While some tout the apparent benefits of working out on an empty stomach, it’s more commonly believed that your body needs a source of fuel to power through an intense workout. But, it's perhaps not the brightest idea to stuff a large McDonald's fry or twenty Thin Mints in your face before heading to the gym.

Even if you justify that you'll "burn it off," the number of calories burned may not be what you expect. At least an hour before your workout, it’s best to consume a meal with a combination of carbs and protein—preferably, 75% of the former and 25% of the latter.

Listed here are some protein-packed dinners from around our site that most closely demonstrate this optimal proportion, as well as some suggestions of my own. Note that the nutritional values are approximations, counting only the major ingredients in the recipe, using general nutrition data for each item, and considering only one serving. It's for reference, loves.

For all you veggie-loving, no-meat-consuming people:

1. Protein-Packed Tempeh Kale Salad

Carbs are not the enemy—they are metabolized into muscle glycogen, which helps fuel you throughout a workout, while protein is used to repair and build lean tissue. Like a good-cop-bad-cop combo, both are needed to get the results you want.
salad, vegetable, kale, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, parsley
Katherine Baker

Protein: Tempeh—20g. Chickpeas—5.4g.

Carbs: Kale— 20.1g. Chickpeas—17.1g. Lemon—3.9g. Tempeh—10.6g.

Ratio: 32.9% Protein, 67.1% Carbs

Move over tofu—it’s time for fiber-filled, protein-pumped tempeh. This lesser known soy-product is not only filled with antioxidants and other nutrients such as calcium, zinc, and iron, but it’s fermented. This process makes the the nutrients more easily absorbable by the body and paves the way for easier digestion—a bonus for any meal. Plus, there’s kale, which is, like, picked from the green, leafy forest that grows in the gardens of your soul.  

2. Vegan Sweet Potato, Kale, and Chickpea Bowl

sweet potato, sweet, squash, kale, potato
Megan Prendergast

Protein: Sweet Potato—2.2g. Broccoli—2.5g. Kale—3.3g. Chickpea—15g.

Carbs: Sweet Potato—23g. Broccoli—5.8g. Kale—10.1g. Chickpea—47.9g.

Ratio: 20.9% Protein, 79.1% Carbs

Sweet potatoes are literally the absolute best. They're, like, that one friend who always has your back, ready to catch you when you fall—the Smith Machine of all friendships. Want fries, but trying to be healthy? Sweet Potato. No oven? Microwave sweet potato. So you can even make this recipe in your dorm before your killer workout sesh. And again—kale.

3. Black Bean Burritos

vegetable, corn
Santina Renzi

Protein: Black Beans—6.1g. Tortilla—1g. Avocado—.3g. Lime—.5g

Carbs: Black Beans—16.3g. Tortilla—8g. Avocado—1.2g. Lime—7.1g.

Ratio: 19.5% Protein, 80.5% Carbs

Taco Tuesdays just got a whole lot healthier—not that you have to give up dinners of chipotle or even Taco Bell, my loves. But with black beans, which possess a mighty fiber-protein content, and avocados, which are basically goddess entrapped in rugged, luscious fruit, you'll hardly miss your favorite burrito joint. And you get to fold it yourself, which makes you an origami master (basically).

4. Vegetable Stir-Fry With Tofu and Sesame Ginger Sauce

broccoli, vegetable
Katherine Baker

Protein: Brown Rice—7g. Tofu—13.3g. Vegetables—4g.

Carbs: Brown Rice—72g. Tofu—2.7g. Vegetables—12g. Sesame Ginger—10g.

Ratio: 20.1% Protein, 79.9% Carbs

You know when you’re talking crap about that weird kid who puts orange juice in his cereal, and then you turn around to find him standing there, listening to your every word? Oh, hey Tofu, funny seeing you here…

But in all seriousness, tofu is the bomb, making it an optimal choice for your pre-workout dinner. You can even use it to make protein smoothies—which, in my book, deserves a standing ovation.

For the carnivores among us:

1. Avocado Chicken Salad

vegetable, rice, chicken, salad
Paige Pulaski

Protein: Chicken—11g. Avocado—1.3g. Grapes—.3g. Almonds—1.5g.

Carbs: Avocado—5.9g. Grapes—6.8g. Almonds—1.5g.

Ratio: 49.8% Protein, 50.2% Carbs

Chicken. It's one of the leanest sources of protein and has been found effective in aiding weight loss. Chicken soup for the soul anyone? Or, in this case, Chicken Avocado Salad for the gains. Also, let us not forget the alligator pears—er, I mean goddess trapped in leathery green fruits. Vegetarian? Try avocado toast—the bread will supply those super cool carbs that your body burns like fossil fuel, making you power through that workout like one of those nifty race cars on TV.

2. Buddha Bowl Recipe

pasta, chicken, noodle, vegetable, rice
Hannah Cather

Protein: Spinach—.9g. Sweet Pepper—1.1g. Cucumber—.2g. Egg—5.5g. Edamame—16.6g. Rice noodles—1.6g. Salmon—25g.

Carbs: Spinach—1.1g. Sweet Pepper—7.3g. Grape Tomatoes—2g. Cucumber—1.3g. Egg—.3g. Edamame—14.1g. Rice noodles—43.8g.

Ratio: 41.2% Protein, 58.8% Carbs

I can't actually verify this, but I'm pretty sure Buddha approves of this creation-—it fuels your body with veggies, carbs, and protein, so you have everything you need to feel wholesome and peaceful (perfect before a yoga workout). Plus, it's a bowl, which is a circle, which is a symbol of totality, of eternity, of absolute perfection, (and of you, of course). Find your potential. And a really big bowl.

3. Chicken Fajita Salad

salad, chicken, corn
AmiLin McClure

Protein: Chicken—26.1g. Bell Pepper—.4g. Salad Mix—1.3g. Tomatoes—1g. Corn—3.3g. Black beans—5.7g. Brown Rice—1.5g.

Carbs: Bell Pepper—2.1g. Salad Mix—5.3g. Tomatoes—6g. Corn—19.9g. Black Beans—14.7g. Brown Rice—15.3g.

Ratio: 38.3% Protein, 61.7% Carbs

More chicken. Free of unnecessary toppings and fattening, sodium-polluted dressings, this salad fills you up on the good stuff—namely, lean protein, rich veggies, and complex carbs from brown rice, which release sugar slowly and help to power you for longer. Because you're no simple b*tch.

4. Healthy Chicken Burrito Wrap

tacos, chicken, burrito, beef, meat, tomato, lettuce
Bari Blanga

Protein: Tortilla—5g. Avocado—1.3g. Chicken—26.1g. Brown Rice—1.1g. Greens—.5g.

But wait, there’s more… chicken. If you haven't guessed by now, chicken is the preferred animal-based source of protein for those who want to build lean muscle. It also struts, so if you're eating a lot of chicken, it will take you that much closer to walking like Beyoncé. And everyone wants to walk the Beyoncé walk.


Well, it depends on what you're looking for. Before a workout, carbs are important to provide the energy you need to endure a long, arduous session; afterward, you need protein to repair the muscles you've worked. Overall, most of these were in the correct ballpark of our 3:1, carbs to protein ratio. However, we can note that (with my somewhat vague calculations) the Vegan Sweet Potato, Kale, and Chickpea Bowl was the closest. Because, ya know, sweet potatoes.

Mini Meals

Another option besides nourishing your body (and soul) with a big, filling dinner is to eat something a tad smaller. Maybe you don't have time to make these meals, and that's okay—I got you covered. Basically, we'll take our general rule of carbs and proteins and scale it down. There. Are. Endless. Options

My personal suggestion? A crumbly graham cracker adorned with strawberries red as jewels in a crown of thick peanut butter. I also sometimes dip strawberries in greek yogurt, but that's usually reserved for watching America's Next Top Model at 1 am.

Ratio: 37.6% Protein, 62.4% Carbs Carbs: Tortilla—32g. Avocado—5.9g. Brown Rice—11.5g. Cherry Tomatoes—5g. Greens—2g.
strawberry, tart, cracker
Hailey Tom

That vague blue fuzz in the background is Derek—he's my moral support, and now he's yours, too. Eat good food. Bust your ass at the gym. Make us proud, my loves. 

Graphic by Spoon University