Before I get into this topic it’s key to remember that everyone is different, train at a different intensity and digest food differently. This is a guide as opposed to one set rule, I would suggest playing around with it to see what works for you.
The main nutritional goal for a pre-workout meal is to provide enough energy for our muscles and brain during training. This in turn makes carbohydrate consumption essential. If your workouts are fairly intense, therefore using up energy at a fast rate, the body won’t be able to supply enough oxygen to use fat as a fuel source. It looks to use glycogen (stored as carbohydrate), which doesn’t require oxygen to be broken down for energy. If you take in enough carbohydrates before a workout, you ensure that your body has enough glycogen stores. If you want to improve performance this is a key factor to consider in your pre workout meal.
Another reason consuming carbohydrate is key is that training in a glycogen-depleted state blunts anabolism. Multiple studies show that protein synthesis slows to a crawl when glycogen stores are low (Churchley et al. 2007; Creer et al. 2005).
Protein should also be consumed in a pre-workout meal. Consuming protein before a workout has an anabolic and anticatabolic effect. Protein provides a steady stream of amino acids at the onset of training; you maximise the delivery to working muscles and thereby attenuate the breakdown of the muscle tissue during your workout.
Fat has been shown to not have any nutritional significance on pre-workout period. Due to the length of time it takes to digest you might want to consider avoiding it.
What’s an ideal pre-workout meal?
An ideal pre-workout meal would include a nutrient-dense starch and low-fat protein. For example:
- Eggs on multigrain bread
- Chicken and rice
- Cottage cheese with oat cakes
- Wholemeal chicken pasta
- Turkey on multigrain bread
- Chicken quinoa salad
- Protein porridge
- Smoothie that includes oats, protein powder or Greek yogurt
It’s also worth considering eating a piece of fruit within half an hour of training. Choosing fruits such as strawberries, apple, pears are low in GI (glycemic index) which means they won’t cause a rapid spike in blood sugar. The reason it’s significant is because insulin levels stay stable, therefore preventing the potential for a hypoglycemia – a condition that can result in light-headedness and fatigue.
Try eating your pre-workout meal around 2-3 hours before you train to ensure digestion.
- Aim to have a good balanced meal of nutrient-dense carbohydrates and low protein 2 hours before your workout
- Make sure you are well hydrated pre-training, during and post-training
- Avoid high fat foods in the meal before your workout
- Plan to have a low GI fruit with you to eat half an hour after you train
*Schoenfeld, Brad. The M.A.X. Muscle Plan. Human Kinetics,Inc.