What to Eat Before Exercise, the Eat 4 Performance Daily Cheat Sheet

What to eat before exercise–

Where the performance foods list began…

In 2013, after 6 years of coaching nutrition + 7 years of university-level education, I finally came across a food guide that made sense for how we should be looking at food. Rather than focus on the made-up names for nutrients like zinc and creatine, this food guide focused on what the nutrient does in our body which is so much more powerful when answering the question: what to eat before exercise. It was a very different version of the guide but I will always credit Jorie Janzen (Sports Dietitian extraordinaire!) with the creation of the concept. Fast forward 5 years later and the WHAT foods do approach has been nicely laid out for you in the Eat 4 Performance Food List.

When you plan out your day or live your crazy schedule think of eating for performance like Target Practice.

Target eating from the Eat 4 Performance foods list 90% of the time. These foods are exactly what to eat before exercise, during, and after exercise so that you have energy, a strong immune system, a quick reaction time, and a strong body.

In the E4P foods list you will easily be able to plan out meals and snacks. The foods are colour-coded and split into 3 different categories:

  1. Energizers
  2. Superfoods
  3. Muscle Builders

You can make meals from any of the 3 categories (preferably you should combine foods from all 3).

You can make energizing snacks from the Energizers category.

If you need a more filling snack, look in the Superfoods & Muscle Builders lists.

Any item marked with (+ fat) means there's a significant amount of hidden fat which makes it slow to digest. This is not ideal before a workout or game.

Alright, are you ready to dive into each category? Let's do it.



In general, energizer foods are best eaten 2-4 hours BEFORE exercise, a workout, or a game.  So there it is…the answer to the question “What to eat before exercise?

In order to perform at a high level physically, you need to have the right fuel in your body.

The energizers in the first part of the list are grains and starchy vegetables. These high energy foods will help you charge your energy batteries slowly if you eat the un-processed versions – think whole grains, whole vegetables.

There are some times when it's OK to eat more processed grains like white bread because you need the energy from the food to absorb quickly.

Usually, the recommended time to eat more processed foods is when you are close to working out or playing a sport – it is just like eating pre-digested foods when the foods are already ground up, blended, or cooked (think flour in bread and crackers, smoothies, and well-cooked pasta).

As a result, your body needs less time and energy to break it down so your body can absorb the nutrients quicker.

Most people should aim to have energizers at every meal and snack if you are very active.

If you are more sedentary be careful not to overeat from the energizer category. You may even be a candidate to have no energizers at a meal if you are very sedentary.

Do you have a moment in the afternoon where your energy levels drop? If yes, this could be a sign you either did not eat enough energizers at your lunch or, the more common reason, that you ate too much of the processed energizers (think white bread) that digested too quickly.

Play around with the amount and timing of eating those energizers to match your activity level and time of day you train.

So many nutrition programs will tell you what not to eat. Eat This for Performance is founded on the notion that if you FOCUS on what you do want to eat first, your best performance is inevitable. We answer the question not only of what to eat before exercise but what to eat during and after as well. This is why we suggest targeting eating from the E4P foods list 90% of the time. By eating these foods in balance you will experience huge benefits without ever having to count calories or eliminate everything that is white. When you start here and eat from the foods list, the next level tweaking becomes easy.


The list of superfoods are essential for including in your meals throughout the day.

Not only do these foods contain vital nutrients your body needs to recover, they also have some great additional benefits.

I have foods that research has shown to improve Peripheral Vision, Oxygenation of your Muscles, Bone Strength and Immunity. These are foods, not drugs, and you should know that all of the superfoods make up a high performance diet – not just one!

Sprinkle these regularly in your diet.

Aim to have superfoods at every meal and most snacks


Finally, the 3rd category is all about building muscle.

These foods contain high levels of protein which help to repair torn muscle tissue after strenuous exercise. So this would not be what you eat before exercise so much as AFTER.

And don't think that all protein has to come from animals. I list some great plant-based muscle builders such as Edamame, Black Beans and Peanut Butter which are excellent alternatives.

I recommend having a high protein snack within 15 minutes of completing a hard sweaty workout or strenuous game to ensure your body has what it needs to efficiently repair itself.

Do not fall into the trap of eating all your protein at one meal. Your body does not store it so eating too much is really just a waste of the most expensive category of food. Your body only uses what it can so keep that in mind.

By eating only what you need, you will feel more energized, build muscle better, and stay lean more easily by eating a moderate amount of protein 4 to 6 times spread out throughout the day.

In other words, consume protein at your 3 main meals and 2 to 3 snacks.

What's Next?

I hope this explanation of what to eat before exercise as well as during and after helps you understand how each of your 3 categories of Performance Foods fits into the overall performance and recovery of your body. There are so many ways you can use the principles you just learned to totally level up your life, your energy, and your performance. Try taking the next challenge to see how you CAN take your game to the next level!

Has this helped you figure out what foods to eat before exercise to perform at peak performance?  Be sure to check out our recipes section for ideas as well! What do you normally eat beforehand?

Share them in the comments. 

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