Lightyears ago, I talked about post-workout nutrition and what we need to eat after a workout and why. If you remember this post, I talked about eating protein and carbohydrates after a workout and re-hydrating with water. But what about before we get sweaty?
What we eat before a workout is important because it wards off hunger and stabilizes our blood sugar levels. If you’re working out after a meal, a pre-workout snack is not always necessary. What you eat pre-workout is usually not the main source of workout fuel (our body usually cannot break it down that quickly) eating before we exert effort helps to keep us energized.
I am a big believer that a little something is better than nothing. There are benefits to fasted training, but that’s a discussion for another day. No-one wants a grumbly tummy during a run. When I workout at 6am, I get up at 4:45am in order to make sure I get something in my system with enough time prior to my workout. I don’t alwayssss eat before a workout but there is plenty of research to support that you cannot perform to your maximum potential on an empty stomach (or at least having enough fuel/nutrition in you from the night before if you are an early-am-sweater). Of course, you need to figure out what works for you – if you literally cannot stomach anything prior to a workout, don’t force it down your throat.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Your pre-workout does not replace a meal – it is a necessary source of additional nutrients.
So what exactly should you eat pre-workout?
Well, that’s not as clear-cut an answer as what to eat post-workout and your pre-workout snack or meal of course also depends on you, your body, your type of activity and your goals.
Protein, fat and water are the necessary components in order to fuel our body for all activity. Carbohydrates come into play depending on the type and duration of workout. For instance, carbohydrates are usually necessary for longer, more anaerobic workouts (like a run or bike ride) where your body will need to tap into its’ glycogen stores. Before CrossFit, I usually have 1-2 eggs and a handful of nuts. Before a run longer than 30 minutes, I usually have 1-2 eggs, nuts and a 1/2 to a full banana.
Here are some quick tips (based on my course studies, additional research and personal experience) on how you can best fuel your workout.
Timing: Drink water and eat 45 minutes to 2 hours before a workout. This is an ample amount of time before you start moving to allow your system to absorb some of the nutrients yet not feel like the food is sitting in the pit of your stomach and too full to move.
Water: Your body needs hydration before exertion and if you are like me, and workout in the morning, you are likely dehydrated. You are about to lose a lot of water during your workout and we need water in order for our systems to function properly and effectively. Our body is made up of 70% water – our blood is 90% water.
Protein: Protein provides the necessary amino acids for muscle protein synthesis – read more here. A small portion of protein stabilizes your blood sugar and provides a steady source of nutrition for your body, muscles and workout. You want to try to avoid spiking your blood sugar prior to a workout (your body will have to work extra hard to re-balance itself) so a source a protein (think: hard boiled egg, small piece of chicken, a spoonful or two of full-fat yogurt) is your best bet.
Fat: I talked about this in last week’s video: eat fat in order to burn fat. Eating a small portion of fat prior to your workout is important if your goal is to gain muscle and lose fat – isn’t that most people’s goal? By eating fat prior to your workout, you are training your body to use it as fuel because it is the most available to your body at the time (this is called a ketogenic state). Fats are the primary energy source at low intensity exercise and a higher fat diet proves to be beneficial because the body becomes more efficient at burning fat for fuel while sparing glycogen (carbohydrate source). Think: ½ an avocado, a spoonful of nut butter, a handful of nuts, a small piece of grass-fed beef.
Carbohydrates: As mentioned, depending on the type and duration of your workout, carbohydrates will come into play. A “long” run, bike ride, lifting session may require a bit of carbs. Think: 1/2 to a full banana, dates, squash, sweet potato. Carbohydrates are essential after your workout (read more here) but if you have been nourishing your body, it will have enough glycogen (stored energy) to fuel your workout.
What exactly to eat and how much of it depends on you, your body and your activity.
You: Can you eat “a lot” before a workout? What sits well, what doesn’t?
Your body: How tall are you? How old are you? What is your body composition?
Your activity: How intense will your activity be? Are you going for a walk, a 3 mile run, a 10 mile run, lifting weights moderately/intensely, going for a hike or doing yoga?
A half of a “meal size” portion of protein alongside a small portion of fat should do the trick – remember that “meal size”* is relative to you/your body. You might need less than that or you might need more than that – you shouldn’t feel hungry but you shouldn’t feel stuffed. As mentioned, some activities might require some carbs.
Here are some ideas:
- 1-4 eggs + 1/2-1 avocado (+carb: 1/2-1 sweet potato)
- 1-4 eggs + a handful of nuts/spoonful of nut butter (+carb: 1/2-1 banana)
- 75-200g meat cooked in coconut oil (+carb: 1/4-1/2 cup rice)
- 75-200g fatty fish (+carb: 1/2-1 parsnip)
*What the heck is a “meal-size”?! Good question: my meal-size is different from yours and yours is different from mine. How much would you eat at a meal to feel full? Eat about half of that before a workout. REMEMBER: your pre-workout is not replacing a meal*
There is no “one size fits all approach”. The moral of the story is this: your body needs to be nourished for exercise. You need to prepare your muscles, fuel your tank, and hydrate. Depending on you, your body, your activity and your goals this varies from person to person.
I have tried a variety of pre-workout (or pre-game) snacks over the years. From stuffing my face with big bowls of pasta, to a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter and jam, to toast, to smoothies… to now eating real, delicious and nutritious foods: eggs and cashews, grass fed ground beef and almonds, chicken and sweet potato, salmon and hazelnuts. Sound weird? I know, it sounded unfathomable to me too. But it really works for me and has allowed me to run great races, lift heavy things and feel pretty awesome.
Do you feel like you are energized and that you are making the most out of your workouts? If the answer is no, then maybe it is time to change things up. My best advice would be to experiment and figure out what works for you and your body.
Disclaimer: I am studying to become a nutritionist but I am not a doctor or personal trainer. My blog posts are based upon my coursework, additional research, personal views and experiences. For specific questions regarding your diet and exercise plan, please consult a professional.
Questions of the day…
What do you eat before your workout? What are your thoughts on pre-workout nutrition?
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