When Should You Eat a Pre-Workout Meal?
If you're struggling to sustain the energy levels needed to finish your workout strong, or find yourself crashing halfway through - you need to assess what you eat, and when you eat your pre-workout meal.
If you're not eating enough of the right foods, you won't have the energy needed to workout. Likewise, if you're eating too much, too close to your workout, you're setting yourself up for an uncomfortable gym session.
In this post we're going to break down pre-workout nutrition and tell you the best time to eat your pre-workout meal, to maximise your gains and performance.
Why You Should Eat Before a Workout
Whether you're a bodybuilder, a professional athlete, or just looking to have a great workout, pre-workout nutrition is important.
Eating a pre-workout meal or snack before you exercise gives your body the energy it needs to complete your workout.
If you're not eating something before you hit the gym, there's a good chance that you'll fatigue quicker, have less energy, and won't be able to perform as you'd like. When mid-workout hunger kicks in, this might enough be enough for you to cut your workout short.
The ideal time to eat prior to exercise depends on how long you plan on working out and what type of activity you'll be doing.
Benefits of a Pre-Workout Meal
1 - Increased performance
When you exercise, your body uses glucose as an energy source. Glucose is absorbed by eating carbohydrates and stored in the muscle as glycogen. If you do not have enough glycogen in your muscles, your body won't have enough energy to fuel your workout.
So, not only is the pre-workout meal important, but your overall diet is important if you want to maximise your efforts in the gym.
A pre-workout meal can help reduce your glycogen being depleted too quickly, and also fight off hunger when you train.
2 - Prevent Muscle Breakdown
When you lift weights, you are damaging the muscle. Your muscles get bigger and stronger by recovering after a workout when you rest. Not when you're in the gym.
To fuel this recovery, your body undergoes a process called protein synthesis. This is why eating enough protein is required to both maintain and build muscle.
Eating a pre-workout meal containing protein will help reduce muscle protein breakdown and prevent your body going into a catabolic state. Catabolic is when your body is using muscle as a fuel source. Definitely not what we want.
3 - Prevent Fatigue and Tiredness
Eating a good quality pre-workout meal will energise your body, reducing how early you fatigue, and reduce tiredness throughout the workout.
If you find you are feeling overly tired early in a workout, it could be that you are actually eating too many carbohydrates before you exercise.
Drinking caffeinated pre-workout drinks can also help you sustain energy levels through a workout.
What to Eat in a Pre-Workout Meal?
It’s important to choose nutrient-dense foods that provide sustained energy and fuel your body for a workout.
Carbohydrates help your body store and use energy by increasing blood sugar levels. If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, your body will use protein for energy instead, which can lead to muscle breakdown and fatigue. Carbohydrates also help maintain normal blood glucose levels and aid in the synthesis of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the muscles during exercise.
Protein provides amino acids, which are essential for building muscles and repairing damaged muscle fibers after exercise. Protein also helps increase lean muscle mass, which is important because muscle burns more calories than fat when at rest.
Fat slows down digestion so you feel full longer, allowing you to make better food choices throughout the day without getting hungry between meals. However you do not want to eat too much fat before a workout.
When Should You Eat Before a Workout?
You should eat a pre-workout meal about 1 to 2 hours before you exercise. If you have a very large meal, it may take longer for your body to digest it, so you may need to give yourself more time or opt for a pre-workout snack.
In general, the further away from your workout you eat, the more likely you are to feel full and satisfied before and during your workout. If you eat too close to your workout, there's a greater chance that you'll feel uncomfortably full during the workout.
Here are some factors that influence when you should eat before a workout:
How long will your workout last?
You don't want to eat too much before working out because it could make you feel bloated or nauseous during the workout. But if your workout will last for more than an hour, try eating something small about half an hour beforehand. A piece of fruit or a small snack like trail mix or low-fat granola bars can help keep blood sugar stable throughout the workout.
Type of Activity:
When you exercise will influence how much fuel you need to sustain the activity. For example, if you're planning on performing high intensity interval training or sprinting then carbohydrates are essential. However, if you're going for a long run then fats can be just as effective at fuelling your body.
In endurance sports, it’s important to consume enough carbohydrates in the hour before exercise to boost muscle glycogen levels. This will allow you to start your workout with a full tank of fuel and prevent an early crash in performance. In strength training, eating a carbohydrate-rich meal (or snacks) can help maintain blood glucose during exercise, which may improve muscle endurance during high-intensity workouts.
For more information take a look at this study conducted by Michael J. Ormsbee, Christopher W. Bach and Daniel A. Baur on Pre-Exercise Nutrition: The Role of Macronutrients, Modified Starches and Supplements on Metabolism and Endurance Performance.
Your Energy Needs.
If you're just starting an exercise routine, your body may not burn as many calories as it does when you're more fit. As a result, you may need more fuel to keep going through your workout. On the other hand, if you've been exercising for years and are already in great shape, your body probably doesn't need as much food to keep going through a typical workout.
Your body's digestive rate:
How quickly does your body digest and absorb food? For some people, digestion takes longer than others, depending on age, gender and activity level, which affects how long it takes for food to become available as energy once it enters the bloodstream.
Option 1: Consuming a Pre-Workout Meal 2-3 Hours Before Exercise
Your pre-workout meal is arguably the most important meal of the day. It is best to consume a pre-workout meal 2-3 hours before you exercise. This gives your body enough time to digest and absorb all the nutrients in your food before you begin your workout.
A well-balanced meal should include carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats.
The benefits of having a well-balanced meal a few hours before a workout include:
Digestion – Having a well-balanced meal a few hours before you workout will ensure that your meal is digested and the nutrients are available to use, which could lead to you working out at a higher intensity.
Longer Workout Time – You could potentially work out for longer as the slow releasing nutrients give you energy throughout your session.
Recommended pre-workout meals
Chicken, Rice and Vegetables
For a simple pre-workout meal that provides plenty of protein, carbs and vegetables, try this chicken stir fry. The chicken's amino acids will help fuel your muscles while the rice helps keep your blood sugar stable and broccoli contains fibre to move things along through your digestive system.
Wholegrain Bread, Sweet Potato and Brown Rice
Whole-grain bread is a good source of carbohydrates, nutrients that fuel physical activity.
Brown rice is another great option to go with your sandwich. It's a complex carbohydrate that will help replenish glycogen supplies and provide an extra surge of energy before you start exercising.
Sweet potatoes are also loaded with carbs and provide a substantial amount of potassium, which helps to keep blood pressure under control while exercising.
Eggs contain protein and vitamins needed for muscle tissue repair and red blood cell production.
Eggs are rich in lecithin, which helps break down fats during digestion so those who lack the enzymes to do so can eat them.
Adding spinach or tomatoes to your omelette will give you the benefits of extra antioxidants, which help protect against cell damage from oxidative stress.
Option 2: Having a Pre-Workout Snack 30-60 Minutes Before Exercise
When it comes to pre-workout snacks, timing is crucial.
If you exercise in the morning, it's best to have a snack 30 minutes to 60 minutes before exercise. This allows enough time for the food to digest before you start your workout.
A smaller, easily digestible snack closer to the workout is best because it helps to maintain blood sugar levels and energy levels during exercise.
Choose foods that are high in carbohydrates such as fruits and grains and moderate in protein and fat.
To avoid stomach upset or cramping during exercise, avoid eating too much fibre or drinking large amounts of water with your snack.
Good options of pre-workout snacks would be…
Bananas are easy to eat and contain carbohydrates, the perfect fuel for workouts. They also provide you with a large amount of potassium, which supports muscle function.
Apple Wedges and Peanut Butter
Peanut butter and apple slices make a great pre-workout snack: quick, tasty, and packed with nutrients.
Apple provides a source of slow-digesting carbohydrates, which are perfect for fuelling workouts.
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.
We would recommend Barebells Protein bars, available in 11 different flavours to choose from and a ranging from 15-20g of protein. We would highly recommend the best-selling Caramel Cashew, Salty Peanut or Cookies & Cream.
If you aren’t sure what flavour to try first, you could try the Barebells Mixed case taster box which features 6 bars in various popular flavours.
You can also Subscribe and save with the Barebells Protein Bars Bulk Bundle including 36 bars of your choice of best-selling flavours. Choose your delivery frequency anywhere from every 7 days-90 days.
If you want to fuel your workout with a protein shake, drinking one before a trip to the gym is easy. Just pick one that packs all of the nutrients and energy you need in one bottle, so there’s no need for another snack later on!
We would recommend one of Barebell’s ready to drink protein shakes, available in Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry, Raspberry and Banana flavours.
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.
If you don’t have much time to prep, you could always grab a porridge pot, add water and you are ready to go.
Listen to YOUR Body
If you're trying to lose weight or get leaner, then timing your meals can have an impact on your results.
The good news is that by following these simple guidelines, you'll be able to find the best meal timing strategy for yourself, whether you're trying to gain muscle or lose fat.
In the end, finding the right timing for your pre-workout meal is a personal journey.
Some people feel energised with a full meal a couple of hours before hitting the gym, while others prefer a smaller snack closer to their workout.
The key is to experiment and listen to your body. Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to fitness and nutrition.
So, find what works best for you, fuel up, and get ready to crush your workouts!
Additional Tips for Pre-Workout Nutrition:
Hydration helps with performance, recovery and even weight loss. Dehydration can lead to dizziness, fatigue and a loss of concentration, not ideal when you're about to hit the gym.
During exercise, it's important to make sure that blood flow is directed to the working muscles so they can get the oxygen they need to contract and relax quickly. This is called muscle perfusion. If you're dehydrated when you exercise, blood flow can be diverted away from your muscles to other areas of your body, such as your skin and brain, which also need blood flow. This can lead to reduced performance or even cramps or other injuries during exercise.
It's best to drink plenty of water throughout the day so that your body is well-hydrated before you exercise. But if you're particularly active or it's hot outside, you may need more fluids than usual.
A pre-workout supplement is a substance designed to be taken before exercise to enhance the results of the workout.
The most common ingredients in these supplements are caffeine, creatine, amino acids and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs).
We would recommend NOCCO BCAA Energy drinks before your workout.
Produced by the No Carbs Company, NOCCO Energy Drinks are sugar free, carbonated, ready-to-drink beverages packed with BCAAs and vital vitamins. NOCCO BCAA drinks are low-calorie bursts of energy to help fuel your muscles during exercise and aid in muscle repair.
NOCCO is available in delicious flavours such as Caribbean, Blood Orange, Juicy Melba, Ramonade and Limon Del Sol.
There are many potential benefits to taking a pre-workout supplement before your workout:
- Helps increase energy levels for more productive workouts.
- Improves endurance during training sessions by increasing oxygen flow to working muscles through increased blood flow.
- Increases muscle mass by stimulating protein synthesis (the process by which cells build proteins) and increasing muscle glycogen stores.
Consider Post-Workout Nutrition for Optimal Recovery and Muscle Growth
Post-workout meals and snacks are the most important meal of the day for anyone trying to build muscle.
You’ve just spent an hour or two in the gym, breaking down your muscles and forcing them to grow. Your body has been depleted of energy stores, so it needs to be refuelled with protein and carbs.
The post-workout meal is critical because it kick-starts muscle growth by providing your body with the nutrients it needs to repair damaged tissues and build new ones. Post-workout nutrition helps you recover faster and makes sure that you get the most out of your next workout.
After a tough workout, we recommend eating within 30 minutes after exercise. This is because your body is primed for refuelling right after exercise due to something called “muscle breakdown.” When you work out hard, your muscles experience micro-tears that need repairing immediately after training so they can grow stronger next time around!
What Should I Eat After a Workout?
After a workout, your body needs to be replenished with protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats. If you don't feed your body after exercise, then it won't be able to absorb all the nutrients from the food you eat throughout the rest of the day. That's why it's important to take in 20-30 grams of protein immediately after working out. Your body can only absorb about 15 grams at one time, so spreading out your post-workout nutrition over several meals or snacks is better.
The Best Time To Eat Your Pre-Workout Meal
So, it's obvious we have a few different options.
A general rule of thumb is to aim to eat your pre-workout meal around 2 hours before a workout.
If you're rushed for a time - aim for a lighter pre-workout snack.
Remember that your pre workout meal should be a mix of carbs and protein primarily, with minimal fats as a general rule of thumb.
Take a look at our collection of post-workout snacks to ensure that you get your protein in after your workout.