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Nutrient Timing
Part 1:  Pre-Workout Nutrition

by Tom Jordan MS, RD

This is one of the easier concepts of the nutrient timing series, but definitely not one to look over.  The difference between a good choice pre-workout menu and a less than optimal menu could be the difference between dropping out of a run (or sprinting to find a porta-john) and setting a new personal best.

To simplify, the key is to keep it simple.  As you can imagine, I highly recommend healthy fats, high fiber foods, and quality proteins at each meal.  While these foods are great for extending our life expectancy, they aren’t the best for extending our endurance.

Pre-Workout Nutrient Goal
The goal pre-workout is to top off hydration stores, provide some simple carbohydrates that can be used for the workout, and add some easy to digest protein.

This is not the time for Fat or Fiber
While both nutrients are good for us, Fat and Fiber stay in the digestive tract for quite some time and are digested slowly—which is counter-productive for running since we don’t want that avocado and fiber bar bouncing around in our stomach when we’re 3 miles into the Forest Preserve on our long run.

3-4 Hours Before a Workout
At this time we should focus on nutrient dense snacks which might include:
• Fruit and Yogurt smoothie with low fat granola
• Oatmeal with brown sugar and almonds, skim milk, banana
• Low Fat Cottage Cheese, crackers, fresh grapes
• Turkey and Swiss Sandwich, Fruit, Almond Milk
• Low Fat Tuna Melt, Fruit Cup, Fat Free Yogurt
• Bowl of Cereal

30-90 Minutes Before a Workout
If it’s closer to the workout we need to simplify:
• Protein Shake and Banana
• Low Fat Greek Yogurt
• Granola bar and Low Fat String Cheese

We should be topping off fluid stores in the 1-2 hours before a workout.  Optimal hydration requires small frequent doses of fluids throughout the day, however to top off fluids I recommend 8-16 ounces 30-45 minutes before your workout.  If you are drinking a significant amount of fluid before your workout this is ok, but try to do this at least 90 minutes prior since any extra fluids will take about an hour and a half to clear the kidneys.  So... if you're guzzling water 45 minutes before the workout you could be sprinting to the bathroom mid workout.

 Experiment – Every Body is Different
Some of our runners can eat a giant bowl of cereal and milk or four quarts of a whey protein concoction and tear off down the road, while others will feel queasy if they even think about a snack within 2 hours of their run.  The golden rule in sports nutrition with pre-workout is to experiment to find what works best for you.  If you experience issues during the event, modify by increasing the time before the run or eating more simple foods.

If you find you are consistently running out of gas toward the end of your event you may need professional help. As a Sports Dietitian I’ve seen a variety of medical and undiagnosed minor GI issues that impede athletic performance. The good news is that most nutrient timing issues can be resolved.

Clickable Resources Below:

Nutrient Timing - Overview

Nutrient Timing; Part 2 - Nutrition During the Workout

Nutrient Timing: Part 3 - Post Workout Nutrition

Nutrient Timing Part 4 - The Other 24/7

Tom’s Bio

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