What Should I Eat Before a Workout?

The proper pre-workout nutrition fuels your exercise, affects your performance and improves your muscle gains.

Have you ever wondered what to eat before a workout? You’re not alone. Pre-workout nutrition is as crucial an aspect of fitness and healthy living as your actual exercise routine. If you’re going to put your body through tough training session, you’re going to want to first fuel it with the proper nutrients.

Not eating enough before a workout can leave you feeling dizzy, lightheaded, nauseated or lethargic. You’re also much more likely to injure yourself. Eat too much before exercise and you could end up with an upset stomach in the midst of a set. Either way, what you put into your body will greatly impact your performance and gains. Fuelling your body with the right nutrients prior to exercise will give you the energy and strength you need to perform and recover better.

Learning to optimize your nutrient intake will not only maximize your performance and results but also minimize muscle damage. It will help your body perform better and recover faster after each strength training session or HIIT class. The first step is being thoughtful and conscious about what you put in your body leading up to your workout. Here’s everything you need to know about pre-workout nutrition.

what-to-eat-before-a-workout

Carbs

Glycogen is the way that your body processes and stores glucose from carbs, which your muscles use as fuel. When we consume carbs, they break down glucose into our muscle cells and give us fuel to exercise at maximum capacity. That’s why when it comes to short, high-intensity exercises, your glycogen stores are the muscles’ main store of energy, making carbs your best bet. Your muscles dip into these glycogen reserves when you’re putting them to work.

Simple carbohydrates are great because they’re easily digestible and provide quick energy. Things like granola bars, fruit, oatmeal, Greek yogurt, dried fruit, crackers, toast or rice cake are an excellent source of energy leading up to your workout. If you have the time, complex carbohydrates are best consumed at least 2-3 hours before your workout, such as beans, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, lentils, broccoli, sweet potatoes and other vegetables.

Protein

It’s no secret that protein intake is directly related to athletic performance. Consuming an adequate amount of protein prior to exercise can greatly improve your muscle synthesis. This allows for a noticeable uptick in muscle growth, body recovery, increased performance and the development of lean body mass.

Protein is an especially useful tool if you’re about to engage in strength training, weight lifting or powerlifting. During these type of activities, you create small tears in your muscle fibres. When you rest, your body repairs these microtears, building your muscles bigger and stronger than they were before. The one caveat? They need protein to do this. If your goals include muscle gain, monitoring your overall protein intake is a great place to start.

Some simple examples of proteins that are easily digestible include nuts, greek yogurt, beans, lentils or soy. There’s also plenty of opportunity to get creative with it, including an apple or pear with peanut butter, a smoothie with 1 cup of fruit and 2 cups of vegetables, dried fruit with mixed nuts, a granola bar, rice cakes topped with peanut butter, brown rice and roasted veggies, oatmeal with peanut butter and fruit or whole grain toast with almond butter and banana slices.

Fat

In the same way that your body uses glycogen for short and high-intensity exercises, fat is your body’s go-to source of fuel for long and moderate-intensity exercises. Fats are an essential energy source. When it comes to pre-workout nutrition right before a workout, it’s better to focus on carbs and protein, but having an adequate amount of healthy fats in your system goes a long way as well. Mixing healthy fats with the right carb and protein intake is a winning combination. Some of the best ways to incorporate fat into your diet are avocado, olive oil, nuts or seeds.

Timing is Key

In order to maximize your performance and gains, the timing of your meal is also an important factor to consider in your pre-workout routine. You should ideally eat a complete meal (carbs, protein and fat) about 2-3 hours before you exercise. Of course, this isn’t always possible on evening when you’re scrambling to make it from the office to the studio or you simply didn’t have time to eat breakfast before your morning workout.

The optimal time to eat before a workout can range from 3 hours to 30 minutes prior. As a general rule of thumb, however, the closer it is to your workout, the smaller the meal should be. This gives your body the proper time to digest the nutrients. The last thing you want your body to be doing is still digesting food while you’re working out, but you haven’t yet used up all those calories. Anything less than 45 minutes before your workout and you’re better off electing for snack-sized foods rather than a meal. Something that’s easy to digest and contains just carbs and maybe protein will help to prevent any stomach discomfort during exercise.

Don’t Forget to Hydrate!

Hydrating your body is a definite must before any form of physical exercise to avoid dehydration, which can cause low energy, decreased performance, muscle cramps or spasms. Simply put, your body needs water to function. A good place to start is two full cups of water around 2-3 hours before you workout and 1 cup just 15-20 minutes prior.