The right pre-workout meal can make or break your performance in the gym. If you want to feel like a superhuman every time you train, you are in the right spot!
Make sure you read until the very bottom so you can see my exact pre workout meals I use for muscle gain and fat loss goals, as they differ a bit depending on my goal throughout the year.
Nobody ever said that pre workout meals had to be boring. My go to pre workout meal during a lean bulk is Sushi!
The best pre workout meal is one that will accomplish 3 things:
- 1Help increase your strength and endurance even if you are in a calorie deficit
- 2Allow for easy digestion so you are not bloated while you train
- 3Help you train at peak intensity every time you workout
Besides performance why are pre-workout meals so critical? The best pre-workout meal options can ALSO help you:
If you choose the wrong foods for your pre-workout meals, you’ll sadly go the opposite direction. It’ll be highly likely that you crash part-way through the workout session, leading to unwanted fatigue, weakness, and you might even cut your workout short.
You may also suffer from unwanted weight gain and a lack of muscle building results if your calorie and macro numbers aren’t lined up.
When planning out your perfect pre-workout meals, it’s important to think long-term. It’s what you do over the course of weeks that’s going to make a difference. We all get rushed in our day-to-day lives and sometimes the only option may be to pick something up that’s more convenient. But if you can ensure you’re putting in the effort to get proper fuel 90% of the time, this will dramatically improve the results you see.
So what makes for good post-workout meals? And what makes for poor choices?
Let’s first discuss food choices and then talk about macro and calorie requirements.
Best pre workout Food Choices
When looking at food choices, you’ll need both proteins and carbohydrates. Unlike the post-workout meal when your number one priority is to get nutrition to the muscle cells as fast as possible, pre-workout you want foods that won’t sit in your belly, but at the same time, aren’t going to fizzle out halfway through the workout. Simple sugars are not ideal for this reason.
Look at complex carbohydrate choices instead and then pair this with a quality source of lean protein to help minimize muscle catabolism3. Fats aren’t something you really want in the pre-workout meal equation because this is what will slow down digestion and make you feel heavy during your session.
Some great complex carbohydrates to choose from include:
When looking at protein choices, you might choose:
If you are a vegan tofu is also a perfectly fine option to pair with say rice or potatoes.
If you are pressed for time and simply can’t have a pre-workout meal an hour prior to the gym session, then you might opt for a quality protein powder instead. Protein powder will digest quicker and get to the muscles and won’t leave a heavy feeling in your stomach and lead to potential cramping. Pair it with a carb of choice so you get carbs and protein together.
Ideally you’ll want to aim to have your pre-workout meal about 90 minutes prior to the workout to give digestion some time, however 60 minutes is also acceptable. If you have to consume it within 30 minutes prior, that’s when turning to a protein shake can be a better option for you.
Macros For Your Pre-Workout Meals
Now let’s address the macros that you’ll want to ensure are in your post workout meal. The best pre workout meal means you are adjusting slightly based on if your goal is muscle gain or fat loss.
If you want to build muscle, you’ll obviously eat more calories and carbs than if your goal is fat burning.
The nature of the workout will also impact things. If it’s a light workout you’re doing (say a deload day), you won’t need as much fuel as you would for the most grueling leg workout of the month.
Generally speaking though, here are some guidelines.
Your protein intake will stay relatively constant no matter what type of workout session you have planned (and your total overall daily calorie intake will dictate what end of the spectrum you’re on there) while your carbohydrate intake will be factored around how long and intense the workout is.
If you are doing a very intense session, lean towards the higher end of that scale while if you’re doing a less intense session, go for the lighter end.
As far as dietary fat goes, you’ll want to keep fat to around 5-10 grams max regardless of your goal. If it creeps up to 6-8 grams, this should be okay provided you’re eating at least 60 minutes prior to the gym but avoid letting it get much higher than that. Cramping can otherwise occur.
Best Pre Workout Meal Options
My go to pre workout meal when my goal is fat loss is always egg whites and white rice. The reason is because it is 100% fat free and really easy to digest. I usually add some pink salt, black pepper and garlic for additional muscle pumps.
Pink salt is great to consume pre workout because it helps me get a better muscle pump. I always eat carbs pre workout when my goal is fat loss so I can prevent losing muscle mass.
Remember, the best pre workout meal is one that will increase performance, digest easily, and help increase strength and endurance. My staple pre workout meal of 1.25 cup egg whites with 1 cup white rice is only about 350 total calories and gives me 30 grams of protein and 50 grams of carbs with 1-2 grams of fat from the cooking spray. It’s low calorie, easy to digest, and helps me keep my strength levels even on a diet as well. Win-win.
The best pre workout meal for muscle gain can be pretty similar to the best pre workout meal when cutting - with an adjustment to your carbohydrate intake.
I eat about 35 grams of protein and 100 grams of carbohydrates when i’m lean bulking and i’ll throw in 1 whole egg with my 1 cup of egg whites for some healthy fat. While my pre workout meal when cutting is fat free, my bulking pre workout meal has about 7-8 grams of fat.
Since eating 100 grams of carbs from ONLY white rice isn’t very fun, I will usually have eggs with rice and throw in a bagel or some type of muffin or toast with a drizzle of honey or some grape jam. While this adds a few grams of sugar, it makes the meal enjoyable and allows me to eat 100 grams of carbs without feeling like I'm force feeding.
Those are my 2 go to options for the best pre workout meal when cutting and bulking - but in theory there are tons more options.
You could eat chicken and sweet potatoes. Egg whites and bagels. Fish and white potatoes. Tofu and rice. You could even do a turkey sandwich on 2 hearty pieces of bread. You could also eat like a complete moron and throw in donuts and other sugary foods like I do.
Just be mindful that if these meals are 1,000 calories you should monitor your calories for the rest of the day.
The biggest takeaway is that you stick with foods you enjoy that also follow the 3 laws of the best pre workout meal: digest easy, perform better, increase strength and endurance!