Pre-Workout Meals: Optimizing Your Athletes Eating on the Run

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As a gym owner and a registered dietitian, nothing bothers me more than watching my athletes walk through the door of my gym with fast food. They often sheepishly explain that “they came straight from school” or “they didn’t have time to make food.” As a working mother of 3 competitive athletes, I completely understand this dilemma. However, how we feed our gymnasts is incredibly important. A well-fed athlete will excel with less effort, experience fewer injuries and feel stronger than a poorly fed gymnast training the exact same way. So how do we feed them properly? The answer is easier and less expensive than you imagined. By taking a few minutes a couple times per week, appropriate foods can be provided to your athlete, without resorting to fast food.

What should an athlete eat pre-workout? A combination of carbs and protein will help your athlete to maintain energy throughout their workout.

High-protein Pancakes

One of my favorite go-to meals is high protein pancakes. I prepare these twice a week, as they are my kids’ absolute favorite. They are equal parts pancake mix, milk and eggs. I prefer the Trader Joe’s whole grain mix because the baking powder does not contain aluminum. One cup of milk, one cup of mix and one egg per serving. I often double and triple this recipe and refrigerate them for toasting later on the run. We often throw a couple berries with them to make them sweet without the syrup — tons of whole grain carbs and protein in a form that kids really like. They are quick and easy to grab on the go.

High-protein Muffins

Another easy and delicious way to feed your athlete pre-workout or competition is with high protein muffins. These can be packed in their backpack for the days that they travel straight from school to practice.


  • 2 cups dry oatmeal
  • 2 scoops protein powder vanilla
  • 2 bananas
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup of almonds, walnuts, raisins or craisins, apples, berries (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together.
  2. Divide mixture into muffin pan (making 12 muffin) and bake for 12-15 minutes. (makes 12 muffins)

Rotisserie chicken and rice

Rotisserie chicken and rice is also a good option for a rush meal on the go. Most grocery stores offer precooked roasted chickens. Peeling a few strips of chicken off and combining it with rice will provide your athlete with a great, hearty pre-workout meal. I often purchase the microwaveable bags of plain whole grain brown rice. I add a little butter and sea salt and my kids feel full without being bloated or heavy. My kids are resistant to vegetable consumption, so I often allow them to eat fruit on these days as a temporary substitute.


The wonderful, delicious sandwich. This option is often overlooked because they already had one at lunchtime. I often explain to my kids that sometimes we are simply fueling the machine. Not every meal has to be a revelation. Whole grain wheat bread with tuna salad, chicken salad, low sodium ham or turkey. Spruce it up with some premade pesto, roasted red pepper hummus or other delicious spreads (artichoke, olive, etc.) and you have a meal on the go that gets the job done.

Low-sugar smoothie

Blend up a low-sugar smoothie. Avoid making your smoothies with excess sugar from juice. Choose unsweetened almond or coconut milk as the base, add low sugar fruit (typically the darker the fruit, the lower the sugar content, e.g., berries). Add protein powder and even raw spinach, which is tasteless in smoothies but adds nutrition and fiber. These will fuel your athlete up without sugaring them up.

Last resort: Cereal and milk

Okay, so all of this is above your timeframe. You are absolutely too busy on a given day to even make a sandwich. Here is a suggestion that would have killed me as a young dietitian: cereal and milk. The absolute last resort. Now before you run off and hand your magnificent athlete a box of fruity pebbles, let’s talk cereal. I have searched long and hard to find a cereal that has less sugar and more grain, without tasting like it has less sugar and more grain. My 17-year-old son often tells me that I have ruined way too many breakfasts with finding the healthy alternative to all the mainstream cereals. I finally found a cereal that has less sugar and all the taste of the junk cereals. It is called Love Grown and it is made from beans. I know. Ewwww! But I gave it to my kids without the box for a week and they LOVED IT! By the time they discovered my beanie secret, they were hooked. The box even looks like regular cereal. Just Sharpie off the entire back of the box, because it explains the bean thing. This cereal can be bought online and it is actually pretty good. Mainstream cereal with lower sugar include Cheerios, Kix, and Mini-Wheats (unfrosted). Add lots of milk for protein and you have a full belly and energy for the workout.

These are just a few suggestions to help feed your athlete on those really hectic days. I hope something strikes a chord and helps your athlete to take it to the next level.

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