The food you eat or don’t eat before your workouts at the fitness gym can have a tremendous impact on how you feel and how well you perform. Fitness experts still debate whether fasted workouts allow the body to burn more fat as fuel, but there is no doubt that your energy level will suffer — especially if you plan to work out intensely. The bottom line is that failing to eat before a morning workout (or generally working out when your energy stores are low) can result in burning fewer calories, overall because you’re out of energy to burn them with. Low blood sugar coupled with high energy output can also cause early fatigue or even light-headedness. On the other hand, fueling your body properly can help you power through workouts, pushing yourself harder and longer and making the most out of your time at the health club.

Quality, Quantity, and Components

What you eat before a workout is just as important as making sure you eat. Avoid the following before your workouts:

• Simple sugars. It’s true that sugar gives you quick energy, but it also gives you a quick crash, likely before your workout is over. Excess sugar on an empty stomach can also upset your stomach and interrupt your workout.
• Fat. Foods with high fat content (even healthy fats), take longer for your body to digest and can make you feel sluggish during a workout as your body diverts energy to break it down.
• Overeating. Even too much of a good thing is bad when its time to move your body. Keep your pre-workout breakfasts lighter than usual (you can always have a snack after) to avoid indigestion, nausea, or feeling sluggish.

Instead, choose nutrient-dense foods that combine the following elements:

• A mix of complex and simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates (fruit sugars, jam, honey) provide your body with instant fuel, while complex carbohydrates (whole grains, oats) take a little longer to process, providing you with a consistent supply of energy over the course of your workout.

• Lean protein. Protein is another important component in your pre-workout meal because it helps your body recover and rebuild muscle tissue, avoiding damage.

The Top Foods to Eat Pre-Workout

There are many good choices for a pre-workout meal, but these foods have a reputation for delivering the optimum nutrients your body needs, in the right proportions. Just be sure to eat them 30-60 minutes before your workout at the fitness center.

• Bananas – you’ll see them at nearly every athletic competition, and there’s a reason. Bananas supply an excellent source of easily-digestible carbohydrates and a vital dose of potassium that supports nerve/muscle function. Eat them plain or put them in smoothies, yogurt, or on whole-grain toast.

• Oatmeal –the high (but not too high) fiber content of this complex carbohydrate enables it to provide a consistent, slow-releasing energy source for longer workouts. It’s also full of B-vitamins that fuel the body’s energy-generating processes. Pair it with some nut butter, fruit, or even protein powder.

• Greek Yogurt/Fruit/Granola – Greek yogurt has more protein than other kinds, and is easily digested. Pair it with some fruit and granola for a perfect blend of protein, simple of complex carbs.

• Whole-grain bread – Unless you’re gluten intolerant, whole grain bread is a great source of pre-workout energy. Pair it with a little almond butter, jam, honey, or cinnamon (known for stabilizing blood sugar).

• Fruit/yogurt smoothies – Homemade smoothies made from fresh or frozen fruit, yogurt or low-fat dairy/dairy substitutes, whey protein, or even oatmeal provide a simple, delicious combination of everything your body needs. If you must purchase prepared smoothies, choose lower-calorie versions made without added sugars.

• Dried fruit/trail mix – if you’re not a breakfast person, this is just enough to fuel your workout with clean carbs and protein without overloading your stomach. Choose a trail mix that’s low on nuts, since they’re a source of fat and will take longer to digest.

Of course, there are many more good foods than just these. Follow this guideline and choose to fuel your workouts with real food with the right nutrients to help you go the distance and see the results you’re working so hard for.