Irrespective of your fitness and activity level, your aim should always be to have a healthy and balanced diet. That is the best way to provide your body with the nutrients it needs.
Do you need any pre-workout foods before exercising?
That depends on how long you wish to exercise.
If your workout will take less than an hour, then all that you may need is water.
But if you intend to exercise for more than 60 minutes, you should aim to have carbohydrates that digest quickly. Also, you will need some electrolytes comprising salts and minerals. Such foods will supply you with the necessary fuel and energy to go through your exercises.
Various research has concluded that pre-workout foods that include some carbs can help you work intensely and longer.
Thus, for many people, taking the right food and drink and at the right time will help put you on the road to achieving your fitness goals. Such actions can help boost your performance and maintain good health.
What are the best times to have your pre-workout foods?
The best times to have any pre-workout foods depend on your fitness goals and the time you exercise.
You may decide not to eat anything if you exercise very early in the morning.
Some exercisers may benefit by taking some reasonably-sized healthy snacks or meals. That can raise their blood sugar levels and help them work out better.
Generally, you must give yourself about 3 hours after any main meal, such as lunch or supper, before you exercise.
You can have some snacks an hour before exercise.
Such light snacks must contain some protein. It must also have high carbohydrate and low-fat contents.
Pre-workout foods, with such a composition, can help you perform better during your workout. They can also help with your recovery after the exercises.
What should your pre-workout meal comprise or, what are the best foods to eat before a workout?
To emphasize, you must eat the right foods before your workout. You must also eat at the right time. Doing that will enable you to maximize your effort. It will also help you get the best out of your exercises.
You can eat a balanced meal or a large portion of snacks 2-4 hours before exercise.
Or, you can eat a smaller snack 1-2 hours, instead. This will give the food enough time to digest. It will also promote good energy levels.
Whatever your type and level of physical activity, you need enough energy to help you get the most out of your exercise.
Your body will quickly deplete your energy levels if your exercises involve demanding workouts.
Good fats, starchy and other types of carbohydrates can provide your body with the energy you need. These foods will also help boost your energy levels. Thus, they can power you through that fitness class or HIIT exercises.
In effect, you must eat enough or more carbohydrates as part of your daily meals or around the time you exercise.
Your body also needs protein to help protect your muscles. Thus, the pre-workout foods you eat must contain protein as well.
Many experts suggest eating low GI foods before exercising. These foods are more nutritious and provide a constant slow energy
The GI (glycemic index) is a system that rates the number of carbohydrates in foods. The GI indicates the speed at which each food you eat affects your blood sugar or glucose.
Various studies seem to confirm that low GI pre-workout foods can supply you with enough energy during your workout.
Other studies have found that low GI meals can increase your blood sugar and fatty acid levels during the latter part of your exercises.
Such pre-workout foods can help improve your performance if you exercise for long periods. Thus, it can help people in endurance sports, such as cycling, marathon, triathlon, and cross-country skiing.
Low GI foods include lentils, milk, fresh fruit, or yogurt. Combining pre-workout foods that contain protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fat can be an option to consider in this case.
Examples of such meals could be a chicken sandwich, cereal with milk, or some baked potato with cheese.
Other studies have confirmed that taking low GI foods, such as fruits, bran cereal, and milk can help you burn more fat when exercising.
Another study showed that runners who took low GI pre-workout foods run for longer times than those who took high GI-based foods. The researchers suggested low GI meals can help you burn more fat and less glycogen when exercising. That can help boost your performance, especially during the later stages.
While low GI foods will provide you with many advantages, it may be necessary to eat high GI meals, as well. That is especially the case if you exercise every day or more than once a day.
High GI carbohydrates include fruit juice, refined cereals, energy bars and drinks, and dried fruits.
Your body takes in high GI carbs very quickly. This can help replace glycogen stores in time for your next round of exercises.
Here are 9 best pre-workout foods that can help you make the most of your workout
Take these 2-4 hours before exercise
Sandwich (or roll, bagel, wrap) filled with chicken, fish, cheese, jelly, egg, or peanut butter and salad
Such pre-workout foods will provide you with all the energy and protein you need for your workout.
As a source of protein, peanut butter, for example, will keep you full for longer.
Protein can help delay any food cravings you may have after your workout.
According to research, you can maintain a healthy weight if you eat small amounts of peanuts.
Chicken with rice and salad:
These are some of the most popular pre-workout foods.
The meal is a good source of complex carbohydrates and lean protein. The combo can help promote muscle growth.
Porridge made with milk or Wholegrain cereal (e.g. bran or wheat flakes, muesli, or Weetabix) with milk or yogurt.
These are the pre-workout foods to go for if you are a morning exerciser.
By slowly digesting the carbs in this meal, your body will keep your blood sugar at steady levels
Pasta with tomato-based pasta sauce, cheese, and vegetables
Pasta is quite popular with many athletes. It contains carbohydrates and fiber.
Pasta digests easily and slowly to help keep your blood sugar levels steady. It can also help control your appetite.
Go for the whole-wheat version. That is more nutritious.
Whole-wheat pasta can give you almost twice the quantity of fiber, potassium, and magnesium compared to what you may get from a normal paster.
Take these 1–2 hours before exercise:
Fresh fruits, especially banana
Banana is a good source of simple carbohydrates. It digests easily and is packed with antioxidants.
Banana is also a good source of potassium and can help prevent muscle cramps.
Eating some bananas about 30 minutes before your workout can help boost your glycogen stores. It can also help increase your blood sugar levels
This is a hiker’s favorite
The trail mix can include raisins and almonds, dried apricots, and dates.
Raisins are a good source of quick energy.
Almonds are high in protein and unsaturated fat. They contain antioxidants.
Almonds can help your body use oxygen efficiently and help you get more out of your exercises.
Trail mix is an excellent snack to have before your workout.
Smoothies (home-made or ready-bought)
Smoothies digest easily.
Store-bought smoothies tend to contain high portions of sugar.
Prepare your own smoothies by combining yogurt and fruits. The combo can supply you with the much-needed energy-boosting carbohydrates. You will need these to get you through your exercises.
You can blend the combo with water or ice. That will provide you with enough liquid and keep you hydrated.
Energy or nutrition bar
These are quick top-up pre-workout foods.
They can help fuel your workout and supply you with the protein you need for muscle mass.
Look out for those with low sugar levels if you worry about your waistline.
Porridge or wholegrain cereal with milk
Some regard these as one of the best meals to have for breakfast.
These pre-workout foods are a good source of beta-glucan, the soluble fiber.
The meal also contains complex carbohydrates which can supply your body with slow-releasing energy.
Add some peanut butter for protein and amino acids.
What quantities of pre-workout foods do you need?
Sports nutritionist Anita Bean (2006) recommends the following pre-workout foods.
Note that these are just guidelines. Thus, you can tailor them to meet your specific needs.
5-9 portions of vegetables and fruits:
Vegetables and fruits contain minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, and phytonutrients. These nutrients are all vital for your health.
They can help with recovery after your workout.
They can also help protect the immune system, as well as help boost your performance.
Examples of pre-workout foods with a low GI are fruits, soy products, beans, grainy pasta, bread, porridge (oats), milk, and lentils.
4-6 portions of grains and potatoes:
These are high carbohydrate foods. They can help to replace stores of glycogen in the muscles.
2-4 portions of foods rich in calcium:
Such foods include nuts, dairy products, tinned fish pulses, and seeds. These foods can help you build strong bones.
2.4 portions of foods rich in protein:
Such protein-rich foods include fish, lean meat, poultry, eggs, Quorn, and soya.
You must aim to include a source of protein at mealtimes. That can help optimize muscle building.
Note that you can get enough protein from a well-balanced, healthy diet. Thus, you may not need to increase your protein intake drastically.
Sustaining yourself through your workouts
You must be well hydrated before you start any exercise session. Drinking less water than your body needs can affect your performance. Thus, you must drink water regularly throughout the day.
You will likely need just water if you are exercising for an hour or less.
If you take some pre-workout foods at the right time, then, it is possible the energy in your muscle glycogen stores could power you through your workouts.
If you are exercising rigorously for more than an hour, you should consider an isotonic sports or glucose polymer drink, milk, or a combination of high-carbohydrate food and water.
You may also need extra carbohydrates if exercising for longer. This will prevent burnout and “hitting the wall” when you run out of glycogen
A Word from Livelife
The pre-workout foods you opt for has a big role to play in achieving your workout and fitness goals
By eating the right foods at the right time, you will supply your body with a large quantity of high-octane fuel. This is what you need to power you through your high-energy and intensive exercises.
Make sure whatever pre-workout foods you take have all the nutrients you need to help you get the most out of your workout.
Be creative and try many different combinations and portions. Sooner or later, you will be able to find the best pre-workout foods that will help your workout goals
- Tarnapolsky et al (1995) carbohydrate loading in men and women Available from http://jap.physiology.org/content/78/4/1360.short
- International Olympic Commission (2010) Nutrition for Athletes
- Industry Presented Blog: What to Eat Before and After a Workout. American College of Sports Medicine. Accessed 08/05/2021.
- Rothschild JA, Kilding AE, Plews AJ. What Should I Eat before Exercise? Pre-Exercise Nutrition and the Response to Endurance Exercise: Current Prospective and Future Directions. Nutrients. 2020;(11):3473
- Tokmakidis SP, Karamanol IA. Effects of carbohydrate ingestion 15 min before exercise on endurance running capacity. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2008;33(3):441-9
- Bean, A. (2017) The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition, 8th ed. New York: Bloomsbury
- Kumar, V., Atherton, P., Smith, K., & Rennie, M. J. (2009, January 22). Human muscle protein synthesis and breakdown during and after exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 106(6), 2026–2039 https://www.physiology.org/doi/pdf/10.1152/japplphysiol.91481.2008
- Burke, L. M., Hawley, J. A., Wong, S. H. S., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2011, June 9). Carbohydrates for training and competition. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(1), 17–27 https://shapeamerica.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02640414.2011.585473#.W3sNsZNKhE8
- Aragon, A. A., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013, January 29). Nutrient timing revisited: Is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(5) https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-10-5?TB_iframe=true&width=921.6&height=921.6
- Atherton, P. J., & Smith, K. (2012, March 1). Muscle protein synthesis in response to nutrition and exercise. The Journal of Physiology, 590(5), 1049–1057 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3381813/