Should I Eat Before A Workout? Whether you get ready at home or at the gym, there’s always that pre-workout meal debate. Some say to skip it because it can make you feel bloated during your workout; others say to use it as an opportunity to fuel up and power through your workout. For most people, working out is a good way to improve your health and fitness. But, working out on an empty stomach? That isn’t always a good idea. Before you work out, you should make sure you eat something to give yourself energy.
How food fuels exercise
One question comes up repeatedly when it comes to food and workouts: Is it better to eat before or after a training session? That’s a tough one to answer, and here’s why: They’re both important, says Patton.
Munching before exercising provides your body with the energy it needs to power through the session. Chowing down afterward helps with recovery.
Not just any old fuel will do, though. It’s important to put the right stuff in your tummy tank. Foods rich in carbohydrates and protein provide the nutritional building blocks your hard-working body needs.
“Carbs supply the energy to carry you through your workout,” says Patton. “Protein provides amino acids that your body uses to repair and build muscle.”
Together, they form a mighty one-two punch that would gain a CrossFit instructor’s approval.
Timing, though, is key.
Eating before a workout
You wouldn’t start a road trip without gassing up the car, right? The same principle applies to preparing your body for exercise. “You don’t want to start on empty,” says Patton.
Ideally, try to eat a well-balanced meal three to four hours ahead of your workout. Your plate should feature carbohydrates and a moderate amount of lean protein. Limit fats and fiber, which digest more slowly and can upset your stomach while bouncing around during a workout.
The closer you get to exercise time, the less you want to gobble down to avoid belly issues during the activity, says Patton. Think more along the lines of a snack than an actual meal.
“Everybody is different, though,” says Patton. “It comes down to what you can tolerate.”
What about early morning exercise?
If you’re waking up and working out, loading up with a meal a few hours ahead of time isn’t exactly an option. (Unless you want to set your alarm clock for 2 a.m., of course… but who wants to do that?)
“When you wake up, your blood sugar is at your lowest,” says Patton. “Eating something like a piece of fruit or granola bar can give you a needed boost.”
Consider the intensity of your workout, too. If it’s an easy-going, 30-minute session, you may be able to get away with skipping a pre-workout snack. “But if you’re going for an hour or more, you really should get something to eat,” says Patton.
Working out on an empty stomach also could cost you what you’re trying to build — namely, muscle. It’s beneficial to have some protein, the building blocks of muscle, in your system while training If you want to grow and strengthen muscles.
Stamina may also be an issue if your body is running low on fuel, meaning your workout could quickly turn into a dud.
“You’re better off to eat,” says Patton. “It doesn’t have to be much. Just enough to get through.”
Athletes and fitness enthusiasts are always looking for ways to improve their performance and achieve their goals.
Good nutrition can help your body perform better and recover faster after each workout.
Optimal nutrient intake prior to exercise will not only help you maximize your performance but also minimize muscle damage.
Here is everything you need to know about pre-workout nutrition.
Fueling your body with the right nutrients prior to exercise will give you the energy and strength you need to perform better.
Each macronutrient has a specific role before a workout. However, the ratio in which you need to consume them varies by the individual and type of exercise
Below is a brief look at the role of each macronutrient.
Protein supplies amino acids, and both are essential for a range of bodily functions, including the building, maintenance, and repair of muscle fibers.
Eating a meal that contains a significant amount of lean protein before exercising can help to improve performance.
Why is protein a good pre-workout food?
Protein can increase the amount of muscle mass gained from a resistance workout.
Intense bouts of resistance exercise damage the muscles, but consuming protein increases the number of amino acids in the body. These work to reduce deterioration, synthesize muscle proteins, and stimulate growth.
Consuming 20–30 grams of protein before a workout can result in an increased rate of muscle protein synthesis that lasts for several hours.
The following are some examples of healthful foods that are rich in protein:
- fish, such as salmon and tuna
- poultry, such as chicken and turkey
Anyone interested in gaining muscle should ensure that they receive an adequate overall daily protein intake.
Research has consistently shown that consuming between 1.6 and 1.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of bodyweight is sufficient for building muscle.
Many sources recommend consuming more, but any additional protein is unlikely to make a significant impact on muscle mass.
Carbohydrates are an essential energy source.
Consuming the right amount of carbohydrates before a workout will ensure that the body has enough energy to perform well.
This is true for people engaging in cardiovascular and resistance exercises, among other kinds.
However, different types of carbohydrates will have a different impact:
- Simple carbohydrates: These are sugars that provide a rapid rise in energy. A common source of these carbohydrates is white bread.
- Complex carbohydrates: These include fiber or starch. They provide a slower, more long-term source of energy. Whole-grain foods are a good source of complex carbohydrates.
Which type of carbohydrate is better in a pre-workout meal?
Complex carbohydrates have a number of advantages, for example:
- Simple carbohydrates are short-term sources of energy. If a pre-workout meal includes too many simple carbohydrates, a person may feel a drop in energy before they finish their workout. Complex carbohydrates provide energy more consistently over a more extended period.
- Complex carbohydrates are components of foods that tend to be rich in nutrients, such as beans. Simple carbohydrates are typically components of foods that have little or no nutritional value, such as chocolate bars and cakes.
- Foods that contain complex carbohydrates have lower glycemic index scores than those that contain simple carbohydrates. A type of food with a low glycemic index score is unlikely to cause blood glucose levels to spike and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The body digests complex carbohydrates more slowly than simple carbohydrates.
To increase energy ahead of a workout, a person should consume complex carbohydrates 2–3 hours in advance, and any simple carbohydrates 30–60 minutes in advance.
Complex carbohydrate foods
Below are some examples of healthful foods that contain complex carbohydrates:
- broccoli, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables
- whole-grain pasta
- brown rice
- whole-grain bread
Fruits provide the best source of simple carbohydrates before a workout. Bananas are a popular choice, as they contain potassium as well as simple carbohydrates.
Fats are an essential energy source.
Traditionally, medical professionals have advised against consuming high-fat meals before exercise because the body digests fats more slowly than carbohydrates. This means that the body may not be able to break down and absorb fats before a workout begins.
Can fats help before a workout?
Before a workout, it may be better to eat a meal that focuses more on protein and carbohydrates than fats.
However, it is important to incorporate healthful fats elsewhere in a balanced diet.
It is also worth noting that not all fats are healthful.
Certain types, most notably saturated and trans fats, can negatively impact overall health.
Other types of fats are, however, highly nutritious. Unsaturated fats, for example, provide a range of health benefits.
Below are some foods rich in unsaturated fats:
- nuts and seeds
- olive oil
The Timing of Your Pre-Workout Meal Is Key
The timing of your meal is also an important aspect of pre-exercise nutrition.
To maximize the results of your training, try to eat a complete meal containing carbs, protein and fat 2–3 hours before you exercise.
However, in some cases, you may not be able to get in a full meal 2–3 hours before working out.
In that case, then you can still eat a decent pre-workout meal. However, keep in mind that the sooner you eat before your workout, the smaller and simpler the meal should be.
If you eat 45–60 minutes prior to your workout, choose foods that are simple to digest and contain mainly carbs and some protein.
This will help prevent any stomach discomfort during exercise.
It’s recommended to consume a full meal 2–3 hours before your workout. For meals eaten closer to your workout, choose simpler carbs and some protein.
What Should I Eat 30 Minutes Before a Workout?
The best things to eat 30 minutes before a workout include oats, protein shakes, bananas, whole grains, yogurt, fresh fruit, and more.
Your pre-workout meal often depends on your choice of workout. Some people prefer doing a “fasted cardio.” This means they run, swim, cycle or jog on an empty stomach because it speeds up the burning of calories. For others, it is a must to munch on a little something before they work out.
Eating before a workout is especially recommended if you want to try resistance training, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or lifting weights. Each individual needs to try and determine their pre-workout meal.
An ideal pre-workout meal should be low in fat, moderate in protein, and high in complex carbs. This type of meal provides bursts of energy for a resistance workout and spares your muscles from breaking down.
Examples of a good pre-workout meal may include:
- During your workout, oats can act as a go-to pre-workout meal. Much like whole grains, they supply tons of energy that are released slowly.
- Any type of oats, such as steel-cut or whole, may provide a fantastic pre-workout meal. Have oatmeal with added raisins, mashed banana, figs, and some honey drizzled over it.
- Protein shakes
- Many studies have reported the potential of pre-workout protein consumption to boost athletic performance.
- Having protein shakes (in water or low-fat milk) just before exercising can increase muscle protein synthesis and is the best morning pre-workout meal.
- Bananas are considered the best morning pre-workout meal.
- Bananas have double the number of carbs compared to other fruits, such as apples and oranges, which means that they are a more substantial snack that could fuel a prolonged workout.
- Eating half a banana with peanut butter is a good way to add some protein and fat to your pre-workout meal. This may help stabilize blood sugar levels throughout your workout. You may add banana slices to some low-fat milk as well.
- Whole grains
- Whole grains are complex carbs that pack energy. The carbohydrates are slowly released into the bloodstream and help maintain blood sugar levels.
- This could enable you to sustain energy levels through an endurance workout longer than 40 minutes.
- Whole grain dishes include quinoa salads, millet bread, spiced yogurt, whole bread toast, etc.
- Yogurt and fresh fruit
- If you have about half an hour before your workout, unsweetened yogurt and fruit can be a practical snack. This is a good source of carbohydrates, some fluid, and nutrients too, making it the best morning pre-workout meal.
- Boiled eggs
- Boiled eggs are a great source of protein and their yolk has plenty of nutrition. Combine this with a slice of whole-wheat bread to boost your energy levels.
- Caffeine is one of the most tried-and-tested ways to boost energy.
- Strong coffee or an energy drink before a workout will give you a great boost.
- Studies have also shown caffeine has a positive impact on workouts for people who enjoy regular exercise sessions.
- Always have caffeine with some fruit, nuts, or toast to avoid the jitteriness that accompanies caffeine intake.
- Fresh smoothies are an ideal energy source because they are simple to prepare and provide the nutrients that you need before working out. Avoid sugar and include vegetables in smoothies. Add unsweetened yogurt to your smoothies to give them bulk and flavor.
If it’s been a while since your last meal and you want to boost your energy with a snack before a workout, try snacking on easy-to-digest carbs, such as grains, fruits or vegetables and protein (dairy, meat, or protein powders, such as collagen peptides or whey protein isolate). Bananas with peanut butter and Greek yogurt with some fruit are good snack options to eat 30 minutes to one hour before a workout.