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Top Off Your Tank With These Pre-Workout Snacks

The best pre-workout meals and snacks, from real-food to pre-packaged options, plus a recipe for homemade oat bars to fuel up before your next big ride or run.

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Trying to figure out what to eat before a swim, bike, or run can be a precarious endeavor. On one hand, you know you need to top off the tank before you work out; on the other, you don’t want to eat something that will leave you feel heavy, bloated, or rushing to find a bathroom.

In this video, I talk with sports dietitian Colette Vartanian about the best pre-workout meals and snacks, from real-food to pre-packaged options. I also share a recipe for pre-workout oat bars that can help you fuel up. Make the basic recipe, or try one of the customized options to suit your taste buds. Scroll down after the video for the complete do-it-yourself adventure in pre-workout fuel.

RELATED: Ask Stacy: Should I Fuel Before an Early-Morning Workout?

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Recipe: Pre-Workout Oat Bars

Photo: Avery Stumm

Oat bars are an excellent base for customizing something that fits your pre-workout palette. Whether you like sweet, spicy, salty, crunchy or chewy – if you can dream it up, you can bake it!

Oats are the unsung hero of an athlete’s diet and an ideal pre-workout snack. Because they are slow-digesting carbs, oats keep your blood sugar more stable and prevent energy spikes and drops during exercise. That’s why you see so oats listed as an ingredient in many prepackaged bars. But you can easily save money to make your own. Affordability, versatility, and simplicity make rolled oats an excellent base for homemade workout fuel to satisfy all your cravings. 

This easy-to assemble “basic” version of my oat bar recipe is endlessly changeable.  Use this as a starting point, and then make slight tweaks each time you make it until you find the perfect combination for your tastes and goals. 


3 cups rolled oats (not steel-cut or instant)

1 tablespoon coconut oil

2 cups pitted medjool dates, chopped coarsely 

1 cup crunchy nut butter

1 cup chopped pecans (any nuts you like)

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or any spice you like)

1 teaspoon coarse salt

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional) 

Optional ingredients:

Chocolate chips

Coarse sea salt

Turmeric, cumin, or any other spices you like

Dried fruits, such as raisins or cranberries

Ripe smashed bananas

Peanut butter


Maple syrup

Chopped nuts


Line a 9” x 9” or similar sized cake pan with parchment paper and set aside.

Toast 3 cups rolled oats in a large pan until warm and slightly golden. Add in 1 tablespoon coconut oil, turn the heat off and mix until oil is evenly distributed throughout the oats.

Pulse together remaining ingredients in a food processor until you get a uniform, slightly chunky mixture. (If you like smaller pieces in your bars, pulse until you get a more consistent texture. Warm the mix in microwave for 30 seconds. 

In a mixing bowl, fold together toasted oats with the wet ingredient mixture. Once you have a nice, even mix, give a taste and see what you’d like to add. (Optional ingredients may be folded in here as well.)

Scoop mixture into cake pan with parchment paper and spread evenly to edges. Smooth out the top with a rubber spatula while pressing down gently.

Cover with food wrap and set in fridge for at least an hour.

When bars are set, flip cake pan onto cutting board and cut bars to size. Wrap bars individually for freshness and convenient on-the-go fueling, or store in an airtight container for grab-and-go snacks as needed.

Cook’s Notes: 

While horses and cattle can handle raw oats, we humans cannot. Our stomachs are not set up to break down the fiber and nutrients until some of the work has been done for us. That’s why it’s critical to toast your oats before mixing, instead of using raw oats.

For best results, mix all ingredients together while the oats are warm from being toasted.

For safety and storage reasons I recommend keeping the base vegan. There are some great recipes out there for oat bars that add butter, tons of sugar, eggs and milk.  Those recipes are also delicious – just keep in mind that similar to scrambled eggs or a cup of milk, you will only want to eat these for a day or two after being made.

For a bar that stays fresh and edible longer, work with all-vegan “shelf stable” ingredients, or  things sold on dry shelves in your grocery, like dried fruit and nuts, honey and nut butters.

RELATED: Triathlete’s Complete Guide to Nutrition and Fueling