The quality of your workouts depend on a lot of factors. These include your overall health, your level of physical fitness, an adequate warmup… along with another that isn’t spoken about often enough - the food you consume before your workout.
That’s right - what you eat right before you hit the gym could either give you a burst of energy or slow you down. And once you’ve read this piece, you’ll know exactly what you should be eating (and not) before your next sweat sesh.
Firstly, why is a proper pre-workout meal important?
- Consuming the correct nutrients prior to your workout will optimize your performance, reduce muscle damage and improve muscle recovery
- It can prevent sudden drops in blood sugar during your workout (choose a low-glycemic snack that will slowly release sugar into your bloodstream)
- A pre-workout snack can give you the energy to exercise for a longer period of time and at a higher intensity
What is the ideal diet before a workout?
While the most accurate answer to this would depend on your personal fitness goals, as a general rule, it’s a good idea to stick to foods that are:
Easy-to-digest, low in fat, moderate in protein and high in complex carbohydrates.
It’s best to consume such foods 45-60 minutes prior to your workout.
What all can you have before a workout?
The fruit is a great source of carbohydrates and is rich in potassium, which promotes muscle function and can prevent cramping during a workout. That being said, any fruit - be it apples, berries, or pears - makes for a good, easily digestible pre-workout snack.
Greek yogurt with fruit
Greek yogurt is high in protein, and when combined with fresh fruit such as berries, makes for a balanced pre-workout snack that will give you long-lasting energy through those high-impact sets.
While it’s true that oats can take a while to digest (so make sure to eat it at minimum of one hour before your workout), they also contain a type of soluble fiber known as beta glucan that slows the absorption of carbs over a few hours. This helps you feel satiated for longer, thereby supplying sustained energy.
Peanut butter sandwich
Peanut butter is packed with protein and carbs. However, ensure that you choose a variety that contains minimal added sugar and that you pair it with a slice of wholewheat bread. Peanut butter is also high in calories, however, even a small amount spread on toast can go a long way in giving you the energy boost you need.
A handful of dry fruits can be effective and especially convenient when you’re on the go. Try a mix of almonds, dried cranberries, walnuts, and apricots for an ample dose of carbohydrates that will keep you fuelled while pumping iron.
Cereal and skim milk makes for a quick and easy pre-workout snack. Just ensure that it’s less than 3g or fat and fiber per serving and low on added sugar. You could even add some fruit for an extra boost of nutrients.
Protein bars eaten before a workout can help boost performance and improve muscle recovery. However, check the nutrition information beforehand and opt for those that have no added sugar.
These enable muscle protein synthesis before your workout and give you a booster shot of energy. Protein shakes can be consumed 30 minutes before you exercise - but, keep in mind that if you have a sensitive stomach you should give yourself enough time to digest the shake prior to the workout.
Read more about protein supplements here.
Eggs are low in calories, packed with protein and are abundant in healthy fats that will keep you energized through the workout. Don’t eat these too close to your workout though, as that could lead to cramps. The ideal time to consume eggs is 1-2 hours prior to your sweat sesh.
Caffeine / Coffee
Black coffee prior to a workout has been shown to help burn more calories during a workout, improve mental focus, and boost muscle endurance. Do keep in mind that it can affect your sleep if consumed too close to bedtime, and that it can cause anxiety in some people.
Creatine is a supplement that has been shown to improve performance, especially in the context of short burst, high-intensity exercises. It has also been linked to increased body mass during training.
Other pre-workout supplements include ingredients such as beta-alanine that can lower fatigue and enhance recovery and Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) that help increase lean body mass and promote muscle growth.
No matter what pre-workout snack or supplement you choose - remember that it's essential to stay hydrated while you exercise. For a detailed low-down of how much water to consume, check out our blog here.
Foods you should avoid before your workout
Sure, they’re packed with nutrients - but the fiber in them can wreak havoc on your stomach when you’re in the middle of a workout.
These too are packed with fiber (think broccoli, cabbage, bok choy), and possess sulfur-containing compounds that can cause gas in some instances.
This one’s obvious. Fries, burgers, fried chicken etc all contain saturated fats that remain in your digestive system for long and lead to cramps, bloating, and even diarrhea.
We’re not just talking sugary drinks. The bubbles even in plain soda can cause gas and bloating which can make you uncomfortable during a workout.
These lists just go to show that even if a certain food is considered healthy, it may not necessarily be good for you to consume before a workout. However, the ideal approach to pre-workout nutrition would be to consult a qualified professional who can recommend the right foods for you depending on your particular fitness goals.