How often do you eat before you work out?
Maybe you don’t eat at all but you know weight training is tiring and that food is fuel, your energy source for exercise.
So, logically it would then make sense to eat before you hit the weights room or go pounding the pavement. Yet, your questions remain;
These are the question this article will cover and by the end, you’ll know what you need to eat, how much of it and when.
Let’s get going.
Pre workout nutrition is the food or drinks you eat before your workout and is usually consumed between 30 minutes to 4 hours before you work out. It serves 3 primary purposes;
Pre workout nutrition goal is to support your gym performance and the maintenance or growth of lean muscle mass. As with most things in fitness, this can optimised to bring the best results based on your goals and preferences, which brings us to meal content and timing.
Your pre workout meal can be either a solid meal to eat or a liquid meal you can drink like a protein shake. What you choose to have will depend largely on how close to your workout it is, training goal and your own personal preference.
As for what you should eat this is less negotiable. In your pre workout meal, you want to get a mix of protein and carbohydrate. This is for good reason too as protein helps prevent the breakdown of muscle mass and provides the body with the nutrients it needs to build or maintain muscle.
Carbohydrate improves workout performance by providing your body with readily available energy. (1, 2) As for fat, you can include some, but it has no impact on your work out performance and is more a matter of personal preference. (3)
Meal timing can be split into 3 main timeframes;
Whilst these guidelines can help you navigate the fundamentals of pre workout nutrition, the practicalities of it will come down to experimentation to see works best for you.
Some people prefer to drink their pre workout nutrition regardless of timing, whilst others find they feel and perform better if they eat something solid. Others eat nothing. Whatever the case is, I’ve got you covered.
Bringing together everything we’ve talked about so far, here are you pre workout nutrition guidelines;
The following foods make great options as meals or shakes to get you fuelled up and ready to go.
A lot of times the words pre workout are used when referring not just to nutrition but to a host of supplements designed to give you an edge when training. These are often used in addition to the type of nutrition we discussed above and are designed to supplement your workout.
Which brings us to the old age question “do I need to take supplements, specifically pre workout supplements?” To answer this question let’s take a look at the popular supplements, what they do and whether they’re worth taking.
Typically used as an ‘energy boost’ before working out, coffee is not only widely accessible but it’s also pretty inexpensive and super simple to make. This makes it an ideal pre workout booster to eek a little more effort out of your workout. It can also improve muscle endurance and strength. (4, 5)
However, as most people drink it to excess and have become tolerant to its effects, it’s usefulness as a supplement is negated.
Verdict: if you rarely drink coffee or are not fully adjusted to the effects of caffeine then coffee can be a cheap accessible pre workout supplement to give you a little energy boost.
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance in the body which fuels intense activity like strength training. Supplementing with creatine ‘tops up’ your available stores and can increase strength and muscle mass. (6, 7, 8) It’s also completely safe to use and available cheaply. (9, 10, 11)
Verdict: creatine has varying effects on different people; it’s not essential but can help improve performance when used regularly.
Branch chain amino acids or BCAAs as they are more commonly known, are a protein supplement that can be taken in powder or pill form to help prevent the breakdown of lean muscle mass when working out. (12, 13)
Their use as a supplement is largely thought to be useless when you include a pre workout meal or drink in your routine. However, there are some experts who recommend their use when training in a fasted state to help negate muscle breakdown.
Verdict: not beneficial as pre workout supplement if you’re having a pre workout meal or drink, however, they may provide some benefit if you train fasted or cannot have your usual pre workout nutrition.
Pre workout supplements often are a combination of all of the above supplements and can improve performance in the gym. (14) However, they also often include other ingredients or combination of ingredients which cause a quick burst of energy followed by a crash.
Verdict: whilst there are some supplements that work, you’re usually better off saving your money and focusing on good pre workout nutrition combined with an espresso before training.
Not so much a supplement as a necessity, good hydration is fundamental to good health and performance. (15, 16) You want to stay hydrated throughout the day and make sure you’re hydrated before and during your workout for optimal performance. (17)
Verdict: drink your damn water.
Given everything we’ve just covered you might be wondering if you have to have pre workout nutrition. The answer is somewhat dependent on the situation, so let’s look at how things might shake out.
Ultimately, it comes down to what works best for you as total calorie and macro intake across the day is more important than whether or not you had a pre workout meal. (18)
However, if you can work it into your routine to include a pre workout meal there are benefits to be obtained and you may notice a difference in your performance.
Pre workout nutrition is important in helping you perform your best when working out.
General guidelines are to get between 30 – 40 grams of both protein and carbohydrate between 30 minutes to 4 hours before you hit the gym. Fat is non-essential in this meal but can be included if you like.
If for any reason you cannot have a pre workout meal, then don’t sweat it too much. For the average gym-goer meal timing has a small effect when compared to hitting your calorie and macro goal.
As for pre workout supplements, hydration is a priority but other supplements like caffeine and creatine can provide some benefit but are not ‘must haves’.