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What to Eat for Your Workout: by a Fitness Instructor

The struggle we’ve all faced: do I eat before I workout? And what do I eat? And when?

While every body is different and will therefore feel better with different kinds of foods, there are certain types of foods and times to eat that will help you through your various workout classes.

by: Nancy Chen



I am a marketing manager, freelancer, fitness instructor, and wellness blogger currently living in sunny Santa Monica.

I have a passion for real food and a passion for making an impact. Those two passions have led me to share my lifestyle on my quest to help people find their own form of optimal health.



My first Bikram yoga teacher said this:

“Some people feel better to practice on an empty stomach, to not feel anything weighing them down, to feel their energy flowing through their body without blockages. Yet some people feel light headed and weak without sustenance before a morning practice.

If you feel like this, have a banana when you wake up.”

I agree with her — if you feel okay, I’d hold off on eating anything before hand. Nothing feels more distracting than an overfull stomach (though some yoga poses, like twists, aid digestion).

And if you do eat something, eat fruit or other easily digestible carbohydrates. Try and avoid anything that causes gas, because we’ve all been in that yoga class when someone lets out a fart in the middle of an almost-silent class.

Note: If you’re taking a yoga sculpt class (yoga with weights) or a hot yoga class, make sure you stay hydrated and have electrolytes handy.

Snack Ideas: Banana topped with almond butter and cinnamon, sliced pineapple and watermelon


This is probably what I get the most questions about. It’s a high-intensity, quick-paced workout, so it’s best that you have something beforehand, but you also don’t want anything that will slow you down.

I usually opt for a cup of black coffee with some carbs about 10-30 minutes before working out.

Snack Ideas: I like a rice cake topped with nut butter and fruit, stuffed dates, or sweet potato rounds topped with avocado and hemp seeds. Sometimes I’ll go for a quick smoothie if I have more time (blueberries, maple water, spinach, frozen cauliflower rice, pink dragonfruit powder, collagen peptides, coconut milk, pink himalayan sea salt).


I let go of that idea that you “can’t eat 30 minutes before you swim” when I was competitive swimming, and the rest of my teammates did as well. In fact, they’d be chowing down on anything from cup ramen to pizza right before their races.

I always opted for oatmeal or peanut butter and banana sandwiches; you want some carbs that will give you energy that releases slowly over the course of your workout.

Try and avoid dairy and citrus beforehand, as those usually don’t sit well.

Snack Ideas: Gluten free bread with nut butter, bananas, cinnamon, and honey; smoothie with spinach, banana, almond milk, cacao powder, and almond butter; rice cake with avocado and a hard boiled egg; Larabar (or any date-based bar)


This depends on the length of your run.

For sprints, I’d recommend quick acting carbs anytime 15 minutes to 1 hour beforehand. Think fruit.

For longer runs, I’d recommend a larger snack or a small meal 1-2 hours before you hit the road.

Think something with carbs, but not too heavy.

I usually try and be more careful with the timing of my food when running outdoors, because there’s no guarantee that there’s a bathroom nearby and accessible (oof).

Snack Ideas --

Sprinting: Banana with 1 tbsp nut butter, rice cake with honey and cinnamon (or literally just a spoonful of honey — you can do this before swim sprints too).

Longer Runs: Sweet potato rounds with nut butter, honey, cinnamon, and pink Himalayan sea salt; roasted butternut squash with raisins, dairy free yogurt, cinnamon, and honey; gluten free bread topped with tuna and avocado.

Pilates / Barre / Low Impact Workouts

This involves relatively little jumping around, so I usually try not to eat beforehand. If I need some quick energy or feel like I can’t last another hour without something, I’ll do a juice — usually a green one.

Snack Ideas: Green juice (kale, chard, celery, cucumber, ginger, lemon).


There are some workouts where you don’t need to eat beforehand, but lifting weights isn’t one of those.

Try and get some carbs in before (and after), especially if you’re doing a weights/cardio combo class like Barry’s Bootcamp, Rumble Boxing, or OrangeTheory Fitness.

Snack Ideas: A smoothie made with bananas, spinach, almond milk, cinnamon, and nut butter; gluten free pancakes/waffles


No jumping here, but this is definitely an intense workout. If you’re doing SoulCycle or any of the other popular spin classes, you’ll likely be out of the saddle for most of the ride and bopping to the beat on the handle bars.

I like something that will carry me over — honestly, usually just a protein bar.

Snack Ideas: ½ or 1 full protein bar of your choice



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