An Athlete's Road Map for Fueling Up

How much and what should I eat before exercise?

We get this question a lot. It is important to eat right to fuel your body for an upcoming event, but the last thing you want to do is eat too much - or too little. The following recommendations are specific to how much time you have before an activity or between events:

One hour or less before your next activity (practice, game, match, race, etc.), choose foods that are a good source of carbohydrates. They help to provide energy:

  • Sports drinks
  • Fruit
  • Whole-grain toast or bagel
  • Graham crackers
  • Granola bar
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Dry cereal

One to three hours before exercise, try small “meals” that incorporate carbohydrates AND lean proteins:

  • Bowl of cereal with low-fat milk
  • Fresh berries on top of vanilla, or fruit-flavored, yogurt or Greek yogurt. Plan ahead and make these toasted granola cups to enjoy with your yogurt and fruit
  • Peanut butter and crackers
  • String cheese and a banana

Three or more hours before exercise, a full meal is the way to go. Remember the MyPlate recommendations and aim for three to four of the five food groups on your plate:

  • Pancakes topped with yogurt and berries, scrambled eggs and 100% fruit juice
  • Breakfast pizza with turkey bacon, vegetables, eggs and low-fat mozzarella
  • Turkey and cheese sandwich, baby carrots and low-fat milk
  • Peanut butter and banana wrapped in a whole-grain tortilla and low-fat chocolate milk
  • Confetti Quesadillas with Cilantro Yogurt Dip

While it’s important to eat right before you exercise, eating for peak athletic performance means making wise choices at each of your meals and snacks. That includes breakfast – one of the most skipped meals.

Looking for other healthy snack ideas? See Snack Ideas for Athletes.

Athletes can train harder and perform better with proper nutrition. Get the competitive edge today

By Jenna Allen, M.S., RDN

Jenna is a registered dietitian with a passion for communicating science in an approachable way. She has been part of the Dairy MAX team since 2008. When she isn't working, Jenna is trying out new recipes with her three kids and working on her food photography. Learn more about Jenna.

Get Content Like This in Your Inbox.