Pre Workout Meal – What to Eat Before a Workout
The choices you make regarding your pre-workout meal can make a big difference to your in-gym performance.
If you get it right you will be able to give it your all without feeling bloated or running out of steam.
Get it wrong and you may end up trudging through your sets with little in the way of energy or enthusiasm.
However, it’s not just a case of deciding what to eat before a workout. You need to get the timing right as well.
Ideally, you want to time your pre-workout meal so that it helps you get the full benefits while you are exercising. This will give you the energy and strength you need for an intense and productive training session.
Apart from helping maximize your performance, optimizing your pre-workout nutrient intake will also help you reduce muscle damage.
Although fat and protein can also play a role in a pre-workout meal, carbohydrate is more important. It’s your body’s main energy provider.
The timing and frequency of carb intake is crucially important for energizing the body and enhancing exercise capacity. Don’t doubt it. Science proves it. [SOURCE]
What to Eat Before Your Workout
The three macronutrients the body uses for energy are carbohydrates proteins and fats. Each one plays a specific role in a pre-workout meal.
However, what you should and should not include in your pre-workout meal can be restricted by time constraints.
For instance, if you’ve been pressed for time and are having a last-minute meal, fats are best avoided. More on that later.
Moving forward, let’s take a quick look at the three macronutrients and the roles they play in any good pre-workout meal. We’ll begin with carbs because they are the most important.
1. Carbs – Pre Workout
Carbs provide the glucose your muscles use for fuel. Using a process known as cellular respiration, your body converts glucose to ATP.
Working on the molecular level, ATP is the real source of your muscles’ power. [SOURCE]
But let’s not get too complicated here. This is an article about what to eat before a workout, not a bioengineering course.
However, we do need to take a brief look at where glycogen fits into the equation.
Although most of the carbs we eat are converted to glucose and put to work via cellular respiration, if there’s an excess the liver converts glucose to glycogen. This is then stored in the muscles and liver.
When you use up your stores of glucose, the body converts its stores of glycogen back to glucose so it can be put to use. [SOURCE]
Taking thing’s further, when glycogen runs out, the body has to burn fat for energy. This is what dieters hope to achieve by following low-carb, ketogenic diets.
Again, let’s not over complicate things. The thing to know here is, as your stores of glucose and glycogen run low, your output will suffer. That’s why complex carbs should be part of any good pre-workout meal.
Complex carbs release their glucose slowly. This helps to supply the muscles with a steady supply of energy during exercise and that’s what you need.
Good sources of complex carbs include:
- Brown rice
- Sweet Potatoes
- Wholewheat Bread
2. Protein – Pre Workout
A lot of research shows including protein in a pre-workout meal can improve athletic performance. The benefits are partly due to improvements in protein synthesis and anabolic response.
However, it’s not essential that the protein comes from food. The participants in one study showed a better anabolic response to exercise after consuming protein powder. [SOURCE]
Foods that are good sources of protein include:
- Chicken/Turkey Breast
- Lean Steak
3. Fat – Pre Workout
Although your muscles are likely to be running on glucose and glycogen during short periods of high-intensity exercise, fat will be the source of fuel during long periods of moderate to low-intensity exercise.
Unfortunately, the studies investigating this involve the use of high-fat diets over a longer period of time.
However, research shows eating a diet that is 40 percent fat over a four-week period increases endurance. [SOURCE]
Nobody is suggesting you should eat a high-fat diet, but the study does serve to illustrate the role fat can play in a pre-workout meal.
The trick is to avoid saturated fats that can damage the health.
Good options to eat before a workout include:
- Sunflower Seeds
- Olive Oil
When to Eat (Timing Is Everything)
The timing of your pre-workout meal plays a vital role in your training nutrition.
For maximum benefits, you should try to eat a complete meal two to three hours before you start exercising. The (healthy) meals you eat before a workout should contain carbs, protein and fat.
Unfortunately, there will be times when you may not be able to get the timing right. When this happens you will need to modify your pre-workout meal accordingly.
As the time between the meal and the workout diminishes, the meal will need to become smaller and simpler.
It’s not good to exercise on a full stomach. For one thing, it could make you feel bloated and sick. It could also give you indigestion. Any of these reactions will distract you and prevent you from having a good workout.
What to Eat Before a Workout (Creating a Good Pre-Workout Meal)
The food you eat before a workout should preferably provide carbs and protein. If you are eating two to three hours before exercise, your pre-workout meal can contain some healthy fats as well. It’s best to skip the fat if you can’t get the timing right.
In order to get the best from your pre-workout meal, the nutrients need to be available. Fat takes a long time to digest. Having it in your meal will slow the absorption of other nutrients too.
What to Eat 2—3 Hours Before a Workout
If you are able to eat your pre-workout meal two to three hours before your workout you will be able to eat foods that provide all three macronutrients.
A few good choices include:
- Poached or scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast
- Grilled chicken breast with brown rice accompanied by vegetables that have been roasted with a drizzle of olive oil
- Herring fillet with a small portion of boiled potatoes and green beans
- Tuna and quinoa salad
What to Eat 1 — 2 Hours Before a Workout
If you are eating one to two hours before your workout, your body will have less time to process the nutrients. Your pre-workout meal will have to reflect this fact.
That means avoiding fats as much as possible and sticking with carbs and protein.
You will also need to avoid overly-large portion sizes that will overload your stomach.
Some good options include:
- A small bowl of oatmeal topped with sliced bananas and strawberries
- Whole grain cereal and skimmed milk
- A light salad with brown rice or couscous
- Whey protein smoothie with mixed berries or beetroot
What to Eat If Your Workout Is Less than 60 Minutes Away
If it’s less than an hour before your workout you need to forget all about a pre-workout meal and start thinking about a pre-workout snack.
Good ideas for pre-workout snacks include:
- One piece of fruit (apple, banana etc.)
- Half a cup of dried fruit or a handful of berries
- A nutrition bar
Some Other Important Pre-Workout Considerations
Choosing a good pre-workout meal is important, but so is keeping your body hydrated. It’s not just about food.
If you are giving it your all in the gym you will be sweating buckets. That increases the chances of you becoming dehydrated. You don’t want that. Being dehydrated can really hold you back.
Research shows drinking appropriate amounts of water can boost performance and cold water works best. [SOURCE]
Experts at the American College of Sports Medicine suggest drinking 6–20 ounces (0.5–0.6 litres) of water four hours before exercise. Then another 8–12 ounces (0.23–0.35 litres) of water 10—15 minutes before the workout begins. [SOURCE]
For maximum benefits, they suggest drinking a beverage that contains electrolytes and carbohydrates as well. You can buy these easily enough. They’re called sports drinks.
No matter what kind of training you do. Be it bodybuilding, swimming, or track, putting some extra thought into your body’s nutritional needs can pay dividends.
Choosing a pre-workout meal that provides the right combination of nutrients at the right time will prevent you from running out of steam too soon and allow you to train harder.
If you train harder, you will become fitter and stronger. Eating smarter will help you do these things. So, if you want to see your training endeavours go from strength to strength it’s important to do the necessary brain work when choosing your pre-workout meal.