What is the best pre-workout meal?

If you’re reading this, you probably know the importance of eating before a workout. You can’t drive from New York to New Jersey without fuel in your car. Your body needs food to fuel your exercise (which is, hopefully, far more fun than the two-hour ride.) You could still workout without pre-workout nutrition, but it won’t benefit you. Your performance and recovery will be poorer.

You don’t need a meal for a 60-minute workout. A snack consisting of a palm-sized helping of carbs, half a palm size of protein and a quarter palm of fat is enough, about 45-60 minutes before you hit the gym. Let’s take a look at what each of these macronutrients do. Then we’ll look at easy pre-workout snack options.

Benefits of Carbs

Your muscles use the glucose from carbs for fuel. For short bursts of intense exercise, the glycogen stores in your liver and muscles are enough fuel. But there is only so much glycogen stored in these places. When you’re working out longer, you’ll have to turn to food for more energy. Studies have shown carbs increase glycogen stores and boost oxidation of carbs (simply put, release of energy) during exercise. Athletes and marathoners practise carb loading before a big event for a reason. How much carbs you need in your pre-workout meal will depend on the intensity of your exercise, your overall diet and the type of training you’re doing.

Benefits of Protein

Consuming protein before and after exercise helps build muscles. Whey protein is particularly good. Muscle-building anabolic response is better when you have about twenty grams of whey protein before you exercise. Your muscles perform better, and recover more quickly afterwards.

Benefit of Fats

Fats are good fuel for moderate or long duration workouts. Of course, they have to be healthy fats, like avocado or natural almond butter.

Suggestions of Pre-Workout Snacks

Try to eat a full meal about 2 to 3 hours before you workout. When you can’t do that, snack 45-60 minutes before you exercise. The snack should be easy to digest. So simple carbs and proteins make a good mix. If you’re taking fat as well, it should be a few hours prior to your exercise. Here are some snack suggestions.

What to eat within an hour before exercise: fruit and greek yogurt, a piece of fruit such as an apple or a banana, or a protein nutrition bar with other wholesome stuff in it.

What to eat two hours before exercise: oatmeal with sliced almonds and banana, milk and whole-grain cereal, a whey protein smoothie with berries and banana, or a whole-grain bread sandwich with fruit preserve and natural almond butter.

What to eat three hours before exercise: Brown rice with lean protein and roast vegetables, whole grain toast with egg omelet and avocado spread with a cup of fruit, or a lean protein and whole-grain sandwich with a salad.

Time your meals right and you’ll find yourself performing better when you exercise. Don’t forget to eat right after your workout as well, for muscle recovery. But that’s the subject for another post.