High-Carb Foods You Need to Eat Before a HIIT or Cardio Workout

When it comes to making serious gains, you know nutrition is key. And nowadays, it seems like there’s an all-out war against carbs in many health circles. But carbs exist for a reason — and while we can’t help you justify eating a candy bar every day before your next big cardio or HIIT session, there are certain carbohydrate-heavy foods you should consider to help fuel even your toughest workouts.

As Alissa Rumsey, a registered dietician, tells Fitness, “Carbohydrates are fuel for your muscles. Without them, your muscles cannot work as hard.” With that said, here are the carbs you should aim to eat a few hours before your workout begins.

Whole-grain bread or pasta

Whole-grain bread

Whole-grain bread | iStock.com

If you’re presented with the choice between white or whole-grain products, always go for the whole-grain. While you may like the taste of white grains better, they’re highly refined, meaning they’re quickly absorbed in the body, Fitness notes. You’ll get an instant energy spike instead of a slow energy release. And if you’re working out for longer than 10 minutes, you’ll be happy for that slow, constant energy supply rather than one rapid-fire boost.

Whole-grain bread or a small bowl of wheat pasta is a great option here. Try adding a tablespoon of peanut butter on your bread for an added protein and fat boost, or you can add some sliced chicken breast on the pasta to make it more of a small meal.


Livestrong.com verifies that bananas are a healthy source of carbs perfect to eat before your next gym session. They’re rich in both sugars and starches (27 grams of carbs per one medium fruit) that will help give your body energy no matter what exercises you’re performing. Bananas are also an ideal post-workout snack, as their high potassium content can help replenish the electrolyte stores in your muscles.

Sweet potatoes

Raw sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes | zeleno/iStock/Getty Images

This delicious food is jam-packed with nutrients — and of course, healthy carbs. One large sweet potato contains 38 grams of complex carbs, which is great news for anyone preparing for a seriously intense workout. And if you’re trying to watch your sugar intake, this starchy veggie can also help you satisfy your sweet tooth, as they’re full of natural sugars (hence the “sweet” in the name). And SFGate notes sweet potatoes have plenty of antioxidants that also help keep your muscles and immune system strong.


They’re delicious right out of the can, in a salad, or baked in the oven to crispy perfection. Either way, if you don’t have canned chickpeas on hand to snack on a few hours before a workout, you’re well-advised to start. Just one tablespoon contains 8 grams of slow-acting carbs that will help you get through your workout. And they also contain a good amount of protein, too, which is helpful in muscle building and recovery.


Blueberry Porridge

Bowl of oatmeal topped with fresh blueberries and yogurt | Robynmac/iStock/Getty Images

Oatmeal is a great pre- or post-workout snack, as oats more nutritious than most people think. Healthline reminds us oats are actually a whole-grain food, so they provide those slow-release carbs that are great for a workout. It’s important to note that instant oats are more highly processed than rolled, crushed, or steel-cut, so if you have the time and the option, go for the latter three.

Not only are oats a healthy source of carbs, but they also have protein, healthy fats, and fiber to make them filling. They’re a total win-win.


Don’t like bananas? Apples are another great source of healthy carbs to have pre-workout. One medium fruit contains 25 grams of carbs — and an apple’s high fiber content will also ensure you won’t be trudging through your workout hungry. Add some peanut butter on the side for an added protein boost, and you can’t go wrong.

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