Sometimes, even on the days when you really want to work out, it can be tough to find the energy to actually lace up your running sneakers, show up to that group fitness class, or hop on your bike. There are lots of reasons why you might feel sleepy, unmotivated, or “blah” before a workout. But there are just as many ways to push through.
If you find that your energy tends to fade before a workout, you’re not alone. According to fitness trainer Kari Pearce, it’s actually one of the more common reasons why folks bail on a workout. “People often feel tired and think that a workout will drain their energy more,” she tells Bustle. Even though the opposite is often true — exercise tends to boost energy, Pearce says — it’s tough to remember when you’re yawning or feeling super comfy on the couch.
It’s also hard to imagine yourself climbing out of bed to go for an early morning run or pulling into the gym parking lot on your way home from work. It’s always easier to stay in bed or to keep driving home. But if you promised yourself you’d work out, and know you’ll have a good time once you start, that’s when you might want to look for ways to put a little pep in your step. Here’s how to get energy before a workout, according to experts.
How To Get Energy Before A Workout
1. Eat Two To Three Hours Beforehand
Eating a meal two to three hours before you plan to hit the gym is one of the best ways to get out of an energy rut, says registered dietician Christina Jax, MS, RDN, LDN, CLT, RYT. This meal should include carbs and protein — think a bowl of rice noodles with shrimp or a scrambled egg with veggies and potatoes, Jax says. The carbs will boost your energy and the protein will fuel your muscles.
2. Have A Quick Pre-Workout Snack
If you still don’t feel energized 30 minutes before your workout, then grab a banana with a smear of peanut butter as a pre-exercise snack. “This is the perfect snack as it's easy-to-digest carbs with a bit of protein,” Jax says. “The key is choosing quick carbs that cause a rapid increase in blood glucose, which can be helpful for workout energy.”
3. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Dehydration is a sneaky cause of low energy, so remember to drink plenty of water throughout the day, and not just as you head to the gym. “Don't wait until the hour before your workout to start drinking water,” says Amanda Lane, MS, RD, CDCES, a registered dietician and founder of Healthful Lane Nutrition. “Aim for 64 ounces spread out during the day to help stabilize your energy levels.”
4. Drink Something Caffeinated
While you often see folks throwing back caffeinated pre-workout drinks at the gym, experts recommend steering clear. Many caffeinated workout drinks contain a huge dose of caffeine, as well as other additives that might not be good for you, says Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, a senior clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center.
If you want to have an iced coffee though, go for it! Or better yet, try tea. “I'm a big fan of getting nutrients, including caffeine, from natural sources that are not processed or highly adulterated, rather than spending a lot of money on expensive [energy boosting] drinks,” Hunnes says. She recommends sipping your tea or coffee 15 to 30 minutes before working out so that the caffeine kicks in at the right time.
5. Choose A Fun Routine
Even if you’re fueled up physically, it’ll be tough to push through mentally when you aren’t in a good mood. And that’s why it’s important to find little pick-me-ups wherever possible. “Maybe [that means] listening to your favorite songs on the way to the gym or wearing your favorite [outfit],” Lane tells Bustle.
Of course, it’ll also make a world of difference to choose an exercise that actually seems appealing. If you don’t want to plod along on the treadmill, don’t plod. Do yoga instead, ride your bike, take a walk, or meet up with a friend for a cardio dance class. “The more excited you are about moving your body, the more energy you will have,” Lane says.
6. Reschedule Your Workout
If you’re always too tired to exercise at the end of the day, try switching things up. “Pick a time when you can give your best effort during your workout,” says Alayna Curry, an AFAA-certified fitness and founder of Workout With Mom. “Many people find that they have more energy to exercise in the morning versus waiting until after work, which helps continue the momentum for the rest of the day.”
If you can’t fathom a morning workout, try a mid-day lunchtime workout instead. “It helps break up your day and will give you an energy boost to finish out the rest of your work,” Curry says.
7. Take A Power Nap
According to Pearce, lack of quality sleep can also put a damper on your energy. The best thing you can do is prioritize getting good rest every night, but a quick power nap will work in a pinch. Keep it around 20 minutes and you should feel rested and ready to press play on that YouTube workout.
8. Go Outside
If you’ve been hangin’ inside all day, try stepping into the sun to wake up and recharge your batteries. Hey, you might even want to find a way to exercise outside. “This can really wake you up and give you a big energy boost,” says Hunnes.
9. Warm Up
Still lethargic? Get up and shake it off. As Pearce says, “Low energy could be related to inactivity,” which might explain why you feel too sleepy to exercise after sitting at a desk all day. It’s also why Pearce recommends getting up every hour, especially if you plan to work out later, so that your energy never fades in the first place.
On that same note, it may help to do a quick warm up to get your blood pumping, too. Try torso twists, dynamic stretches, or jumping jacks before your workout. “It doesn’t have to be super long or extensive,” Pearce says. “Honestly, even three minutes will make you feel better.” Remember, the first few minutes of movement are always the hardest. But push through, and chances are you’ll be raring to go.
Taylor, K. 2022. Adult Dehydration. StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK555956/.
Christina Jax, MS, RDN, LDN, CLT, RYT, registered dietician
Patricia Kolesa, RDN, registered dietician
Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, senior clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center