What’s Good To Eat Before A Workout & When?

what's the best pre workout

Are you looking for what to eat before workout? Then this article is right for you. Read on to learn everything you need to know about what should you eat before working out & when to eat it?

Balanced nutrition and proper overall calorie intake can help your body to achieve better results and recover faster after each workout.

That said, what to eat before you workout and when to eat depends on what you are aiming for.

If your goal is to shed weight & you don’t spend hours in working out daily then you don’t have to bother much about pre-workout. Instead, try to eat well all through the day, and watch portion sizes. Just eat breakfast, lunch & dinner at proper times, & exercise when it works best for you. It’s that simple!

And if you exercise for long hours or do very intense workouts, or in case your aim is to gain muscle mass, eating before & after a workout becomes crucial. The appropriate nutrition and timing will help improve your performance, avert muscle loss & minimize recovery time (Source 1).

What’s The Best Thing To Eat Before A Workout And When To Eat?

You should be fueling your body with the appropriate balance of all macros (carbs, protein and fat) before workout according to your specific training goals. The key factor in ascertaining that balance is to realize the fact that these 3 macronutrients are metabolized differently – meaning that your body absorbs each of these three macronutrients at a different pace.

Carbs: They provide the energy quickest. While simple & sugary carbs get absorbed by your body fastest, the healthy complex carbs such as those contained in whole grains or legumes take longer.

Carbs are the main source of energy for your body & muscles during short- & high-intensity workout bouts. However, for longer workout sessions, the extent to which carbs are used is influenced by various factors, such as the training type, intensity and your overall diet (Source 2).

Protein: This macronutrient is absorbed the second quickest. Eating protein (alone or with carbs) before workout provides the following benefits:

(i) Improved performance & better growth of muscles (Source 3 & 4)

(ii) Fast recovery of muscles (Source: 5)

(iii) Enhanced strength & lean body mass (Source 6)

Fat: This macronutrient takes longest to digest. Whereas carbs are good source for short- and high-intensity workout sessions, fat is the source to fuel your body for longer & moderate-to-low-intensity workout bouts (Source:7).

Keep in your mind that carbs are used mainly for the short and high intensity bouts. Fat helps to fuel your body for less intense, longer exercise sessions. In the meantime, protein works for improving muscle protein synthesis and helps recovery.    

Generally, most foods have a different combination of these 3 main macronutrients – so the digestion time of any food depends on their proportion. To get maximum-performance levels of energy during your exercise session, focus on carbs and protein while limiting fat.

When Should You Eat Before A Workout?

When to eat before workout is also a key factor of pre-workout nutrition.

2-3 Hours Before Workout: You can go for a complete meal containing carbs, protein and fat to maximize the benefits of your training.

Sometimes, you may not be able to get a complete meal two–three hours before training. If such is the case, then you can still try to get as good as possible a full decent pre-workout meal. But, always remember that the sooner you eat prior to your exercise session, the simpler & smaller your pre-workout meal should be.

If you eat 45–60 minutes before your workout, opt for foods that are easy to digest and have mainly carbs & some protein.

This will help avoid any stomach discomfort during training.

Water Is Also Important For Workout Performance

Good hydration is necessary for every one, but particularly for those who are exercising: whereas drinking enough water has been shown to support and even boost performance, dehydration has been found to bring down performance significantly (Source: 8) .

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), one should drink 0.5–0.6 liters (16–20 ounces) of water at least 4 hours before exercise and 0.23–0.35 liters (8–12 ounces) of water 10–15 minutes before exercise (Source: 9).

And what about the drinks designed for “sport”? Most of us really don’t have to waste money on expensive & sugary sports drinks.

Those who do very intensive training for more than an hour may consume both water and sodium before exercise to improve fluid balance (Source: 1011).

What About Protein Bar Or Shake!

If you’re in a dilemma whether you require a protein bar or shake to supplement your workout, perhaps the answer is just: no. Marketing gurus have created a hype about all this and hooked most of us to believe we require energy bars or protein shake  to achieve our goals, but actually a balanced diet comprising of real, whole foods offers us everything we require.

Protein bars are generally highly processed & contain high amount of sugar and/or artificial ingredients. Energy bars and trail mixes are typically not an ideal pre-workout snack, even when they have only natural ingredients such as nuts. Keep in mind, high-fat foods such as nuts are slow to digest, therefore your body is not able to make use of them as a fuel immediately.

Here are some examples of balanced pre-workout meals:

The type, intensity and duration of the workout determine which food and how much you need to eat.

A good thumb rule is to eat a mix of carbs & protein before a workout.

You can have fat with your pre-workout meal only when you are eating food at least two hours before your workout (Source: 12).

If You Are Eating Two Or More Hours Before Workout

Eat a mix of all the three Macronutrients. Examples are:

(i) Healthy & complex carbs like whole grains, legumes or quinoa.

(ii) Lean protein such as chicken breast, fish or tofu.

(iii) Some healthy fat such as avocado, almond butter, nuts or seeds.

(iv) Veggies of your choice.

Options are many, but my quick favorites are:

(a) Whole-grain bread sandwich with lean protein and a side salad.

(b) Egg omelet, whole-grain toast topped with avocado spread along with a cup of fruit

(iii) Lean protein & brown rice with roasted vegetables.

If You Are Eating Between One To Two Hours Before Workout

Choose carbs & protein with just a small amount of fat. We suggest:

(a) Complex carbs such as whole grain bread, fresh fruit, oats, or sweet/regular potatoes. Avoid legumes because they take too long to digest.

(b) Protein such as Greek yogurt, hard-boiled egg, tuna or cottage cheese.

(c) Limit fat intake. If you select an egg or cottage cheese for protein, you don’t need any more fat. Otherwise, choose a few of your favorite nuts or seeds.

(d) Veg salad.

Here are more options:

(e) Protein smoothie using milk, protein powder, banana & mixed berries

(f) Whole-grain cereal with milk

(g) A cup of oatmeal mixed with banana & sliced almonds

(h) Whole-grain bread sandwich with natural almond butter and some fruits.

If You Are Eating Between 30-60 minutes Before Workout

Choose carbs & a little bit of protein. We suggest the following:

This is for those who really don’t have time to eat before, if your aim is to build muscle mass, or if you’re going to have an intense workout session.

(i) Choose the foods that have easily digestible carbs, such as fruits like banana, orange, mango, apple or grapes.

(ii) Mix with some lean protein such as non-fat Greek yogurt or milk.

Bonus Recipe

You will need:

(i) Banana: ½ (2 oz), peeled, fully ripe

(ii) Milk: 1 cup (whole 3.5% fat)

(iii) Cinnamon: ¼ tea spoon

Method

Blend all the ingredients together. Drink & Enjoy!

Notes:

(i) Watch out, you don’t have to eat many pre-workout meals at different times. Just choose one of the above suggested options.

(ii) For optimum results, experiment with different timings and pre-workout foods.

(iii) A pre-workout meal combination of carbs & protein as recommended above is beneficial. Fat can also be eaten, but keep in mind to eat it at least 2 hours before exercise.

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