What and when you eat before your workout will have a direct impact on the quality of your session. A pre-workout meal can give your body the nutrients and fuel it needs to work at a high intensity. If you don't eat before a workout, your body won't have enough stored energy and you'll most likely feel fatigued during your workout.
Benefits of a Quality Pre-Workout Meal
Properly fueling your body prior to hitting the gym or going for a run is beneficial for several reasons. Giving your body the right foods and the appropriate time will fill up your body's glycogen stores. Your glycogen stores serve as your body's energy tank, and when they're full your muscles are able to get the fuel they need to function at their highest levels.
Eating a quality pre-workout meal will also help support the muscle-building process, known as protein synthesis. Your body needs energy to fuel protein synthesis, so with the right foods you can help boost your muscle growth. Eating before a workout also helps prevent the muscle breakdown that occurs when you're lifting weights and will improve how quickly your muscles repair and recover.
Keep in mind that even if you're workout objectives includes lowering your body fat percentage, a quality pre-workout meal still aligns with your goal. When you're properly fueled, you'll be able to work out at a higher intensity and thus burn more calories during your training session.
When to Eat Your Pre-Workout Meal
As a general rule, you want to consume your pre-workout meal 2 to 3 hours before you start to exercise. That gives your digestive system enough time to break down the foods and fill your glycogen stores. Keep in mind that people digest foods at different rates. You may be able to get away with eating an hour before a workout, while someone else may need to consume his or her meal three to four hours beforehand.
Before early morning workouts, you may not have the opportunity to eat 2 to 3 ours beforehand. In that case, try to eat something small, such as half an apple or banana, as soon as you wake up.
Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats
How big your pre-workout meal should be depends on your body size and the type of activity you'll be doing. In general, a man weighing about 180 pounds should take in about 500 to 600 calories in their pre-workout meal for a typical cardio or lifting workout. A 180-pound woman, in general, should stick to around 400 calories.
Carbohydrates - Your pre-workout meals should consist of primarily low glycemic carbohydrates. Low glycemic carbs, such as pasta, brown rice, sweet potatoes and fresh fruits and vegetables, fill up your glycogen stores and release slowly into the blood stream so that you have adequate energy to properly tackle a workout.
Protein - While it's not required, it is ideal for your meal to have a little bit of protein. Research has shown that eating a little bit of low-fat proteins, such as egg whites, chicken breast, low-fat cottage cheese or Greek yogurt, before a workout contributes to protein synthesis and therefore better helps you build muscle. Eating a little protein before your weight lifting sessions are more important than during a cardio workout. Stick to around 4 to 8 ounces of protein in your pre-workout meal.
Fat - Because fat takes longer to digest and doesn't provide quick fuel, you don't want to eat them before you exercise. Hold off on the fatty meats, whole eggs, avocados, nuts, oils and cheeses until after your workout session.
If you're trying to fuel up for a particularly intense or long-duration training session, consider adding more low-glycemic carbohydrates to your meal.
Samples of Good Pre-Workout Meals
Looking some ideas of quality pre-workout meals? We've got your covered.
- 2 egg whites, low-fat cottage cheese, grapefruit
- Fruit smoothie
- Turkey and veggies wrap
- Whole wheat toast topped with bananas
- Grilled chicken and mixed vegetables
- Egg white omelet with chopped vegetables
Don't forget to also make sure you're properly hydrated before your workout! When you're hydrated, your body is more efficient at transporting nutrients and energy throughout the body to your working muscles. About an hour before you exercise, drink 2 cups of water.