Last updated on February 3rd, 2019
Best Foods to Eat Before Working Out
What are the best foods to eat before working out? Should you even care? Big Hell Yeah to that one last one. You need to care a lot. The pre-workout meals you eat can make or break your workout.
This article is all about what to eat prior to working out – we have another that features what to eat after working out here
That may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not. Seriously. Think about it. If you head for the gym with nothing in your stomach but a bag of potato chips or a Twinkie, how will you train? Junk like that ain’t exactly the food of champions.
On the other hand, how do you think you will train if you hit the gym just after you’ve eaten a big meal?
Sure you may have made food choices that can juice you up with plenty of carbs, but the chances are you will feel bloated. Maybe even a little nauseous when you lie back on the bench and try to go to work.
Why You Shouldn’t Overdo It With Your Pre-Workout Meals
The other problem with going large on your pre-workout meals is it can make you sleepy. This happens in the animal kingdom as well, cats, dogs, even lions; they all crash out and bag some Zs after a big meal.
The scientists seem to still be trying to figure this one out, but they think it could be because overdoing it with the carbs and protein may trigger the release of serotonin. [SOURCE]
There’s another reason why eating a big meal before a workout isn’t a smart idea. It can actually rob you of energy instead of providing it. The same can happen if you try to fuel-up on sugar-laden snacks and soft drinks.
In both cases, the problem is the same. Be it due to eating big pre-workout meals or trying to get a sugar rush from snacks, your blood glucose can go sky high.
When you have too much glucose circulating your liver releases insulin to bring it down. More often than not, it does the job to well and you are hit with a sugar crash that can rob you of energy and give you cravings for high-calorie foods. [SOURCE 1, SOURCE 2]
The take-home point here is it’s not just about knowing the best foods to eat before working out. The size and timing of your pre-workout meals is important too.
The Role of Macronutrients In Your Pre-Workout Meal
“Macronutrients” is a term used to describe the main nutrients in food. There are only three of them: Carbohydrate, protein, and fat.
Although most foods contain a mix of macronutrients, many foods are classed by the main one they contain.
For instance, steak is mainly considered a source of protein but it contains fat too. Oats have protein, but people generally eat them to fuel-up on carbs.
|Steak (100 g)||0 g||25 g||19 g|
|Oats (100g)||12 g||2.4 g||1.4 g|
When you workout one of the main things you need is energy, so the best foods to eat before working out are ones that provide carbs. This is because carbs are your body’s primary source of energy. It’s designed to run on carbs.
It can get energy from protein and fat as well, but carbs are easier to use. Does that mean your pre-workout meals have to be all about carbs? No. They can contain the other two macronutrients too.
The thing is, adding them to your meal may be a bad idea if the time between eating and training is not long enough. Eating fat just before training can be particularly bad.
Carbohydrates (The #1 Choice for Your Pre-Workout Meals)
There are two kinds of carbs:
- Simple Carbs
- Complex Carbs
Simple carbs are basically sugars. They can provide a quick burst of energy, but can also cause your blood glucose to spike.
Complex carbs release energy more slowly than simple carbs. They keep you going for longer so they are the best carbs to use in pre-workout meals.
As they are digested, complex carbs release glucose into the blood. Your muscles convert this to ATP and use it for energy via a process known as cellular respiration. [SOURCE]
When the supply of glucose exceeds the demand, the liver converts the excess glucose to glycogen. It’s an important fuel reserve that is stored mostly in the liver but is stored in the muscles too.
Later on, when glucose levels are depleted during exercise, the liver converts glycogen back to glucose to help keep things going. [SOURCE]
So, the best foods to eat before working out are ones that provide complex carbs.
Here are a few examples of carb-rich foods you can add to your pre-workout meals:
- Brown rice
- Wholewheat pasta
All pre-workout Meals should contain carbs.
Protein (For Increased Endurance and Faster Recovery)
The amino acids provided by protein help increase endurance. In so doing, they enable you to increase the intensity of your workout. [SOURCE]
The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine, and valine are generally considered particularly important. For that reason, you can find them in many pre-workout supplements.
Adding protein to your pre-workout meals will also improve protein synthesis and provide you with extra strength. In addition to this, you may find you feel less muscle soreness due to a faster recovery rate.
Some of the best protein-rich foods to eat before working out include:
- Turkey Breast
- Tuna steak
However, whether or not it is a good idea to include them in your pre-workout meals will depend on how soon you are eating them before your workout.
Fat (A Good Choice, But Not Always the Best Choice)
During a short duration of high-intensity exercise, your muscles are going to be running on glucose. For longer periods of exercise, things change.
Once the glucose is gone and the stores of glycogen have run dry your body will start burning fat for energy.
Every gram of fat you eat provides nine calories. That’s a lot. Carbs and protein only provide four calories per gram.
Fat is a high-calorie food so it stands to reason it can be good for providing energy. Here’s the rub: it takes a long time to digest.
The other problem is eating foods that are high in fat can slow the absorption of other foods.
It’s best not to eat foods that are high in fat before just before working out.
If it’s two or three hours before your workout, that’s fine. Chow down with confidence. Otherwise, give the fatty food a miss.
Most importantly, if you are adding fats to your pre-workout meals go for healthy (unsaturated fats). If you go for the other kind (saturated) you won’t be doing your heart any favours.
If you are adding fats to your pre-workout meals, some good options are:
- Sunflower Seeds
Using olive oil when roasting or frying food is also a good way to add unsaturated fat to your pre-workout meals.
Pre-Workout Meals v Pre-Workout Snacks
If you are eating two to three hours before your workout you have the freedom to choose pre-workout meals that contain carbs, protein, and fat. You still need to keep things healthy though and make sensible food choices.
When your pre-workout meals are only one to two hours before working out it’s best not to eat foods that contain fat. Eating them may hinder your workout instead of helping it.
Stick to carbs and proteins and think about making the portion size a little smaller so it will be lighter on your stomach.
If you are eating less than an hour before working out you will need to forget about eating a pre-workout meal. You need to be looking at pre-workout snacks instead.
Ideas for Pre-Workout Meals (2 – 3 Hours Before Training)
If you are eating two to three hours before training you have more options. There are fewer restrictions regarding fat.
|Idea No. 1||Idea No. 2|
|Lean Grilled Steak (protein + fat)|
Boiled Potatoes (Carbs)
Green Beans (Carbs)
|Poached Salmon (Protein + Fat)|
Boiled Brown Rice (Carbs)
Boiled Peas (Carbs + Protein
Ideas for Pre-Workout Meals (1 – 2 Hours Before Training)
If you are eating one to two hours before training, the best foods to include in your pre-workout meals will contain less fat. You won’t be looking at anything too complicated either, so it should be quick and easy to prepare:
Good choices include:
- A light salad with bulgur wheat or couscous
- Wholegrain cereal with skimmed milk
- A small bowl of porridge topped with strawberries
- Protein shake with a little mango
Pre-Workout Snacks (Eaten Less Than 60 Minutes Before Training)
When choosing your pre-workout snacks try to go for something small and simple and concentrate on carbs.
Some good choices for pre-workout snacks include:
- An apple, pear, or orange
- Half a cup of dried mixed fruit
- Cereal bar
Good pre-workout snacks should provide an ongoing supply of glucose during your workout and do so without making your stomach feel bloated and full.
The Bottom Line
Choosing good pre-workout meals involves more than known the best foods to eat before working out. You also need to get the timing right and put some extra thought into the portion sizes.
If the idea of having so many restrictions regarding the foods you eat before working out seems a little daunting, it may be best to concentrate on the benefits a little smart pre-workout meal planning can provide.
Eating the right pre-workout meals or snacks at the right time can help you feel more energized in the gym. It can also help prevent muscle damage, speed up recovery, and generally support your ambition to build a strong, lean physique.