Your pre-workout meal can make or break your workout. Here’s how to create the perfect pre-workout meal for optimal fat loss and performance.
The Importance of Pre-Workout Nutrition
Have you ever just felt like skipping your workout? Do you find yourself running out of energy halfway through your workouts? Pre-workout nutrition has a strong influence on whether you have a good workout or not.
Planning out and eating the right food can be the difference between not doing your workout or doing it. It can also be the difference between rating your workout as a 7 or giving it a 10.
Should You Eat Before You Work Out?
There has been much debate on whether you should eat before a workout. Proponents of training on an empty stomach say you can burn more fat, since you’ll use the fat from your body instead of the energy from your meal. Others say they just don’t have time to eat before a 6am workout.
People who do eat a meal say that it gives them more energy, and that they have a better workout as a result. So who’s right? They both are.
Now, while fasted training might burn more fat during your workout, that is not the overall determining factor for fat loss. At the end of the day, it’s going to be energy balance that determines your weight loss.
The rule for whether you should eat a pre-workout meal or not is this: make it a goal to have the best workout you can. If your intensity levels are going to suffer and you’re not going to be able to run as fast or lift as much weight as a result of skipping your meal, then you should be eating one. If you notice no difference, then the choice is personal preference.
How Long Before Your Workout Should You Eat?
Ideally, you want enough time between your meal and workout that your meal gets digested, raises your blood sugar a bit, and synthesizes glycogen for your exercise. What you don’t want to happen is not leaving enough time to digest your meal and having to work out with a stomach full of food.
Depending on the size of your meal, you could eat as little as 30 minutes before your workout if you’re having a small snack, or up to 1-2 hours before if your meal is more normal in size.
What Should Your Meal Look Like?
This is where things get interesting. Much of what your meal looks like is going to depend on your lifestyle. If you have to work out early in the morning, it likely doesn’t make much sense to wake up 2 hours earlier to have a meal. The cons would outweigh the pros.
If you’re a morning exerciser, you want a small and quickly digested meal or snack. This meal should have very little fat, some carbohydrates in the form of sugar (you’ll see meal ideas below), and a little protein if possible. The “meal” should have around 100-200 calories.
If you have more time between eating and working out, your meal can more resemble one of your typical meals. This meal can have more fat. It should also contain a decent amount of complex carbohydrates and protein. Eating around 200-400 calories or more for this meal would be optimal.
Sample Pre-Workout Meals and Snacks
To give you a better idea of what these meals will actually look like, here are some pre-workout meal ideas for you to choose from.
Fruit – Ideal for people who wake up and almost immediately do their workout. The fructose in fruit will help to fill liver glycogen and raise blood sugar levels to the degree necessary to improve energy levels and mental focus.
Protein Shake – This is quickly digested and is nicely suited for those who work out in the morning or need the convenience factor. Protein powder blended with frozen fruit makes the perfect pre-workout meal. If you don’t use protein powder, liquid egg whites are a nice substitute. Don’t worry, you can’t taste them once you add fruit.
Energy Bar – Easy and convenient. Don’t mess with the highly processed ones. The good news is plenty of bars nowadays are made solely of nuts/seeds and fruit. Check the ingredients.
Oatmeal – A bowl of oatmeal with honey is small and will boost your energy levels. You can add protein powder to it or make it with some milk if you need the added protein.
Greek Yogurt w/ Fruit – Another convenient pre-workout snack. Provides protein and some sugars to raise your blood sugar a bit.
Chicken & Rice – A classic bodybuilder meal. The meal is not as fibrous, so it doesn’t feel heavy in your stomach, but it still gives you complex carbohydrates to power through an intense workout. The chicken fortifies it with protein. Season it however you wish for flavor.
Lean Meat & Potatoes – When you have at least 2 hours before your workout, this is a great meal. Potatoes are a great complex carb and can be eaten whole, mashed, or in fry form.
Pasta – Ideal for the long-distance runner or for the athlete who needs extra high-intensity fuel. Pasta will easily fill muscle glycogen stores, leaving you with sufficient fuel for a grueling workout. Leave at least 2 hours to fully digest this meal. In addition, be sure you’re measuring the pasta. Overdoing it can lead to wild swings in blood sugar – leaving you feeling lethargic right before your workout.