Who cares if you even lift, “bro?” What brings out the true beast in your workout is the food you choose to fuel your body with beforehand. Pre-workout nutrition is just as important as post-workout nutrition (see my earlier article on post workout nutrition here). It provides you with the necessary fats, proteins, and especially carbohydrates to power through a workout. Tired of falling asleep on the treadmill? It happens. Can’t get in that last rep on the chest press? Good pre-workout snacks might fix that.
Finding nutritious, pre-workout snacks for fuel on campus doesn’t have to be hard. Almost every dining hall, and market, has the goods you need to get the goods you want.
In the dining halls:
1. Banana and peanut butter
A banana is a good source of carbohydrates (one of the fruits highest in natural sugars) and, when paired with the healthy fats and protein of a tablespoon of peanut butter, can push your workout a long way. According to Shape Magazine, an Appalachian State University study found that bananas, when compared to sports drinks, proved better in that they provided antioxidants and were correlated with higher levels of dopamine, a brain chemical associated with movement, mood, and, at low levels, obesity.
2. Whole grain toast and peanut butter
Whole grains are very important in general because their complex carbohydrates are full of nutrients and fiber, leaving the body feeling fuller for longer. These nutrients also include essential minerals like iron for oxygen flow through the muscles, magnesium for converting food into energy, and B vitamins that help support a healthy metabolism, says wholegrainscouncil.org.
3. Egg (whites) and veggies
If you’re focused on strength training, eggs are your best bet. The white of the egg carries most of the protein albeit they lack the flavor that comes from the yolk (the fatty part). But the fatty part is important, too, for a full egg has the best ratio of amino acids that help make up muscles and tissues in the body, promoting better muscle growth. Not to mention the B vitamins are outrageous for energy levels. Try an egg white omelet with plenty of fresh veggies folded in at the frying pan.
4. Cheerios with milk
Simple, yet oh so satisfying. Kent may not have those large, majestic cylinders of sugary cereal you see at other campuses, but what they do have is much healthier: portion sizes. Pick up a portion-sized container of Cheerios, or a similar whole-grain based, no sugar added, cereal, and pour in either some reduced fat dairy milk or soy or almond milk.
5. Oatmeal with nuts and fruit
Again, back to the whole-grain train on why this is a healthy option. Oatmeal is perhaps one of the most popular whole grains, and Eastway dining hall has a whole station dedicated to the breakfast champion. The nuts (raw) and fruit (fresh or dried) add flavor and nutrients. Raw nuts, like almonds, contain healthy fats that actually lower cholesterol and promote weight loss, plus magnesium to better convert food into energy, according to a dietician at authoritynutrition.com.
6. Yogurt parfait (go easy on the granola)
Yogurt can be packed with protein, but also added sugars. Opt for the plain or vanilla flavored yogurt rather than the fruity, cotton-candy pink strawberry puddle of pudding. Greek yogurt is best, because it has a higher protein to carbohydrate ratio. Yogurt is easy on the stomach because of healthy bacteria and probiotics, removing any intestinal discomfort from your choice of activity. But watch out for the granola. Most granola is filled with added sugars and fats. Fitness Magazine suggests trying raw nuts for a little crunch or dried fruit for an energy boost from natural sugars.
Smoothies, when mixed with the right ingredients, are a great source of pre-workout fuel. Fresh fruits add all natural sugars for a boost in energy. According to bodybuilding.com, getting in a protein pre-workout (in a smoothie, this includes yogurt, supplement powder, or reduced fat milk) fuels the muscles, increases protein synthesis, and helps the body burn more calories. Try a banana smoothie, maybe add in some strawberries and a little yogurt to make it creamy.
8. Cottage cheese
Yet another protein-packed dairy product added to the list. Cottage cheese is a less-sugary version of it’s related swap: yogurt. This is an excellent option if you prefer savory over sweet breakfasts. Plus, the calcium we all know from childhood promotes bone health.
9. Turkey sausage
Processed meat, like sausage, is not a health hero like the leaner cuts of white meat, chicken and turkey. Eating a little red meat won’t hurt you, but turkey would be a healthier option than regular sausage as it has a higher protein to fat ratio.
10. Black coffee
Yes, the most addictive drug of college students can be used as a pre-workout snack – though you should pair it with a more solid food choice. Men’s Fitness reports that drinking coffee before a workout causes fat cells to be used as a source of energy, and a high amount of caffeine temporarily increases one’s metabolic rate. Other benefits include increased performance, better focus, and less muscle pain.
If you don’t have time to wait in line and fill up your plate, most schools have plenty of stop-and-go markets on campus. Go to the nearest convenience store on campus to find the following pre-workout snacks:
11. Protein bar
The first thing you think of when you envision a healthy snack is probably a protein bar. Some are good, and some are bad. It all depends on ingredients and ratio of macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, and proteins). Try brands like Quest Nutrition, ThinkThin, or Clif bars.
12. Energy bar
Energy bars are labeled “energy” because they are significantly higher in carbs than a quality protein bar. These carbohydrates are essentially the body’s main source of energy. They could come from whole grains or the sugars in dried fruit. Try brands like PowerBar, Clif and Larabars.
13. Packaged trail mixes
Beware. Packaged trail mixes you find hanging from a hook on a carousel can be high in added sugars and full of not-so-healthy fats. The best trail mixes have raw nuts, not roasted, and dried fruits. The chocolate chips and M&M candies? Trash them. Unless they are dark chocolate chips. That’s a sweet sin you can enjoy (in moderation) .
14. Chocolate milk (yes, for pre-workout too)
One of the favorite post-workout drinks is also for pre-workout enjoyment. Chocolate milk, most notably dairy chocolate milk, has both added sugar and protein. The added sugar, though it is “added,” provides a source of energy as carbohydrates and the protein is essential for prolonged muscle activity.
15. Carrots, celery and peanut butter
Fresh veggies are always a good snack choice no matter the time of day (or late-night study session). This snack provides a good crunch with something creamy. Peanut butter is a healthy fat with some protein. Muscleandfitness.com says the monounsaturated fats in peanut butter are less likely to be stored as fat cells in the body.