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The best pre-workout carbs

Carbs should not be your enemy. When it comes to powering your workout, they're essential for helping fuel your body during exercise.

One small thing: Try an easy, affordable, healthy pre-workout snack like a banana with peanut butter, low-fat yoghurt, or an apple with peanut butter.

It may sound strange (especially given the "killer carbs" headlines you keep seeing on Facebook), but consider what nutrition scientist Mitch Kanter said recently in the journal Nutrition Today: "Because the general misunderstanding about limiting carbohydrate intake for health reasons in the physically inactive population has become more prevalent, some have lost sight of the fact that athletes have an unequivocal need to consume high-carbohydrate foods to enhance muscle glycogen storage and deliver carbohydrate to muscle during strenuous exercise."

What carbs do

This means that no matter what your chosen sport is, carbohydrates are vital for the best performance. The reason is your exercising muscles rely on carbohydrates as their main source of fuel (the amount you need will depend on your training programme and dietary goals). A diet low in carbohydrates can lead to a lack of energy during exercise, early fatigue, loss of concentration and delayed recovery after intense exercise.

Carbohydrates are stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen. Your body's glycogen stores are limited, and they need to be topped up daily, especially if you're exercising at a high intensity.

The best pre-workout carbs

It's best not to eat right before you do a workout, but dietitians recommend fuelling up with a small meal or snack about an hour before you hit the gym.

Try an easy, affordable, healthy pre-workout snack like:

  • A few wholewheat crackers with cottage cheese, peanut butter or hummus
  • A glass of milk or carton of flavoured milk
  • A small packet of trail mix or peanuts and raisins
  • A smoothie made with frozen yoghurt, banana and almonds
  • An apple or banana with peanut butter

During your workout, keep your focus squarely on hydration. Be sure to drink enough (but not too much!) water.

And what about post-workout?

Unless you're following a heavy training regime or participating in sporting events (like marathons), you don't need to worry too much about fuelling up post-workout.

But, if you are exhausted and in need of some recovery fuel, plan to have a snack within 20 minutes of finishing your workout. This snack should have carbs and some protein to ensure optimal muscle recovery.

Here are some practical and healthy ideas:

  1. A glass or carton of milk or flavoured milk with a banana
  2. A smoothie made with yoghurt, milk, fruit and peanut butter or almonds
  3. A drinking yoghurt or cereal with yoghurt
  4. A sports drink with a small packet of nuts
  5. A small wholewheat roll or crackers with peanut butter and honey
  6. A nut-and-fruit or protein-energy bar

If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit To get in touch with us, email