Good nutrition can make a huge impact on performance.
Optimal nutrient intake before working out will give your body the fuel it needs to perform at its best, while also mitigating muscle damage and promoting healthy weight loss.
In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know about the best pre workout meal options and nutrition, and give you some basic pre and post-workout snack tips so you can eat with confidence both before and after you exercise.
What Nutrients Should You Eat Before A Workout?
Each macronutrient has a specific role right before a workout. However, the ratio in which you need to consume them varies by the individual and type of exercise. The best pre-workout meals are an opportunity to get calories and key nutrients that support your muscle-building and weight-loss efforts.
There are a few tips and guidelines that any fitness enthusiast can follow to make sure they're getting all their carbs and protein before an intense workout session.
Here's what to keep an eye out for.
Your body needs carbs to burn fat and fuel intense exercises. Your body burns carbs to provide fuel for your brain and metabolism.
When you eat carbs they are immediately available for energy (glucose). Glucose can also be stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, a sort of reserve store of glucose.
On top of that, glucose can be used to fuel exercise at lower intensities, making it a pretty great fuel source for endurance training.
Carbs can be the most important fuel source you eat for your brain and physique. They are especially important for high-intensity training and heavy lifting.
There are two main categories: quick carbs and slow carbs.
Quick carbs come from simple sugars that are digested rapidly. They give the body quick bursts of energy, which is why they're useful on the go.
These carbohydrates are digested more rapidly than those with long chains of glucose molecules. Examples of such foods include juice, sports drinks, honey, and other sugary foods.
Slow carbs typically come from more starchy, or fibrous foods that are slower to digest, making them more energy-dense for the body.
When your body runs low on carbohydrates, it relies on other sources of energy, such as protein and fats.
But these sources are less efficient at supporting high-intensity workouts since they don't provide the same amount of energy to fuel your exercise.
It can be challenging to get enough carbs when you're in a calorie deficit. Interestingly, that deficit can lead to a change in muscle type, causing your muscles to become smaller instead of bigger.
Some good sources of carbohydrates include:
Protein is not a source of energy for heavy exercise. In fact, it has the exact opposite role in the bodybuilding cells and tissues.
Sure, it helps build muscle by helping muscles heal after intense workouts. It's also what keeps these muscles strong when you're not training.
But it's not an efficient source of energy for your body when you're pushing your training to the limit.
Instead, incorporate protein into your post-workout meal to help your body recharge. You can take a protein shake to the gym for an on-the-go boost,
The amino acids found in protein are important for burning fat, building muscle, and repairing damaged tissue. This includes the kinds of foods that you eat regularly.
Good sources of protein include:
Certain types of fats in junk food, such as saturated and trans fats, can negatively impact overall health. Other types of fats are, however, highly nutritious.
Unsaturated fats are good for you in small amounts. For example, monounsaturated fats, found in olive and canola oil, can be consumed without worrying about cholesterol.
Polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3 and omega-6, can also efficiently prevent muscle inflammation. Healthy fats, such as the ones you get from olive and avocado, are great for bodybuilders.
Eating fats before your workout requires some planning and balance. A little bit of unsaturated fat in your diet can help boost your energy, but eating too much will quickly make you feel bloated and tired.
High-fat foods are generally better for your eating after your workout rather than during your pre-workout meal.
Many people believe that fat slows down digestion and limits the number of nutrients absorbed by the stomach after a workout. While fat might slow down the absorption of your post-workout dinner, it will not reduce its benefits.
Some good sources of fat include:
Food To Avoid Before Your Workout
It's obvious you shouldn't scarf down a gallon of ice cream before your workout (or ever, really), but even some of the best food for your health can be a poor choice before a hard workout.
You'll want to avoid these temptations before you exercise or you may as well not go to the gym at all.
Nuts & Legumes
It's true. Fibrous vegetables are slow-digesting and not ideal for pre-workout, as they can lead to digestive discomfort. They don't offer a lot of muscle fuel and contribute little in terms of bulk, which affects performance negatively in a fast-paced workout. Legumes are terrible pre-workout foods. Go for celery or other non-fibrous, water-heavy veggies instead.
Nuts aren't as bad because they're rich in fats, but these fats take a long time to digest and can cause lethargy in large quantities. Almond butter is a good compromise because it's easier to control your portions, but even peanut butter is probably too fatty (especially organic peanut butter).
On the other hand, nuts and leafy greens are great post-workout foods because fats can help restore energy through the rest of the day while nutrient-rich veggies help to repair your muscle tissue and enhance your cardiovascular function.
High-glycemic carbohydrates such as bread, crackers, chocolate, and candy can cause the blood sugar to spike and then drop, making you feel tired and sluggish before a workout. Instead, focus on low-glycemic carbs like whole-grain crackers, fruit, and oatmeal (that have a slower release of energy) to prevent the energy crash.
Avoid digesting glucose before your workout. If you’re going to eat “simple carbs,” do it more than an hour before your workout or save it until after. This will help avoid blood sugar spikes that can lead to fatigue, lightheadedness, crashes of energy, and poor performance.
A notoriously unhealthy product, energy drinks may have unwanted side effects that athletes are best to stay away from. Energy drinks might seem like a good idea, but they’re actually empty calories with little or no nutritional value.
Plus, energy drinks can cause some nasty side effects including bloating, diarrhea, and irritability. They can lead to premature fatigue and headache, often just when you need to push yourself the hardest.
These days, everyone knows that dehydration can lead to cramps, muscle strains, or even serious injuries.
Many people still choose to drink before going out to do some cardio or strength training. This puts them at an increased risk of dehydration, which can lead to sore muscles the morning after. Drinking water instead of alcohol will give you more energy for your workouts and stave off injury.
If you can't resist going boozing, save it for two or three hours after your workout and keep an eye on how many calories you're drinking, and have some extra water. You don't want to undo your hard day at the gym.
Cheese is not a good option to eat before working out. Even if you aren't lactose intolerant, it's wise to avoid any dairy products before exercising.
The Best Pre Workout Meal Options For Superior Training
It's best to eat two or three hours before your workout, but if you want to make sure your stomach doesn't start rumbling, a pre-workout snack with some carbs and a few grams of protein is the perfect boost.
These are some of our favorite pre-workout snack and meal options that'll give you all the fuel your body needs to exercise without keeping you bogged down and feeling lethargic.
Not only are these great pre-workout recommendations, but a diet that is low in glucose and processed carbohydrates, high in protein, good fats, and fiber, and low in red meat (unless you’re a vegetarian), refined grains, and sugary drinks, will help promote weight loss.
Breakfast Foods For Your Early Workout
An apple a day can boost your workout the right way, but if you want more than a quick piece of fruit to get the day started before your morning exercise routine, try these easy breakfast meals to fuel up for some fitness.
Protein shakes are a great way to get some extra protein into your diet throughout the day. By adding protein powder and a banana or other fruit, you’re already getting a lot of the nutrition benefits of a high-protein smoothie drink, especially if you’re on a low-fat diet. You can add a little Greek yogurt for an even bigger protein kick.
Omelets are great because you can get your carbs and protein all in one convenient snack that takes just minutes on the stove.
Whole-grain cereal is an excellent source of fiber. It’s also a great source of protein and calcium. Whole-grain cereals don’t have much glucose because they’re high in fiber and thus have a low glycemic index.
The type of whole grain you should have depends on your current diet. Oatmeal is a nutritious, filling breakfast staple that’s also versatile. Adding extras to oatmeal is a great way to make it a healthier, more nutritious breakfast
You may add any extras you like to the oatmeal, like banana, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds. It’s low in sweeteners and so filling that you won’t feel like eating again for hours. The fruit adds some sweetness and the nuts add some crunch all without adding too much glucose to your pre-workout snack.
Lunch and Dinner Fare To Eat Before A Workout
A simple sandwich consists of protein, bread, and vegetables, and that’s all there is to it. The ingredients can be versatile and you may add whatever you want to them and they will still taste good.
Make sure to avoid processed luncheon meats and always use whole-grain bread, or else your sandwich quickly loses its nutritional value. And just like with your salads, go easy on the spreads or dressings that are high in calories.
Chicken thighs are great because you can use them with a lot of different recipes and they're a very low calorie, high protein cut of meat. Chicken thighs are also packed with vitamin B12, which helps ward off fatigue and mood swings.
Bake some chicken with a side of brown rice and steamed root vegetables for a well-rounded meal with several grams of healthy fat.
You can use turkey meat instead of chicken for some variety in your meal. Turkey also cooks faster—you can have a healthy meal in 30 minutes or less with some meat, rice, and greens. Low in calories, high in nutrition, ready in minutes!
Fish is great before you exercise, too—it also pairs great with rice and vegetables, making more quick meals in as little as 30 minutes. It's great for a meal at all hours of the day and it's easy on the stomach.