These 25 RD-approved pre-workout snacks are easy to carry on the go and will keep you energized during your workout.
In a perfect world, everyone would have time to sit down for a well-balanced pre-workout meal two to three hours before exercise. But in the real world, people have busy work and life schedules, so grabbing a quick packaged snack before a workout is a much more likely scenario.
Whether you choose to make something [check out these pre workout meals] or grab a packaged snack, there are healthy options available to fuel your activity.
Why you need a pre-workout snack
Just like your car needs gas to move, your body needs food to give it energy. If it’s been a few hours since your last meal, a healthy pre-workout snack will provide the energy that the body for a workout.
It may seem counterintuitive to eat calories when you’re hoping to burn them off, but a pre-workout snack can actually increase performance. In other words, eating a small snack before a workout can maximize energy and workout gains.
What’s in a healthy pre-workout snack?
The sheer number of pre-workout snacks on store shelves may be overwhelming. You want the right type of energy for your workout, but you also don’t want to overdo it and feel sluggish and heavy.
A pre-workout snack should be made up of mostly carbs with just a little bit of protein. Snacks made with healthy carbs provide energy for exercise, while protein keeps you full and satisfied. [Plant-Based Healthy Snacks to Fill You Up]
If you opt for a pre-packaged snack, look at the food label to ensure the snack is healthy and has the nutrients you need. Here are a few things to look for to make sure your pre-workout snack will help boost performance:
- Calories: 150-300. Make sure the snack has enough calories to provide energy, but not too much so that the snack sits in your stomach for a long period of time.
- Carbohydrates: >15 grams. Take in at least 15 grams of carbohydrates to make sure you have sustained energy for exercise. [Read more about the best carbs for athletes here.]
- Protein: >2 grams. It’s not as important to have protein before a workout, but taking in some of this macronutrient can help keep energy levels high. After stored carb runs out, the body will turn to protein for energy. Choosing a pre-workout snack with a little bit of protein can help power you through exercise.
- The less fat, the better. Some pre-workout fat is fine, but too much can cause stomach issues.
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25 Best Pre-Workout Snacks
Different types of workouts require various types of fuel, so make sure you read the descriptions of the snacks below to know if it’s right for your routine. This list of 15 pre-workout snacks has the right mix of nutrients, and you can buy them all at the grocery store.
For activities that require endurance and stamina, such as running, CLIF Energy has the ideal balance of fast-acting and long-lasting carbohydrates, fat and plant-based protein.
These bars are made from delicious, organic ingredients like rolled oats and nuts. That mix of ingredients provides sustained energy to power you through a long and tough workout.
If you want something sweet without any added sugar, dates are the perfect pre-workout snack. They are naturally rich in simple carbs, which break down quickly to provide energy for a workout. Eating just two Medjool dates (the really juicy kind) offers around 100 calories and 30 grams of carbs, making it a simple and satisfying pre-workout snack.
3. Dried Fruit
Most dried fruit is just one ingredient– dehydrated fruit (some has added sugar, but I don’t recommend that kind). To create dried fruit, the water is sucked out, leaving a chewy shelf-stable product. Since many people tend to eat more pieces of dried fruit than fresh fruit, they end up eating a bit more natural sugar.
But here’s the thing… natural sugars are nothing to worry about before a workout. [Read more about natural versus added sugars in The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner.] And fruit is easy to digest and gets energy into your system quickly. So reach for 1-2 handfuls of dried apricots, raisins, mango, or any fruit you prefer.
This is my go-to bread brand because it’s packed with protein, fiber, and whole grains, all of which keep you full and energized during a long and tough workout. Since whole grains take a little longer to digest than simple carbs (like fruit), opt for a slice of Dave’s Killer Bread least 1-hour before a workout.
My favorite variety is the 21 Whole Grains & Seeds because of the nutty texture. Top it with nut butter and enjoy before a workout!
Have a recovery workout planned? Believe it or not, the body actually uses fat as fuel during lower-intensity workouts, like yoga, walking or light weight lifting.
For these occasions, nut butter packets make a great on-the-go fueling option. The RX Nut Butter packets also have plenty of protein from egg whites to keep you full.
For strength training workouts, it’s not as important to fuel up with carbs immediately before a workout. That said, having some food in your stomach will definitely help maximize muscle gains.
High-quality protein, like that found in Greek yogurt, provides the essential amino acid leucine, which can jump-start post-workout recovery.
I’m a huge lover of oats, and I like that these portable cups are unsweetened and contain chia and flax seed. The oats provide long lasting energy for a workout, and you can add whatever fruit you like for a hearty breakfast.
Heat it up with water or milk, and it’s ready to go in just a minute or two. If you prefer to make your own loaded oats, grab my recipe here.
Snacking on an apple before a workout is a fan favorite. But when apples are not in season or you don’t have time to grocery shop, Bare Apple Chips make a nice substitute.
Made from just apples, these naturally sweet chips are great for when you want a little crunch and a lot of fuel. If you exercise after work, these chips do double duty as a healthy afternoon snack and fuel for your workout.
If you love a good edamame appetizer, but don’t have time to heat up the frozen kind, try some dry roasted edamame. It’s a nutritious snack that is crunchy and full of good-for-you carbs and protein.
Giant bins of movie popcorn and microwaveable popcorn with weird additives have given this snack a bad rap. But at its core, popcorn is actually a healthy whole grain. You can easily air pop it at home [grab my recipe] and add your own toppings, or pick up a bag of Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop.
The original has just popcorn, sunflower oil and salt, with just 35 calories per cup. The whole grain provides carbs to power you through a workout, and it’s fun to eat!
11. Wasa Crackers
Filled with healthy whole grains, these crackers are packed with complex carbs, which take longer to digest and keep your body going during a tough workout. They come in a variety of flavors, and I usually top them with some nut butter or Greek yogurt.
12. Biena Chickpeas
If you’re a crunchy snack lover (like myself), you’ll love Biena Chickpeas. There are just three ingredients– fiber and protein packed chickpeas, sunflower oil and salt.
Each serving has about 16 grams of carbs for energy and just 120 calories. That means they will fuel you without weighing you down. Or if you’re feel ambitious, make your own!
Made with tons of seeds, these crackers have more protein, fiber and healthy fat than regular old saltines. That means they are a great option for an hour or so before a work and will keep you full for quite a while.
For quick acting carbs, you can’t beat a waffle with some honey. But who has time to whip up waffles from scratch?
Instead, reach for these Honey Stinger Waffles, which were created to mimic the waffles sold to professional cyclists in Europe. They sandwiched honey between two waffle crackers for easy to digest fuel for tough endurance workouts.
I had a friend in grad school who ran ultra marathons and swore by crunchy granola bars. I love the Nature Valley variety.
Each bar has just a few simple ingredients, with oats being the main fuel source. These are easy to eat, quick to digest and taste really scrumptious.
What’s better than pancakes/muffins/brownies on the go? These microwaveable variety cups from Kodiak Cake are made with whole grain flour and have 10 grams of protein.
Just add water, stir, cook and eat before your next workout. To make these a bit more substantial, add a dollop of nut butter and maple syrup.
Making overnight oats is simple, but this is a nice packaged alternative for the days when you forget to prep ahead. Oats are a great pre-workout carbohydrate, which also have fiber and protein to provide sustained energy.
Each container has about 250 calories, 35 grams of carbs and 6 grams of protein, so it’s a well-balanced snack that will keep you energized during a workout.
Not only do these waffles taste good, but they are also full of whole grains and protein. These waffles are made with a variety of whole grains, like whole wheat, steel cut oats, millet and brown rice.
Plus, they are available in yummy flavors, like blueberry and chocolate chip. But the best part is that these pancakes have some protein in them, so they are good for muscle building and will keep you fuller longer than the traditional waffle.
If you’re a granola fan, you’re going to want to try this one with hearty bites of of oats, pumpkin seeds and flax coated in cinnamon and salt. A 3/4 cup serving has over 30 grams of easy-to-digest carbohydrates to power you through a workout.
Opt for a simple dry handful of granola for a pre-workout snack or build a bigger bowl with yogurt and fruit for a post-workout recovery meal.
Applesauce isn’t just for babies. This sweet and simple sippable packet offers quick carbohydrates for when you need energy fast. It’s made with 100% apples and no added sugar.
In addition, applesauce is an ideal fuel for long runs, so throw one in your running belt if you’re hitting the pavement.
As the name suggests, these bars are made from just dried fruit– that’s it! It’s easy to eat, naturally sweet and full of carbs to power you through a workout. Plus, there are multiple yummy flavors to choose from.
KIND takes the traditional granola bar up a notch with these energy bars. Made with oats and 10 grams of plant-based protein, these energy bars will keep you full and thriving during an intense workout.
If you’re a fan of traditional fig cookies, these fig bars will blow your mind. They are soft, sweet and delicious, and each bar has 38 grams of carbs to power an intense or long workout. Definitely opt for these before a long bout of endurance activity.
Sometimes I’m over all the sweet pre-workout fuel, and pretzels are my go-to savory pre-workout snack. They are rich in carbs and sodium, two nutrients the body needs for energy and fluid replacement. If you’re headed out for a particularly sweaty workout (in the heat), make sure you increase your sodium intake to replace the electrolyte lost in sweat.
One more savory and salty snack to round out the bunch! Triscuits are so tasty and easy to digest. Grab a handful before a workout to top off energy stores and satisfy your craving for something salty.