What To Eat Pre-Workout To Fuel Your Body and Optimize Your Performance
Performing at your max during a workout is down to more than just stretching or warming up the right way. What you eat leading up to it can be the difference between outdoing yourself and setting a new PB and an average workout.
Your pre-workout meal or snack will help you to fuel your body, achieve faster and better results, as well as stop your stomach from growling, which is always a plus. Ready, set, eat!
Why Is It So Important To Eat Pre-workout?
During any workout, not only do you exhaust your body, but you also exhaust your muscles. “Eating a pre-workout meal will maximize your performance by providing you with the appropriate macronutrients for optimal energy levels along with minimizing muscle damage during and after your workout,” says Brooke Emory, Master Trainer at Motosumo.
“My recommendation for clients is to see what works for them and their lifestyle,” says Mckenzie Hathaway, Mindbody Nutrition Specialist. “Many people feel and work great with fasting before or after a workout. While others need a substantial amount of carbohydrates, (energy) to thrive.” In her experience, male clients tend to benefit more from eating before a workout, so the odds are in your favor to eat pre-workout.
Carbs help maximize your body’s ability to use glycogen to fuel short and high-intensity exercises, while fat (the healthy kind, obviously) helps fuel your body for longer exercise sessions explains Nick Peters, Personal Trainer at QuickHIT Fitness Labs.
How Long Should You Wait After Eating To Work Out?
How long you wait before your workout will depend on how much you eat. A large meal with more calories will need more time to settle in your stomach to avoid disaster. “If you are wanting to eat a larger meal, with more than 400 calories, I recommend two to three hours. If you are having a snack around 150-300 calories about an hour to an hour and a half,” says Hathaway. Whereas if you’re having something less, like a piece of fruit or a protein bar, she says 30 minutes will be more than enough time.
However, there’s no hard set rule for everyone, it’s completely unique to what works for your metabolism and what kind of workout you’re doing for the day. “My number one answer is always to listen to your body,” says Emory. “Everybody is different and only you know what’s best. Food is fuel and you need that fuel to perform. Your body needs time to digest the food to convert it to fuel for your powerful body”
What Food Groups Should You Be Eating Pre-Workout To Get the Most Out of Your Workout?
“This solely depends on what workout you are actually doing, either anaerobic or aerobic training,” says Emory. Aerobic exercise is any type of cardio where your heart rate and breathing are increased for a set period of time, whereas anaerobic exercise uses maximum performance over quick bursts of energy – HIIT is the perfect example.
Emory explains that protein is always a go as it helps to increase MPS (muscle protein synthesis) which means quicker responses to exercise. While carbs are used for short anaerobic exercise, the primary source of fuel is glycogen.
Fats are used for aerobic exercise as the primary source – this also includes low-intensity workouts. “Fat can be beneficial, but it should be consumed at least two hours before exercise because it can upset the stomach,” recommends Peters.
“When working out our bodies are not only being supported by one main source of fuel,” says Hathaway. Energy is created from carbs, fats, and protein – and we need a combination of all three for the best results. “However, usually for men, carbohydrates are most beneficial during extreme movements like hit, jumping, powerlifting, sprints,” she says.
While protein is extremely important and a protector of muscle mass, Hathaway says that it isn’t the main source of energy for most men. However, this can also change depending on your end goal.“If your main goal is weight training, you should consume more protein to help build muscle,” says Peters. “But if your main goal is cardio, you might consume more carbs to help replenish your glycogen stores.”
What Should You Avoid Eating Pre-Workout?
“I recommend avoiding foods that make you sluggish or more tired,” says Hathaway. “I have noticed that intense gluten-filled carbs have had a direct effect on my male clients even if they are not allergic or sensitive to these foods – they create a sleepy effect and a lack of performance.” This also includes anything high in fats as they’re known culprits of sending us into a snooze.
You have to talk yourself out of the mindset that you can eat a bunch of fatty foods before a workout with the intention to burn them off immediately afterward. You won’t be able to burn even half as many calories as you think you can when you can’t put in maximum effort.
Hathaway also recommends avoiding anything that will cause sensitivity to your digestive tract, “this may seem obvious, but you would be surprised with some pre-workout ideas men have. Avoid adding hot sauce to eggs, or hot sauce to anything – this can cause heartburn and activity in your digestive system that is not enjoyable during a workout.” So no matter how much you love spice, save the hot sauce for after you’ve earned it – use it as motivation if need be.
Soda and carbonated drinks are extremely popular, but because of the expansion that is common in men’s stomachs and the gas that may be produced (and no one wants this in the gym), Hathaway says to stay clear of fizzy drinks before a workout for at least four hours. Take one for the team.
Emory generally suggests to “avoid fiber pre-workout as it takes longer to digest and can make you feel bloated”. And we all know when we’re feeling bloated we can’t put in our best performance.
See more about - What To Eat After A Workout, According To The Experts
Examples of Pre-Workout Meals
To Be Eaten 30 Minutes To 1 Hour Pre-Workout
- Fruit or juice (30 minutes to an hour before)
- Protein bar or shake (30 minutes to an hour before)
- Bowl of cereal (1 hour before)
- Greek yogurt topped with strawberries (1 hour before)
To Be Eaten 1-2 Hours Pre-Workout
- Peanut butter and banana chia seed toast (2 hours before)
- A cup of oatmeal topped with fruit and almonds (2 hours before)
- Hard-boiled egg and avocado toast (1-2 hours before)
- Spinach, tomato, and cheese egg omelet (1-2 hours before)
To Be Eaten 2-3 Hours Pre-Workout
- Veggies, sweet potatoes, and fresh fish (2-3 hours before)
- Lean protein sandwich on brown bread with a side salad (2-3 hours before)
- Lean protein, brown rice, and roasted vegetables (2-3 hours before)
- BLT-stuffed avocados (3 hours before)
Top Tips for Eating Pre-Workout
Keep Your Fat Intake Low
While you can eat fat before, make sure you keep it on the low end. You want to get your pre-workout meal into your bloodstream as fast as possible, and fat slows down digestion – pretty much the complete opposite of what we’re trying to do by eating pre-workout.
Choose Fast-Digesting Carbs if You’re Doing a Short But High-Intensity Workout
If you’re eating carbs before a workout, choose carb sources that don’t take as long to digest for a quicker release of energy that’ll greatly benefit your performance during a short workout. Pasta, white rice and bread, bananas, strawberries, cranberries, potatoes, and corn flakes are all examples of fast-absorbing carbs.
But Do the Opposite for a Long But Steady-Paced Workout
Generally, the more fiber carbs have, the slower they’ll be released into the bloodstream. This steady pace helps to keep energy levels consistent during a longer workout where you need constant energy throughout. Slow-digesting carbs include oats, whole grains, peas, carrots, green beans, apples, pears, oranges, peaches, and plums.
Start With a Longer Period of Time at First
As we mentioned earlier, everyone’s body is different. If you’re new to pre-workout meals, or working out altogether, leave a longer period of time before your workout. Especially if you have a sensitive stomach. We suggest starting in the 2-4 hour bracket and gradually work your way down to 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Don’t Forget To Hydrate
Don’t let all this talk about pre-workout meals sidetrack you from drinking plenty of water. During a workout, we lose essential fluids through sweat, so it’s super important that you aren’t already dehydrated before a workout. Ensure you’re drinking 2 to 3 cups of water 2-3 hours before your workout.
Keep Your Pre-Workout Meals To Foods You Enjoy
And no, this isn’t a free pass to eat cake. The majority of us find it hard to get into the gym, and forcing foods you don’t like down your throat in preparation certainly won’t help you to get there.
We advise choosing foods that you like eating to make your gym experience more enjoyable, rather than choosing the “healthier” option because it sounds better. If you couldn’t think of anything worse than having a salad, don’t pick a meal that comes with a side salad.
Be Prepared To Experiment
Like Emory says, listen to your body. Peanut butter and banana chia seed toast might fuel your gym partner’s body like no other, whereas it might feel heavy on the stomach and slow you down. Be prepared to experiment to discover what works for you and what doesn’t.
Don’t get disheartened if the first meal you choose doesn’t benefit you as much as you thought it would. There’s enough scientifically backed evidence to know that pre-workout meals work, so keep going until you find what works best for you. In the end, it’ll be worth it (six-pack pending).