Figuring out what to eat before a workout, so you have sufficient energy – yet not feel like puking your stomach’s content – during the session can be challenging. But being thoughtful about what you put in your mouth before exercise helps you maximize the benefits of all your hard work in the gym, so it’s definitely worth the hassle. So, what’s the best pre-workout meal? And when should you eat it? Get the answers to your questions below.
What to eat before a workout
When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into glucose, and your muscles then store them as glycogen. During exercise, your muscles dip into these glycogen reserves for energy. Eating carbs right before you exercise, therefore, ensures that you’ll have extra glucose on hand to replenish those glycogen stores. It’s vital that you do so because if you’re strapped for glucose when working out hard, you’ll likely feel tired and weak, and will be tempted to call it quits.
It’s always a good idea to consume a little bit of protein before your workout, especially if you’re doing resistance training. That’s because when you lift weights, you create microscopic tears in your muscle fibres. For your body to repair and rebuild those micro-tears, it’d need protein. Be sure not to overeat protein, though, because you might get a stomach upset – it’s significantly more satiating than carbohydrates.
While carbs are the go-to source of energy for short and high-intensity bouts of exercise, fat is the source of fuel for more extended and low-to-moderate intensity exercise. On days where you’re doing endurance training, you’d, therefore, do well on a pre-workout meal that’s slightly higher in fat content.
To further enhance your exercise performance, you can also experiment with the following pre-workout supplements:
- Amino acids (Complex, L-Arginine) – Can help increase muscle protein synthesis and decrease muscle damage.
- Creatine – Has been shown to increase muscle mass, strength, and power, all while delaying fatigue.
- Caffeine – Improves performance, increases strength and power, and reduces feelings of fatigue.
Timing is key
To get the most of your workout, you should try to eat a meal consisting of all three macros (carbs, protein, and fat) 2 – 4 hours before you get to the gym. But of course, it isn’t always possible for you to have the time – nor the appetite – to eat before a workout. Here’s how you can make the best of the timeframe you do have:
- Two or more hours before – Eat all macros.
- Choose complex carbs such as whole grains, legumes, or quinoa.
- Include lean protein like chicken breast, fish, or tofu.
- Add some fat like almond butter, avocado, nuts, or seeds.
- 1 – 2 hours before – Carbs and protein, with minimal fat
- Choose complex carbs such as whole grains, oats, or fresh fruits.
- Combine with protein like cottage cheese, tuna, or a hard-boiled egg.
- Limit fat. Have a couple of nuts or seeds.
- 30 – 60 minutes before – Carbs and a little bit of protein
- Choose easily-digestible carbs found in fruits like apples, grapes, or mango.
- Combine with protein like non-fat Greek yoghurt or milk.