after exercise will reduce inflammation and speed recovery.)


The BEST Pre-workout Meal: A Fruity Smoothie or Smoothie Bowl

Keep in mind, you do not need to be consuming massive amounts of food before a workout. So your pre-workout meal should be rather light.

Although juice is certainly a form of quickly digestible carbohydrates, a smoothie (or smoothie bowl) made with blended fruit and water is a much more nutritionally sound option than even the freshest juice (learn more about why Juice is Not as Healthy as You May Think.) In addition to the fruit and water, you can also blend in a small amount of cooked and cooled sprouted grains (such as 1/4 cup of cooked sprouted grain brown rice) or a few tablespoons of raw sprouted seeds.


My Fruity Breakfast Smoothie Bowl Recipe

Breakfast Smoothie Bowl Recipe

The idea of blending cooked sprouted grains into a smoothie (or smoothie bowl!) might sound a little odd, but it truly tastes delicious. Believe it or not, the blended cooked grains give the smoothie a milky-rich texture. I especially like cooked short grain sprouted brown rice.

Here’s what’s in my fruity Breakfast Smoothie Bowl Recipe:

  • Dates
  • Cooked short grain sprouted brown rice
  • Frozen banana
  • Frozen organic strawberries
  • Pure lemon extract
  • Filtered water
  • Optional Sprinkle-On Toppings: Chia Seeds, Shredded Coconut, Chopped Walnuts

And as long as I have the rice made the night before (I use my Vita Clay rice cooker to cook ALL whole grains – use code “cleancuisine10” for an additional 10% off the purchase price!), the whole thing takes no more than 5 minutes to whip together.


Find the full Breakfast Smoothie Bowl Recipe here.






Ivy Larson

In 2010, Clean Cuisine was launched because Ivy Larson wanted to share her anti-inflammatory lifestyle and delicious recipes using ingredients in their most natural and nutrient-rich state. In 2020, Ivy passed the website to Aimee and Madison. Since then, they have been adding new recipes and nutrition posts while updating old recipes and articles. Thanks for visiting Clean Cuisine!

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