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What to Eat Before a Workout

Pre-workout nutrition is a prime opportunity to fuel. However, many individuals tend to skip out on this fueling opportunity. There is a common misconception that eating before an activity will slow you down or interfere with efforts to lose weight or gain muscle, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Eating before your workout does not mean that you have to increase your daily caloric intake, it may just be a matter of changing the size and timing of your meals and snacks to help fuel working muscles. During the time frame before your workout (approximately 1 - 4 hours), appropriately fueling your body with nutrition is something that all athletes and healthy adults can take advantage of. Adequate pre-workout nutrition can influence the level of your performance and activity.

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source for working muscles, so not consuming or consuming inadequate amounts of carbohydrates before an activity may lead to a decrease in an individual’s performance and level of intensity. Also, if glucose and glycogen stores (what carbohydrates are converted to in the body) are not readily available or become depleted, your body may fatigue, which may ultimately bring your planned activity or training to an end. Furthermore, insufficient carbohydrate before an activity can also potentially be counterproductive to goals as the body may break down muscle protein or fat stores to be used for energy.

Carbohydrates Are Fuel

For all athletes, sports and goals ensure your body and muscles are topped off with a carbohydrates source before your workout. Carbohydrates before an activity can benefit many types of athletes from endurance, strength and team sports. Adequate carbohydrate intake before an activity can help provide fuel to train and support muscle glycogen stores. Strength athletes are recommended to consume sufficient carbohydrates to help supply energy to fuel strength training and supply energy needed for muscle development. Endurance athletes are recommended to consume adequate carbohydrates before an activity to help support high-intensity and extended activities (i.e. marathons, relay races or track events). For team sports athletes, adequate carbohydrate intake helps to fuel activity and provide energy to the brain.

Carbohydrates + Protein

Fuel up with a combination of carbohydrates and protein prior to activity. Note that priorities change the closer you are to the time of training. If time allows, a balanced meal containing all of the macronutrients is key. Further out from your training or competition focus a bit more on complex carbohydrates. As the time for physical activity gets closer, a light snack with more simple carbohydrates and/or protein is recommended. Carbohydrates help provide fuel while the goal of protein is to help ‘prime’ muscles to help support muscle recovery. The amount of nutrition including amounts of protein as well as simple and complex carbohydrates required before an activity depends on you, your goals and length of training and intensity. Generally, more carbohydrates may be required the longer you train and higher the intensity.

Meal or Snack

Pre-workout nutrition is a perfect opportunity to fuel up. The amount of fuel needed before an activity depends on you and the time allowed before the activity. You can simply look at pre-workout nutrition as a meal or snack – depending on the time given to fuel up beforehand. Aim to fuel up at least one to two hours before an activity. If you allot closer to four hours before an activity, then you can fuel up with a meal. If have limited time of about 30 to 60 minutes before activity, then choose a snack to help fuel your activity. The closer you are to activity, then the smaller the portion.

Dietary Sources to Consider

Choose complete high-quality protein sources to help support muscle recovery. Complete proteins include chicken, turkey, fish, dairy-products and soy-products. You could also try adding whey into your pre-workout routine, which is a high-quality milk protein that is faster digesting and absorbing compared to casein. Whey protein generally peaks in the body in about one hour after consumption. Whey can be found naturally in milk and other dairy-products.

Simple carbohydrates provide a source of ‘quick’ energy for the body, whereas complex carbohydrates provide a more ‘sustained’ energy. Typically, complex carbohydrates can be used further out from your activity and simple carbohydrates can be used closer to your activity.

Simple Carbohydrates Complex Carbohydrates
Milk Beans
Regular, plain Yogurt Peas
Cottage cheese Lentils
Fruit juice Potatoes
Cereals Oats
White rice Quinoa
Pretzels Whole wheat bread
Table sugar Whole wheat rice
Honey Whole wheat pasta

 

Incorporate the source that best suits the type of activity you’ll be participating in and the time allowed beforehand.