The Best Pre-Workout Snacks for Muscle Gain
Chasing gains can take a lot of effort. Between planning workouts, your diet & supplements stack, as well as making time for the gym, you also need to think about your pre-workout snack.
Not only do you need to time this correctly, you also need to ensure that there is sufficient protein and carbs to keep you full of energy and get you through your session.
We know how busy life can get. That's why we have prepared this quick and easy list of the best pre-workout snacks for muscle gain.
Ready to feel the burn?
Why Eat a Pre-Workout Snack?
The purpose of a pre-workout snack is to give you energy and nutrients that will help you train harder and longer.
When you train, your body burns calories and uses the food you eat as fuel. If you don't eat enough calories, or if what you're eating isn't properly digested, your body will be forced to use muscle tissue as a source of energy.
By eating a pre-workout snack an hour before training, you're providing your body with the nutrients required to help you sustain energy levels through a workout. This can help prevent injury and ensure better performance during exercise.
When undertaking a high-intensity workout, such as sprinting or weight training, eating beforehand can be even more important. This is because your body will be burning through glycogen as an energy source, and will be tearing down muscle tissue during the exercise.
A pre-workout snack containing carbohydrates and protein can help prevent muscle break down and provide your body with the energy to perform at a high level for the duration of the entire workout.
What kinds of food should you eat pre-workout?
The type of food you eat before training depends on what type of exercise you are doing:
If it's high-intensity training, such as sprinting or weight lifting: choose foods that contain carbohydrates and protein. These kind of workouts usually last anywhere from 30 minutes - 1 hour and 15 miuntes.
If it's endurance training, such as long distance running: choose foods that contain carbohydrates and protein plus some healthy fats. The inclusion of fats will help slow down absorption, and help you sustain energy over a longer period of time.
The Role of Nutrients in Pre-Workout Nutrition
Pre-workout nutrition is important for many reasons.
To understand the role of nutrients in pre-workout nutrition, you first need to understand what happens when you workout.
When you exercise, your body needs energy in order to complete the physical activity at hand.
The goal of pre-workout nutrition is to give your body the fuel it needs to exercise at an optimal level while also avoiding excess calories that may cause weight gain or water retention.
As such, there are a few key nutrients that are important when it comes to pre-workout nutrition: protein, carbohydrates and low fat.
Carbohydrates are a macronutrient that provides energy to the body. Carbs are broken down into glucose, which is used to fuel muscles and the brain.
Carbohydrates are not only found in fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, but they are also found in milk products and protein sources such as meats and eggs.
Carbohydrates can be classified as simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates include refined sugars like table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Complex carbohydrates include fibre-rich foods such as whole grains, legumes and starchy vegetables like potatoes.
The role of carbohydrate intake before exercise has been well studied by researchers over the last few decades, with many studies showing improved performance when athletes consume carbohydrates before exercise compared to when they do not eat any carbohydrates before exercise.
This is important because exercise leads to a decrease in muscle glycogen stores which results in decreased endurance performance if these stores aren’t replenished before starting an exercise session.
Typically, the recommendation of carbohydrates is 1.8-3.6 grams per pound of body weight.
So, if Susan is 140 pounds, she would want to aim for 252 - 504 grams of carbs per day. If she was looking to gain muscle, she would aim for the highest amount.
However, if weight loss was Susan’s goal, she would aim for the lower end of the scale, distributing her carbs throughout her meals throughout the day.
For your pre-workout snacks, try to set aside around 30-60 grams of your daily carbohydrate allowance.
Protein consumed before a workout has been known to improve athletic performance and improve muscle recovery, mass, performance and strength.
As well as the many benefits for your muscles, consuming protein pre-workout helps to keep you fuller for longer so you won’t feel hungry during your workout.
Bringing it back to Susan, she should aim for around 15-25 grams of protein when eating her pre-workout meal and depending on her goals, aim for a higher amount of protein if wanting to lose weight and lower when trying to bulk up.
An easy way to remember this is to aim for 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight to maintain muscle mass.
Try to aim for as low fat as possible in your pre-workout snack as it digests slowly and can make you feel heavy and lethargic hence affecting your performance.
If You Are Body-Building…
For bodybuilding, you'll want to eat a high-protein meal about an hour or so before your workout. This will give your body time to digest and use the nutrients for muscle growth.
If you're not sure when to eat your pre-workout meal, try eating a meal with at least 20 grams of protein about 90 minutes before you exercise.
If you're going to be exercising for more than an hour, it's best to consume a meal with some carbs and fat before working out as well. This will help fuel your muscles and keep them from getting fatigued too quickly.
Some good choices include:
Eggs (or egg whites) with veggies and whole grains like oatmeal
Protein shake with fruit and yoghurt (or cottage cheese)
Lean beef with vegetables and brown rice
Why Eat Fruit Before a Workout?
Eating fruit before your workout as a snack can increase your performance and durability with the energy and nutrients that fruit contains.
Fruit absorbs excess acid, which aids in the relaxation of your stomach while suppressing your appetite and can enable you to replenish muscular glycogen reserves while also providing immediate nourishment to your active muscles.
Fruit can prevent low blood sugar, which can make you feel dizzy and lightheaded and provide a quick energy source.
The human body is made up of 60% water, so it's important to stay hydrated. One quick way to do this is by grabbing a piece of fruit; fruits contain vitamins and minerals that help keep your body healthy. Plus, fruit contains large amounts of water that can quench your thirst.
As a general guideline, the closest you get to your exercise, the lighter and smaller your meal or snack should be.
What Else Can I Eat as a Pre-Workout Snack?
Protein bars are one of the quickest and easiest snacks to grab and enjoy before your gym session. bars contain a large amount of protein to fuel your workout and boost your energy levels.
Protein balls are bite-sized pops of protein that are light on the stomach, high in fibre and keep your hunger in check.
If you’re on the go, rushing to the gym in the morning before you start your day or straight from work, a ready to drink protein shake would be a great pre-workout option. Your protein shake choice should include plenty of nutrients for fuel and a large protein content, you can get all you need in one bottle.
If you are an early riser and prefer to get your workout out of the way on a morning, porridge is a brilliant pre-workout breakfast.
Porridge includes complex carbs, which is not only a source of fibre but also digests slowly. To up your protein levels, you could add a scoop of your favourite protein powder.
If you don’t have much time to prep, you could always grab a porridge pot, add water and you are ready to go.
Chicken, Rice and Vegetables
If you're looking for a simple pre-workout meal with lots of protein, carbs and vegetables - then this is it!
The chicken provides plenty of protein and amino acids while the rice helps keep your blood sugar stable. Finally, broccoli contains some fibre which helps keep things moving through your gut during exercise.
Low Fat Chocolate Milk
Low-fat chocolate milk is a favourite beverage among athletes because of its carbohydrate and protein content, which helps fill energy stores.
For those who exercise in the morning, a time when most people are dehydrated from not having had anything to drink during their sleep, chocolate milk can help replace fluids lost through sweat.
Wholegrain Bread, Sweet Potato and Brown Rice
Wholegrain bread is one of the best pre workout snacks as it is rich in carbs, which are the primary source of energy when you are working out.
Brown rice is another great option to go with your sandwich. It's a complex carbohydrate that will help to replenish your glycogen supplies and provide your body with an extra surge of energy before you start exercising.
Sweet potato is also packed with carbs and provides a good amount of potassium, which helps to maintain normal blood pressure levels during exercise.
Eggs are loaded with protein, which helps repair and rebuild muscle tissue after a workout. They also contain vitamin B12 and iron, both needed for healthy red blood cells that deliver oxygen throughout your body.
Eggs are also rich in lecithin, which helps emulsify fats in the digestive system so they break down more easily, making them an ideal food for people who are lactose intolerant.
And if you add veggies like spinach or tomatoes to your omelettes, they'll provide extra antioxidants that protect against cell damage from oxidative stress.
Fruit with Greek Yogurt
Fruit and Greek Yogurt are the best combination. Fruit contains natural sugars which are easily digested by your body. These sugars will give you instant energy that can help you perform better during your workout.
Yogurt also contains natural sugars, but in addition, yogurt contains proteins which are essential for building muscles. Yogurt also has probiotics which help strengthen your immune system and decrease the risk of infections which could affect your performance during workouts.
Overnight oats with strawberries and walnuts
Cooking oatmeal takes time, but overnight oats let you get the benefits of slow-digesting carbs in a hurry. Just mix old-fashioned or steel cut oats with low-fat milk, sliced strawberries and walnuts, then eat it all chilled for breakfast!
Trail mixes usually consist of nuts, dried fruits, and seeds which provide an excellent source of protein, fibre, vitamins, and minerals.
The combination of these nutrients makes trail mix an ideal food for endurance athletes who need a sustained energy source to get them through long workouts.
Rice Cakes with Peanut Butter
Combining rice cakes with peanut butter is a great way to get both complex carbohydrates and protein before a workout.
Rice cakes are a low-calorie food that is easy to digest while peanut butter provides slow-burning energy to help you through long workouts.
Men’s Health suggest the below recipes for pre-workout snacks:
'Snack suggestions if you have more than 60-minutes pre-workout
Peanut butter banana honey sandwich: Spread 2 Tbsp of peanut butter on two slices of whole grain bread. Top with sliced banana and a drizzle of honey.
Fruit parfait: 1 cup of Greek yogurt, topped with 1 small handful of nuts, and 1 cup of berries. This combo offers protein from the yogurt, healthy fats, along with loads of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Cinnamon banana overnight oats: Combine 1/2 cup whole oats with 1 cup high-protein milk in a jar. Stash away in your fridge and let it soak overnight. Top with one sliced banana, 2 Tbsp of raisins, and cinnamon to taste.'
Realsimple.com recommends a 16-ounce green smoothie in her top 3 pre-workout snacks:
‘Smoothies can help give you an energy boost for cardio classes without making you feel overly stuffed.
Be sure to choose ingredients that provide a good balance of carbohydrates and protein," says Burgess.
For example, she recommends blending together half a frozen banana, 1 tablespoon peanut butter, 1 cup spinach, 1 scoop protein powder, and 1 cup almond milk.
"Since smoothies may pack in a higher number of calories and nutrients, aim to drink them two to three hours before your sweat session, she adds.’
Vitamin Boosting Drinks
What and When to Eat Before Your Workout
Pre-workout snacks are critical for gaining muscle. They're also important for reducing your risk of injury, and for getting the most out of your workouts.
If you're not eating before a workout, you're missing out on one of the best ways to fuel your body and maximize your gains.
Here are some quick tips that can help you make smart pre-workout snack choices:
- Pick carbs that digest slowly, such as rice or potatoes. These foods will provide you with slow-release energy that lasts long after your workout.
- Avoid foods like white bread, pasta or anything with refined sugar as they will spike your insulin levels quickly and send them crashing down again in a matter of minutes.
- Choose foods that contain protein
- Drink water! Dehydration can hinder performance in the gym and make it harder for your body to recover from exercise afterwards.
So when should you eat before a workout?
We have covered when you should eat before exercise in more detail, but as a general rule of thumb:
- Eat a pre-workout snack about 30 minutes before your workout.
- Eat a pre-workout meal around 90 minutes before you exercise.
Here are some of the reasons you want to fuel your body right:
1) It makes training more productive
2) It allows you to train harder and longer
3) Your muscles grow faster when they're fed properly