What to eat before a workout?
CarbohydratesCarbs are the fuel of the muscles. Carbs are stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is then used to move the muscles while exercising. Eating carbs prior to any workout is crucial, as it will ensure you have adequate amounts of energy to complete your workout. Especially if you are in a caloric deficit, where your glycogen stores are low. As these glycogen stores become depleted, your performance drops. You start feeling tired and have a hard time completing your workout.
Feeling energy deprived after a workout is not an indication of an effective workout. An effective workout would be one where you have correctly completed your prescribed exercises.The type of carbs is not significant, whether it is sugars, starches or fibers, as long as you eat an adequate amount of them. To put this into perspective, a young female eating 1500 calories daily to lose weight, will be just fine with a 200 to 400 calories high-carb pre-workout meal. No need to go overboard with the carbs.
ProteinMuscle is broken down during resistance exercise. Later during recovery and sleep, protein is used to repair the muscle and make it stronger. To help with recovery, protein needs to be readily available in the body, at any time. Thus, high protein intake is recommended. This is especially true when you are eating at a caloric deficit, where part of the consumed protein is converted into energy, effectively leaving less protein available for muscle recovery. For your pre-workout meal, you do not need to pay special attention to protein. Just prioritize having some quality carbs. Any protein is an added bonus!
WaterEvery cell, tissue, and organ in our body needs water to work properly. That includes muscles. Studies have shown that a 2% loss in body weight due to dehydration, can decrease the work capacity of the muscles by 30% (!). Now imagine going into the gym trying to lift that 50 lbs dumbbell you were lifting the other day, and realize that you can only go up to 40 lbs. Have some water prior to working out. I prefer to have a glass of water just before going to the gym. Staying hydrated during the workout is also important. Have a water bottle with you to replenish the water lost.
FatsDietary fat can still provide your body with energy. Although, research shows that energy coming from fats might be more beneficial for endurance sports like long-distance running or swimming.
Meal timingIt takes 24 to 72 hours to completely digest food. However, it only takes 1-2 hours for the nutrients contained in the food to start becoming available for use, in the form of energy.
Some types of foods are digested easier than others. For example, foods high in fiber such as fruits and vegetables, are digested much faster than red meat.So, have your meal 1-2 hours before your workout to be full of energy throughout your workout.
Working out on a full stomachWorking out on a full stomach is unpleasant, and has no added benefit compared to working out hungry. The food that is in the first stages of digestion is not actually contributing to replenishing your energy. While digesting, a significant amount of blood flow is diverted to the digestive system. This blood will not be available to deliver nutrients to the muscles at that time. If working out while digesting, this will have a negative impact on your performance.
Working out on an empty stomachWorking out on an empty stomach, on the other hand, is safe. Studies show that it can even have a positive effect on fat loss. While working out on an empty stomach, most of the energy required comes from fat stores, instead of glycogen stores. This is not to encourage you to starve before working out. The goal is to complete your workout and to do so your body requires energy.
Should the pre-workout meal fill you up?No. The purpose of the pre-workout meal is not to cure your hunger. It is to give you a quick boost of energy, that will help you glide through your workout.
CoffeeCaffeine is by far the most widely used pre-workout substance. It has been shown to increase blood pressure and heart rate, giving you a boost of energy. It is a common ingredient in pre-workout supplements and ridiculously easy to get a hold of. Drinking a cup of your favorite coffee 30 minutes before your workout is sufficient to give you an extra boost of energy. A word of advice though:
Avoid drinking coffee late at night, as it will affect your sleeping/resting cycle which in turn will have negative effects on your weight-loss.
Meal examplesThese are the typical pre-workout meals I eat 30-90 minutes before a workout: Meal example #1 (total of 330 calories):
- 1 large banana (110 calories)
- 20g of peanut butter (120 calories)
- 2-3 whole wheat crackers (100 calories)
- 1 cup of coffee (0 calories)
- 200g low-fat yogurt (120 calories)
- 30g whey protein (110 calories)
- 10g honey (30 calories)
- 1 cup of tee (0 calories)
- 40g oatmeal (150 calories)
- 200ml almond milk (60 calories)
- 10g nuts (60 calories)
- 10g honey (30 calories)
- cinnamon (0 calories)
- granola bars
- rice cakes
- dried fruits
- sweet potatoes
- white rice
- whole wheat pasta
- whey protein pancakes.
In a nutshellA high-carb nutrient-dense pre-workout meal can increase your energy levels, allowing you to complete your workout. Some protein is welcome. Staying hydrated before and during your workout is equally important, as it will improve your performance. Coffee will give you a small energy boost if consumed within 30 minutes prior to a workout. What is your favorite pre-workout meal? Let us know in the comments below!
Stavros is an engineer who used to work as an expat and now traveling around the world. He has been obese for a good part of his adult life, until two years ago where things took a happy turn for him. Today, Stavros wants to share his weight loss experiences, tips and mistakes, in hope to inspire other ordinary people to find their way to improve their body, their life, their happiness.