Whether you’re exercising to burn fat, build muscle or to just simply look and feel good, food is the fuel that’s going to help you reach your ultimate fitness goals. In fact, fuelling your body with the right nutrients prior to exercise can help maximize performance, fight fatigue and increase fat-burning potential.
What to eat before a workout?
To get the most out of your workouts and recovery, you should focus on your macronutrient intake. Each macronutrient has a specific role before a workout. However, the ratio in which you need to consume them varies by the individual and type of exercise.
Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for our body, which is why a pre-workout meal should consist primarily of this macronutrient. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose in which your body uses for carrying out activities. Studies show that pre-workout carb intake improves both endurance and high intensity interval training (HIIT) performance. You should especially pay attention to this if you plan on exercising for long periods. Without sufficient amount of glucose, you’re most likely to feel weak and sluggish during your workouts.
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple carbs and complex carbs. Which one is better for a pre-workout meal?
Simple carbs: These are sugars that are easily digestible and provide instant energy to your body. Because of that, they are beneficial in situations where you’re about to start some form of physical activity and need a quick fuel. A common source of these carbohydrates includes white bread, cereals, crackers, and bananas.
Complex carbs: These include fiber or starch which takes more time and effort to be broken down in our digestive system. They provide a slower, more lasting energy throughout your workout and therefore, complex carbs should be consumed 2-3 hours in advance. Eating immediately before a workout may cause you to experience some abdominal discomfort while you train. Whole-grain foods such as oats, brown rice, vegetables, legumes, are a good source of complex carbohydrates.
Much like carbs, protein is vital to generating the energy needed to get through a challenging workout. The consumption of protein is extremely important for those who do resistance or strength training, as it will help them build muscle mass and prevent muscle damage. However, protein takes longer for the body to digest than carbs, so you don’t need a large amount. Adequate consumption of protein before training helps supply the muscles with necessary amino acids to aid in recovery, repair and growth. Some excellent sources of pre-workout protein include Greek yogurt, egg, chicken, hummus, and protein shakes.
Fat intake should be marginal before a workout to minimize digestive distress, which isn't what you want during the activity. Fat makes a better sources of fuel for longer, less intense exercise sessions. Excellent sources of healthy fats include salmon, avocado, peanut butter, cottage cheese and certain types of nuts – especially almonds, pecans and walnuts. Remember not to munch on processed foods that are high in saturated fats.
“An ideal pre-workout meal should be low in fat, moderate in protein, and high in complex carbs.”
Hydration is just as important as fuelling. Regular water intake throughout the day is vital in staying properly hydrated and maintaining your energy levels. Stay away from the sugar filled sodas and carbonated beverages prior to exercise.
When to eat before a workout?
The timing of your meal is also an important aspect of pre-exercise nutrition as it can influence your ability to train at your full potential.
Ideally, you should eat a complete meal that includes complex carbs, protein and fats at least 2-4 hours before activity. The goal is to give your body time for proper digestion and be ready for fuelling the activity.
Lighter pre-workout meals or snacks can usually be eaten closer to your workout (30-60 minutes in advance), and they should contain foods that are easily digested – mainly simple carbs and some protein to serve as readily available fuel. Fats should be avoided about an hour before exercising to prevent upset stomach.
Pre-workout meals for 2-4 hours before a workout:
- Lean protein, brown rice, and roasted vegetables
- A bowl of oatmeal with nuts and seeds
- Sandwich on whole-grain bread, lean protein, and a side salad
- Egg omelette and whole-grain toast topped with avocado spread and a cup of fruit
- Two slices of wholemeal toast with nut butter and sliced banana
Pre-workout snacks for 30 minutes to 1 hour before a workout:
- Cereal with milk
- Jam on toast
- A piece of fruit, such as a banana, orange, or apple
- A protein smoothie
- One small cup of plain yoghurt with sliced banana
“Keep in mind that the sooner you eat before your workout, the smaller and simpler the meal should be.”
Eating the ideal pre-workout meal can help ensure that all of the hard training and dedication pay off. It all depends on your type of training, intensity of your workout, as well as your fitness goals. The key is to find what works for you so you can make healthy choices to help you perform at your best!