Pre-workout nutrition is the best way to sustain any type of workout. It enhances your performance, reduces the chances of muscle injury, and accelerates muscle recovery. If you have ever felt a sharp pain in your abdomen while working out, ran out of breath too soon, or experienced soreness in your muscles the next morning – revisit what you are eating before a workout (or eating at all!). This article helps you understand what to eat before a workout, when to eat before a workout, pre-workout foods and supplements, and benefits. Swipe up!
Macro Nutrients That Your Body Needs Before A Workout
The main macros that our body needs are carbs, fats, and proteins. Yes, you need to avoid unhealthy fats and simple carbs, but otherwise, you need all the three to help your body function well. So, let’s see how these macros help you during your workout.
Fats – Not all fats are bad. You need healthy fats to fuel the functions of your body and maintain cell integrity and skin texture. When you go on long runs, walks, or do other endurance exercises, fats are the main sources of fuel. Endurance athletes burn more fat, and moreover, when you push yourself to do one more set of lunges/push-ups, you actually start burning fat instead of recruiting carbs (or glucose) as a source of fuel (1).
Carbs – Carbs are used when you do high-intensity and short time workouts. The first sources of fuel that your body recruits are carbs in the form of glucose. Glucose is transported through the blood to the muscles and liver to be stored as glycogen. Glycogen is broken down into glucose whenever the body needs fuel. When you do not consume good carbs, your muscles or liver will not have enough glycogen to convert into glucose. And therefore, you will start to feel weak and worn out quickly. Hence, consuming carbs as a part of pre-workout nutrition is necessary (2).
Proteins – Proteins help in muscle recovery and prevent muscle injury. So, when you consume protein as part of your pre-workout nutrition, you will recover fast and become toned. Protein synthesis is upregulated by the consumption of carbs and fats. Depleted levels of any one of these two can hamper protein synthesis (3). Also, when you consume protein before exercise, the muscle strength increases (4).
So, it is evident that you need all three of them. But in what quantities? Well, scientists have found out. And now, you will! Scroll down.
What Percent Of Macros Do You Need?
Whether it is an endurance exercise or a high-intensity one, you need to maintain the number of carbs, proteins, and fats you consume for optimum functioning of your bones, muscles, and brain. As mentioned above, you require fats to fuel endurance exercises, carbs for high-intensity exercises, and protein for muscle strength and recovery. But you must maintain a percent or a balanced quantity of each macronutrient. Scientists have found that 30% carbs, 30% fat, 20% protein, and the rest 20% distributed amongst the three macros, depending on the type of exercise (endurance or high intensity), can help improve exercise performance (5).
The next big question is, how many hours before your workout should you consume the macros? As they say, timing is everything, and it holds true here as well. Find out what you should do in the following section.
Pre-Workout Meal – Timing And What To Eat
When it comes to having a pre-workout meal, timing is crucial. And if you play by the rules, you will definitely see a change in your performance, productivity, and body composition. So, let me tell you what the pre-workout nutrition timing guidelines are.
- You must consume a meal containing all the macros (carbs, proteins, and fats) 2-3 hours before working out.
- You can consume a carb-rich and protein-rich meal within 2 hours before a workout.
- A fruit or yogurt 45-60 minutes before the workout.
- The closer you are to your workout, the more simple your nutrition should be.
- You can drink any of the carb+protein drinks available in the market 30 minutes before the workout. However, make sure you talk to your dietitian to find out if this kind of drink is good for your body type.
Now, let us see what you can actually eat before working out.
Pre-Workout Nutrition Examples
Workout Starts Within An Hour Or Less
- One banana/apple/orange
- A cup of Greek yogurt and a peach
- Black coffee and a multigrain biscuit
Workout Starts Within Two Hours
- A medium bowl of oatmeal with apple slices or banana and pepita.
- A piece of bread with a tablespoon of sunflower/almond butter.
- Protein powder with milk and berries.
Workout Starts Within Two To Three Hours
- Lean protein, cauliflower rice, and grilled veggies with toasted nuts.
- Mushroom soup with veggies.
- One whole wheat flatbread, chickpeas curry, and sautéed/boiled veggies.
These are not the only options you have. I have listed out 10 foods that work best as pre-workout foods. Take a look.
What To Eat Before A Workout – 10 Best Foods
Sweet and delicate, bananas are a great way to refuel your energy reserves if you have missed out the two-three hours or two-hour window of pre-workout nutrition. They are loaded with good carbs and potassium, are moderate in calories and filling, and give an instant energy boost. However, avoid eating a banana minutes before working out. It’s not going to end well.
2. Protein Shakes
If you are always on the go and don’t have the option of consuming healthy protein-rich food that has an adequate amount of carbs and fats as well, you can bank on protein shakes. If you are in the two to three-hour window, add milk, banana, berries, avocado, and nuts to make a filling meal substitute. But if you are within the 60-minute window, just have it with milk and a fistful of dry fruits.
3. Egg White Omelette
Egg white omelet is loaded with protein and is low in cholesterol and calories. Throw in some onion, tomato, and bell peppers to have a protein and good carb-rich food before your workout. You can have it within the two-three hours or one-two hours window.
4. Steamed/Grilled Veggies And Chicken
This is the ideal meal for any fitness enthusiast, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Steamed or grilled skinless chicken breast is a good source of lean protein, and veggies are loaded with dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. All you need to add is a good source of fat like avocado, nuts, or olive oil. You can have it two to three hours before your workout starts.
5. Homemade Low Sugar Protein Bars
Stay away from the “low-cal” protein bars available in the market. They are high in added sugar (in different and hidden forms) and are anything but good for you. But if you are in the habit of consuming a protein bar just 30 minutes before your workout, make it at home. You can make low sugar protein bars by adding muesli, oats, nuts, seeds, honey, almond butter, milk, and coconut flour. Mix them, shape them, and bake or freeze them.
6. Greek Yogurt And Fruit
A quick on-the-go pre-workout food is Greek yogurt and fruits. You can have it one hour before your workout starts. All you have to do is add some berries/peach/plum/oranges/apple/banana and a few dry fruits to yogurt. Mix well and consume it.
7. Oatmeal And Berries
This is a meal replacement. If you cannot find chicken or veggies and other lean protein sources in your kitchen, just have a bowl of oatmeal and berries. You can have it within the two to three hours window.
Smoothies are a great way to get ready for a high-intensity or high-endurance exercise. This is also a meal replacement option, and you can have it within two to three hours of working out. Or if you are in the one-hour window, do not have a heavy smoothie. You can make a quick smoothie by blending banana, milk, berries, dark cocoa or spinach, avocado, and coconut water.
9. Brown Rice/Boiled Sweet Potato And Lean Protein
Have this when your workout starts after two to three hours. Brown rice is a low GI grain and loaded with dietary fiber. Always have boiled sweet potato as it has lower GI than baked or grilled sweet potato and is a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Lean protein like tofu, mushroom, fish, and chicken breast will help your muscles recover sooner and prevent muscle injury.
10. Wheat Bread, Avocado, Ricotta Cheese
Have this two to three hours before your workout starts. Wheat bread is a source of good carbs, avocado contains healthy fats, and ricotta cheese is a source of protein. You can also have a piece of wheat bread, almond butter, banana slices, and a few melon seeds.
Apart from whole foods, you can also take a few supplements to amp up your performance. Here’s a list of supplements that can help you in endurance training and high-intensity exercises.
Pre-Workout Supplements That Really Work
You might have seen people using supplements to enhance their performance but never considered taking them yourself. But if you have set a goal to run and win a marathon/triathlon or want to participate in a sports competition, you will need more than just whole food. You need supplements to help build the required muscle strength, recover fast, and improve your agility. Here are a few supplements that can work for you:
- Caffeine – The main sources of caffeine are coffee, tea, energy drinks, and pre-workout supplements. Its effect kicks in within 15-60 minutes after you take it and has been seen to improve performance (6).
- Creatinine – Creatinine helps improve muscle power, strength, and endurance. And it acts by generating more energy molecules (ATP) in your body, thereby preventing you from running out of fuel to do the exercises with precision and energy. You can have 2-5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day. However, consult your trainer/dietitian before taking it as higher doses can be fatal.
- Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) – These refer to three amino acids – leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Scientists have found that taking BCAAs before and after exercise can help prevent muscle damage and promote muscle-protein synthesis (7).
- Beta Alanine – This supplement helps in both high intensity and endurance exercises. It helps reduce muscle weakness and soreness and allows improvement in performance.
Many times, the supplement companies use a combination of these supplements and other nutrients to give the muscles required strength and power.
Apart from foods and supplements, you also need the following.
Yes, when it comes to improving exercise performance and endurance, hydration is very important. You must drink 1-2 liters of water 3-4 hours before working out or 8 ounces of water 15 minutes before working out. Dehydration can severely hamper your workout routine, so ensure you drink enough water.
Before concluding, let me remind you once again why you need to give pre-workout nutrition a serious thought.
Benefits Of Pre-Workout Nutrition
- Improves muscle strength.
- Improves muscle power.
- Improves muscle endurance.
- Improves lung capacity.
- Reduces the chances of injury.
- Boosts muscle recovery.
- Helps rejuvenate the muscles.
- Keeps your focus on working out.
- Prevents muscle cramps.
- Makes you more energetic.
- Makes your workout more effective and fun.
It is clear that you need to consume balanced foods before the workout. Keep the macros, supplements, water, and timing in mind to reap the best benefits. So, get ready with your pre-workout solid or liquid food, and rock your next workout session. We hope that this article has given you a better idea on what to eat before a workout. Cheers!
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