Daily exercise is vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but it doesn’t stop there. Without a proper diet, the results of your exercise routine may be delayed, stunted, or even non-existent. The dietary choices you make can be not only the deciding factor in your long-term results but also your day-to-day performance.
What you eat before a workout can influence both your energy and recovery. A proper intake of nutrients can also prevent muscle damage and injury. Here is what you need to know about pre-workout nutrition.
What you eat before a workout should depend on your goals and how you’re exercising. Each macronutrient––carbs, protein, and fat––play a key role in giving you the energy and strength you need for optimum performance.
Carbs are your body’s primary source of energy. The glucose from carbs is broken down and stored in your liver and muscles in the form of glycogen. During a workout, your muscles use the glycogen you store for energy. In fact, for short, high-intensity exercise, glycogen may be your muscles’ only source of energy.
While carbs come in many forms, it is best to consume high quality, complex carbs such as:
- Brown rice
- Multi-grain bread
- Sweet potatoes
- Hummus with pretzels
- Rice cakes
- Granola bar
While carbs are best utilized for short, high-intensity workouts, fat is the main source of fuel for prolonged, moderate-to-low intensity exercise. Studies have shown that a maintained diet of 40 percent healthy fats resulted in faster times for endurance runners.
The energy you derive from fat is dependent on the quality of fat you consume. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated are good fats and can be found in:
- Nuts and nut butters
- Fatty fish
- Chia seeds
- Coconut oil
Protein supplements are a popular post-workout snack, but studies have shown protein to be just as effective before a workout. Lean protein intake before a workout can increase your body’s protein synthesis and anabolic response.
Just 20 grams of protein before and after a workout can increase total body mass, fat-free mass, thigh mass, and muscle strength.
High-quality sources of protein include:
- Chicken and turkey breast
- Greek yogurt
- Nuts and nut butters
- Protein powder
- Cottage cheese
- Eggs or egg whites
- Chocolate milk
Timing Is Everything
What you eat is just as important as when you eat it. A complete meal of fat, carbs, and protein two to three hours before your workout will maximize your results. However, this is often an unrealistic standard to meet.
A proper snack can be just as effective, but remember to keep it simple. If you’re eating 45-60 minutes before your workout, you’ll want to make sure that it’s small and easy to digest. Furthermore, the closer you get to your workout, the less fat you will want to consume.
Here are some snacks that can boost the quality of your workout:
2-3 Hours Before a Workout
Here you can consume a full meal with protein, fat, and carbs. Lean proteins such as turkey, chicken, and eggs will boost your muscles’ protein synthesis. Complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain bread and brown rice will fulfill your glycogen stores, while the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in avocado and nuts will give you the long-term energy you need.
- A turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread with greens/veggies
- An omelet with whole-grain toast and a side of fruit
- Chicken breast with brown rice and steamed vegetables
- Salmon filet with sweet potatoes and a side salad
- Whole-grain crackers and a glass of nonfat milk
Less Than 2 Hours Before a Workout
This is where you want to limit your fat intake. However, it is still crucial to combine carbs and protein to maintain your energy and anabolic response. Bananas are an excellent choice due to their high levels of carbs and potassium.
- A whey protein shake or smoothie with banana, almond milk, and berries
- A cup of oatmeal with banana and peanut butter
- Almond butter sandwich on whole grain bread
- A lentil salad with mixed greens
Less Than 1 Hour Before a Workout
If you’re eating less than one hour before a sweat session, you will want to focus on simple, easy-to-digest protein and carbs. Eating too much before a workout can result in fatigue, muscle cramps, and nausea.
- Greek yogurt with fruit
- Protein bar
- Rice cake or banana with peanut butter
- A boiled egg
- A slice of whole-grain bread with some peanut butter
The Benefits of Supplements
Including supplements in your pre-workout can also improve your performance, recovery, and results. The most popular supplement is a protein powder, which is efficient in increasing your protein intake. However, several other supplements may benefit your pre-workout diet.
One of the most studied workout supplements, creatine has been proven to increase muscle mass and strength while reducing fatigue. Creatine can be taken before or after a workout, so long as daily intake is maintained.
All you need to do is add 2-5 grams to a glass of water or protein shake.
Caffeine is commonly found in pre-workout supplements as it increases energy and stimulates fat burning. It is equally as beneficial when taken in the form of coffee or tea, though.
The pre-workout benefits can be at their peak within 90 minutes of consumption.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
A BCAA supplement will include the essential amino acids valine, leucine, and isoleucine. BCAAs have been shown to decrease damage and increase protein synthesis within the muscles when taken before a workout.
A dose of 5 grams before your workout will produce results.
Don’t Forget Water
While the proper consumption of macronutrients is vital to your pre-workout routine, you must not forget the importance of hydration. Exercising while dehydrated can not only result in muscle cramps and fatigue but also dizziness and fainting. In addition to hydrating before your workout, you must maintain hydration throughout your workout as sweating boosts dehydration.
The best way to determine your hydration, though, is to pay attention to the color of your urine. Lemonade-colored urine is healthy, while anything darker is a sign of dehydration.
Diet is one of the most important aspects of your workout routine, and without a proper pre-workout snack, you may not get the results you want. A good pre-workout snack will improve your energy, recovery, and protein synthesis.
When you fuel your body with the necessary vitamins, minerals, and calories it needs, you'll be unstoppable in any endurance workout or strength training workout you do.
Incorporate the three macronutrients––carbs, fat, and protein––into your snack to ensure you receive the best workout possible. Additionally, it is vital that you account for time when choosing what to eat. The closer you get to your workout, the smaller you want your meal to be.
In addition to hydrating before your workout, you may also want to consider supplements. Creatine, caffeine, and BCAA supplements can boost your energy, recovery, and results.
If your workouts have not produced the results you’ve been looking for, a quality pre-workout diet may be a step in the right direction.
Sources:Nutritional ergogenic aids and exercise performance | NCBI