I’ve never been one to fuss about what and when to eat—I’m not into “micromanaging munchies,” as I like to call it. Instead, I base my daily food choices on what I enjoy and what nourishes me. And unless I’m working with people who have very specific dietary needs because of illness, I encourage everyone to avoid nutrition analysis (because it leads to culinary paralysis), choose a variety of fresh whole foods, and practice what I “preach.”

When it comes to exercise, both fitness buffs and everyday athletes alike want to know what to consume before a workout to maximize energy and support optimum performance. I came across this article1 in Men’s Fitness magazine that gives an extensive A-Z on pre-workout intake but it felt a tad too cookie cutter for my taste. However, I am a culinary nutritionist, not a sports nutritionist, so to make sure my advice is based on the latest science, I reached out to my dear colleague and friend, John Bagnulo, MPH, RD, PhD. John, a former professor of exercise physiology and sports nutrition at the University of Maine, is a devoted athlete and outdoorsman and a walking encyclopedia of biochemistry.

According to the latest studies, the ideal cardio pre-workout meal should be more fat- and protein-centric to promote the slow release of fatty acids and amino acids into the bloodstream while training. (For resistance training, higher-protein meals are better.) Simply put, this creates an environment for maximized sustained energy. This meal is best consumed around one hour before training, so that some of the fat and protein will be available to working muscles during training (European Journal of Sports Science, February 2015).2

With this in mind, John and I put our heads together—his biochemical knowledge with my culinary savvy—to come up with the top five nutritious foods to eat before a workout:

  1. Avocado
  2. Coconut oil
  3. Canned fish (wild salmon, moderate-mercury skipjack tuna, or sardines)
  4. Grass-fed beef or lamb
  5. White rice

I realize that you are probably thinking “Whaaaat? How the heck am I going to integrate these not-so-mainstream edibles into an everyday pre-workout meal—especially if I love to exercise in the morning?” Here’s where my expertise comes in: Let me show you how to turn nutritious into delicious! Here are three pre-workout meal options that will be healthy and tasty, any time of day:

  • 3 mashed hard-boiled eggs with ½ avocado
  • ¼ cup cooked white rice, 1 teaspoon melted coconut oil, ½ can wild salmon, and a touch of curry
  • Mini grass-fed burger with ½ mashed avocado

What if you’re vegan? In that case, brown rice protein3 or shakes made with almond meal are the best option.

When offering food and nutrition guidance, it is important to be aware of what you don’t know. So I leave the hardcore science to John (as well as to my many other colleagues), while I take on what I know best—nutrition in the kitchen!

For more on what to eat for the adventurer in you, check out this nutrition and culinary immersion workshop at Three Mile Island Camp in Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, this September, where Stefanie and John will educate and inspire.


1. “Best Pre-Workout Foods.” Men’s Fitness. N.p., n.d. Web.

2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web.

3. “Jarrow Formulas : Brown Rice Protein.” Jarrow Formulas. N.p., n.d. Web.

Click here to find out about Rose’s thoughts on wellbeing and health

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