Sports recovery foods and beverages get a lot of press—and a lot of real estate on store shelves. But what food you eat before exercising can be just as important for your performance, in both the short and long term. Opt for one of these combinations before each workout to maximize your energy and performance. After all, if you’re at your best each time you exercise, over time you’ll see greater gains—and feel better along the way.

Bananas with peanut butter

banana and pbA study published in the Journal of Proteome Research found that cyclists improved their performance by 5 percent when they ate bananas before and during a 75-kilometer cycling session versus consuming water only. (Pears boosted performance by 3.3 percent; bananas’ more balanced ratio of glucose to fructose may explain the difference.) Pair a banana with peanut butter for a bit of protein, which will provide a more sustained release of energy from the banana’s carbs.

Blueberries and yogurt*

blueberries and yogurtA great blend of carbs and protein, this snack is the perfect food to eat before a workout. It also contains pro-muscle nutrients: whey protein in the yogurt and a compound called ursolic acid in the blueberries. A study published in Cell Metabolism found that ursolic acid may hinder muscle atrophy (apple skins are also high in ursolic acid).

*If you prefer a nondairy yogurt, check the label for the amount of protein. Some types, like Silk varieties, have more protein than others.

Sweet potato

sweet potatoWait, you say, that’s not a combo. Fine, add a touch of butter and cinnamon if you’d like, but this natural beauty is a perfect pre-workout food by itself. It’s high in carbs, provides several grams of protein and is a good source of potassium, which can be depleted through exercise. 

Q: How long before a workout should I eat?

The answer can be different for each person depending on your digestive system, so start with eating 30 minutes before you exercise and see what works for you. Also, if you’re consuming high-fat or high-fiber foods—or a lot of liquids—you might want to skew earlier. Fat and fiber can make you feel sluggish, while fiber and fluids can interrupt your workout for a bathroom break.

Q: How long before a workout should I drink water?

A study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that after subjects drank 10 ounces of water, the ingested water began to appear in their plasma and blood cells within five minutes, but their bodies didn’t completely absorb it for 75 to 120 minutes. Translation: Aim to hydrate one to two hours before exercise, depending on temperature conditions and other factors that can affect hydration.