The Ideal Gym Bag: What to Bring & What to Leave

What to bring  

A Snack

Timing is everything when it comes to pre and post workout meals/snacks. You’ll want to avoid eating too much before a workout to prevent feeling sluggish or bloated, but you also don’t want to go into a workout on an empty stomach.  Low blood sugar levels can leave you feeling weak, faint, or even slow to react. 

The key is to find balance in the timing of your pre-workout meal.  Ideally, you should eat larger meals 3-4 hours before exercise begins. Those meals should consist primarily of a complex carbohydrate (whole grain) and a lean protein, which will help provide a long lasting source of energy for your workout. Some ideas are:

  • Turkey Sandwich on whole wheat bread with a piece of fruit
  • Whole wheat pasta with steamed vegetables and lean ground turkey
  • Peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat toast with a banana
  • Oatmeal with non-fat milk, fruit and nuts
  • Grilled chicken breast, steamed spinach, and a sweet potato

Smaller meals or snacks should be eaten within 1-2 hours of exercise and consist of a small portion of a complex carbohydrate and a protein. Some ideas are: 

  • Low fat cheese and whole grain crackers
  • Apple slices with peanut butter
  • A whole grain wrap and a few slices of sliced deli turkey breast
  • Greek yogurt and pineapple slices
  • A piece of fruit and a stick of string cheese

After you work out, the best snack to eat is a high carbohydrate snack that will help replenish your glucose stores that were depleted while exercising.  Some examples of pre/post workout snacks include:

  •  Dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, or banana chips.  Toss in some almonds for protein.
  •  Fresh fruit like a banana, apple, or orange
  •  Hummus and Pita
  •  Fruit smoothie made with soy milk and a tablespoon of peanut butter for protein.

Good Athletic Shoes

It’s important to have proper fitting footwear to protect your feet, legs, ankles, and most importantly, your back from discomfort or even injury. Chronic activity with ill fitting, or inappropriate shoes can break down joints and tissue, making it more prone to injury. It’s also important to know when to replace an old shoe (350-550 miles). Check out our guide for more tips on finding the right athletic shoe.


Dehydration can negatively influence performance, so it is importance to maintain hydration before, during, and after working out. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking 20-24 ounces of water for every pound lost during exercise. If you can’t weigh yourself before and after exercise, another good measure is drinking 24 ounces of water for every 15-20 minutes of exercise.


The research is conflicting when it comes to the effects of music improving exercise, but individuals respond differently to varying stimuli.  If music pumps you up…go for it!  Make sure you pack headphones and an ample music selection before you go.  Also, different music may be better suited for different workouts.  Heavy lifting may be better accompanied by rap or rock music with motivating lyrics and powerful beats.  However, running tunes should be selected to match your pace so that you can take each step with the beat.  Try the app to find the perfect music paced for your run!

What to leave 

Protein Bars

Most protein bars are high in added sugar, fat, and preservatives. Many are also high in calories.  It is better to pack your own snack (i.e. nuts, dried fruit, whole fruit, carrots and hummus). If you end up choosing to pack a nutrition bar,  select bars with no more than 250 calories each, and less than 10g of sugar per 100g of food.  For example, if the product weighs 200g, it should contain no more than 20g of sugar total.

Sports Drinks

When you are engaged in high‐intensity workouts lasting 60 minutes or more, electrolytes like sodium and potassium are lost through heavy sweat and must be replaced to keep the electrolyte concentrations in your body fluids constant. A sports drink may not be the best beverage to replenish these needs.

The average sports drink contains 20 grams of sugar in one 12 oz. serving.  That’s over 13 teaspoons of sugar in the average 32 ounce sports drink bottle. All of the added calories from sugar can seriously interfere with weight loss/maintenance efforts in addition to interfering with steady blood sugar levels.

Most people can stay hydrated by eating healthy and drinking enough water prior to and during their workout. Check out the list below of electrolytes and common food sources for each.

  • Potassium-bananas, kiwis, green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes
  • Magnesium- green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nut butters, pumpkin
  • Calcium- milk, yogurt, black eyed peas
  • Chloride- olives, tomatoes, celery
  • Sodium- The typical American diet is high in sodium, so dietary need to supplement is rare. However, nut butters are a healthy source of sodium if needed.

Your Phone

Working out is a time to decompress, not a time to scroll through social media or reply to work emails.  Exercise requires a mind/body connection. Looking at your phone the whole time will not only disrupt the communication between your brain and your body, but it also increases the likelihood of injuring yourself. 


A Bad Attitude

Don’t work out because you hate your body…workout because you love it!  The goal of exercising should not be solely on appearance.  Going to the gym is a way to release stress, improve mental clarity, and improve overall health through physical activity.  Focus on the health benefits such as improved heart function, decreased blood pressure, stronger bones, etc.  When we love going to the gym for all the good things rather than dread it as a “punishment” for not looking like the ideal man or woman we can enjoy the experience to the fullest.


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