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Fuel Up: The Best Pre-Workout Foods

Heading to the gym on empty? Better fill your tank: Snacking about an hour before a sweat session lets you work out longer and harder. To help you get your rear in gear, we reviewed more than 180 new snacks. Our eight winning picks provide complex carbs, which break down slowly to deliver continuous energy, and list either fruit or a whole grain as their first ingredient. And because they come in at 200 calories or fewer and contain no more than six grams of fat, they're easy to digest. Go ahead, eat and run.

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Water bottles, dumbbell, iphone, headphones, pre-workout snacks
Lisa Shin
Lisa Shin
Lisa Shin
Lisa Shin
Lisa Shin
Lisa Shin
Lisa Shin
Lisa Shin
Lisa Shin
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Dynamic Duo

While carbs give you energy to ace your workout, protein helps build and maintain lean muscle, explains Stephanie Middleberg, RD, who says you need between six and eight grams to get the benefits. Pair any of these snacks with a hard-boiled egg, string cheese, or a cup of chocolate milk to go the distance -- and look good while doing it.

What Makes a Winner
Companies submitted 189 new snacks to FITNESS. Our experts -- Anar Allidina, RD, a dietitian in private practice in Toronto; Keri Gans, RD, the author of The Small Change Diet; and Stephanie Middleberg, RD, the founder of Middleberg Nutrition in New York City -- helped us determine which ones should move on to the next round. Those finalists were sampled and voted on by FITNESS staffers.

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Van's The Perfect 10 Crackers

Six kinds of whole grains and four types of seeds give these gluten-free crackers a crunch you'll crave, while onion and garlic deliver "a zing that plays well with hummus but also makes these flavorful enough that you can skip the dip," one tester said. (140 calories per 12)

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Peeled Snacks Apple Clusters Apple Crunch

The dried apples in these are puffed, so they're crispy, then rolled with a little bit of apple juice into bite-size balls. "They're so easy to pop in my mouth when I'm on the go," an editor raved. "What a fun way to fit in a full serving of fruit!" (75 calories per bag)

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Deep River Snacks Organic Popcorn with Sea Salt

"Movie-theater popcorn is always a grease bomb, but the plain air-popped version reminds me of Styrofoam," one staffer said. This stuff hits the sweet spot between vice and virtue, and it's 100 percent whole grain. (90 calories per bag)

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Kashi Berry Lemonade Chewy Granola Bars with Chia

"The sweet-tart flavor reminded me of a lemon bar, and I loved the big cranberries in every bite," said a staffer. Bonus: Thanks to chia seeds, these deliver a healthy dose of omega-3s, which have been linked to less muscle soreness after a tough workout. (130 calories per bar)

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Annie's Organic Cinnamon Grahams

Many runners swear by graham crackers before a training session, but the flavor can be boring. A hint of honey and a generous dusting of cinnamon make these "seem like a treat, especially when you smear them with a little peanut or almond butter," an editor said. (130 calories for two)

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Simply Balanced Classic Muesli Cereal

Take yogurt from drab to fab with this mix of rolled oats, crunchy flakes, almonds, and four kinds of dried fruit. "I'm usually a granola person, but this had two-thirds less fat and 100 fewer calories," a tester reported. "And I felt revved up instead of weighed down after eating it." (180 calories per half cup)

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Kind Healthy Grains Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Bar

Made with dark chocolate -- which contains a compound called epicatechin that has been shown to help boost endurance -- it's no wonder this chewy granola bar "tastes like a cookie but powered me through the burn of walking lunges," one staffer said. (150 calories per bar)

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Barbara's Multigrain Maple Brown Sugar Squarefuls

Whether you hit the gym in the morning or after work, these will bowl you over. According to one tester, "They're the Goldilocks of cereal: just sweet enough to get me through an afternoon slump but not so sugary that I couldn't eat them for breakfast." (200 calories per cup)

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, February 2014.

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3/9/2014 09:45:10 PM Report Abuse
whit2232 wrote:

@kimmilovesmel if your main problem is gluten and avoiding that you can snack on cooked quinoa before a workout paired with an ounce of raw walnuts or almonds.

3/7/2014 06:57:17 PM Report Abuse
kimmilovesmel wrote:

Sounds great...but I can't have whole/multi grains. Then what?

2/8/2014 07:30:29 PM Report Abuse

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