Best pre-workout meal, before workout and races, consume 300-500 calories. 

Complete your meal 3 hours before you start to exercise.

To perform and feel your best during races or workouts, consume no more than 300-500 calories. Choose easily digested, complex carbohydrates, along with a small amount of protein and a little healthy fat. Avoid fiber, simple sugar, and acidic foods. Finish your meal 3 hours before exercise. Eating within 3 hours can seriously hurt your performance by reducing the conversion of fats to fuels, and accelerating glycogen depletion. 


Tip: If your race is early, don't sacrifice sleep to eat!  Instead, consume a small amount of supplemental fuel, such as 1 Hammer Gel, about 5 minutes before starting.


#1 - What and when to eat before your workouts and races.

It’s one of the most common mistakes athletes make: eating with an hour or two of a race or workout. Having a bowl of cereal (no matter how healthy it is), an energy bar, or an energy drink in those critical hours before a workout or race will hurt—not help—your performance!

The secret to proper prerace fueling is really quite simple: You need to know what to eat, how much to eat, and most importantly when to eat.


#2 - What to eat before a workout: 300-500 calories of complex carbohydrates & protein.

The purpose of your prerace meal is to top off liver glycogen stores, which your body has expended during sleep. Muscle glycogen (about 80% of your total glycogen stores) remains intact overnight. If you had a proper recovery meal after your last workout, you’ll already have a full load of muscle glycogen.

With only your liver-stored glycogen to top off, you want a light prerace nutrition meal. Sports nutrition expert Bill Misner, Ph.D., advises that a pre-workout/race meal should be “an easily digested, high complex carbohydrate meal between 300-500 calories with a minimum of fiber, simple sugar, and fat.” Dr. Misner explains that fat slows digestion and has no positive influence on fuels metabolized during an event, and a high-fiber meal may increase the chance for an “unscheduled bathroom break.”

Did you know?
One study found that athletes who drank a prerace meal consisting of both carbohydrates and a small amount of protein performed better than when they consumed an all-carbohydrate sports drink. (See “Pre-exercise fueling options” for suggested options.)


#3 - When? Allow at least 3 hours!

Authorities on sports nutrition agree that you should complete your pre-exercise meal at least 3 hours before the event. Three hours allows enough time for your body to fully process the meal and avoid intestinal distress. Dr. David Costill’s landmark study [Costill D.L., Carbohydrates for exercise: dietary demand for optimal performance. International Journal of Sports Medicine 9:1-18 (1988)] shows that complex carbohydrates consumed 3-4 hours prior to exercise raise blood glucose and improve performance.

On the other hand, consuming high glycemic carbohydrates (whether simple sugars or complex carbohydrates) within 3 hours of exercise can seriously hamper performance. According to Dr. Bill Misner, the consequences include:

  • Reduced fats to fuels conversion. Rapidly elevated blood sugar causes excess insulin release. High insulin levels inhibit lipid mobilization during aerobic exercise, which means reduced fats-to-fuels conversion. Our ability to utilize stored fatty acids as energy largely determines our performance.

  • Faster muscle glycogen depletion. High insulin levels lead to an increased rate of carbohydrate metabolism—and carbohydrate fuel depletion. In simple terms: high insulin means faster muscle glycogen depletion.

The combination of accelerated glycogen depletion and disruption of your primary fuel availability can devastate performance. Complete your pre-workout/race fueling 3 or more hours prior to the start of your workout or race to allow adequate time for insulin and blood glucose to normalize.

Bottom Line

Though these recommendations may seem counterintuitive, they make perfect sense physiologically speaking. Over the course of more than 30 years, we can honestly say that we’ve yet to have one athlete tell us that these fueling principles didn’t work. Apply them consistently and watch how well your body responds

Pre-workout meal options

Any of the pre-workout meal suggestions below will keep you in the preferred 300-500 calorie range. Consume your meal no later than 3 hours before a workout.

Pre-workout drink:

3 scoops Sustained Energy


2 scoops Sustained Energy flavored with 1 serving Hammer Gel OR 1 scoop HEED

Healthy smoothie:

2-3 servings Hammer Gel OR 2-3 scoops HEED fortified with 1 scoop Sustained Energy

Pre-workout shake:

2-2 1/2 scoops Perpetuem

Pre-workout food:

One white flour bagel and 1/2 cup active yogurt

Low carb diet:

A banana and 1 cup active yogurt

Pre-workout snack:

Cream of Rice cereal, sweetened with 1 serving Hammer Gel

Best pre-workout meal:

One soy protein-enhanced pancake, sweetened with 1 serving Hammer Gel

Best pre-workout food:

Half of a skinless baked potato with 1/2 cup plain active yogurt


Don’t sacrifice critical sleep just to squeeze in a pre-race meal. Sleep is more beneficial. If you begin fueling within 10-20 minutes of the start of your event, your performance will not suffer.

Being hungry before an event won’t hurt performance. Shortly after you begin, you can safely consume your preferred fuel. If you must eat something, about 5 minutes before the start consume 100-200 calories of a nutrient-dense fuel (such as Hammer Gel or a premixed bottle of Sustained Energy or Perpetuem).


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