What to Eat Before a Workout

You should eat before a workout to make sure your muscles work to the fullest. In this regard, it’s important to choose the right carbohydrates and proteins.
What to Eat Before a Workout

Last update: 17 April, 2021

Watching what you eat before, during, and after a workout is very important in order to improve the quality of your workouts and your body composition. If you exercise, this article will definitely interest you, as you’ll learn what you should eat before a workout.

Remember that, along with rest, food is essential to ensure recovery. It’ll also allow you to maximize performance and reduce the risk of muscle injury. You shouldn’t neglect this important aspect if you’re thinking of exercising.

What to eat before a workout

Whether or not to eat before a workout depends a lot on your goals, the time that’s passed since your last meal, and what exactly you ate. For example, if fat loss is your main goal and you’re doing moderate intensity activities, the ideal pre-workout meal in most cases is none. On the other hand, if your goal is to build muscle mass, training on an empty stomach probably won’t help you at all.

In order to avoid possible gastric and intestinal problems that could affect your performance and jeopardize sports practice, experts usually recommend not eating excessively fatty foods before exercising.

Pre-workout meals do the following:

  • Increase hepatic and muscular glycogen and circulate blood glucose levels. The latter is the main energy substrate in bodybuilding training sessions.
  • Release amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, into the bloodstream so they can be available during training and, thus, reduce muscle catabolism.
  • Prevent insulin resistance and inflammation in the post-exercise recovery phase.
  • Optimize post-exercise recovery. According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, consuming proteins is essential in order to repair damaged tissues after sports practice.

Carbohydrate intake

A person eating pasta.
You must be careful with the types of carbohydrates you eat before a workout.

You should prioritize carbohydrate consumption before working out. During physical activity, glycogen stores are so important that low levels, less than 1g/100g of muscle, significantly decrease sports performance.

However, you have to be careful with the types of carbohydrates you eat. In fact, some sources of carbohydrates require long digestion processes, due to:

  • Their low glycemic index
  • Lipid content
  • The resistant starch they contain
  • The high amounts of fiber they contain
  • Consuming them right after a workout

Thus, eating them can negatively affect your performance, as you’ll start training while still digesting the food you just ate. This means they won’t be an available energy source while you’re exercising.

This is why the most recommended carbohydrate sources are pre-digested hydrolyzed disaccharides or polysaccharides. For example, you can cover these needs by consuming 20 to 30 grams (1 oz) of carbohydrates, such as a banana, flour from a hydrolyzed cereal, or maltodextrin from rice, corn, or potato.

However, if you eat a lot of carbohydrates throughout the day, your needs decrease. On the other hand, if there’s an energy restriction, this intake is more relevant.

According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, you can consume carbohydrates during sports practice through beverages. This facilitates lost glycogen replenishment and reduces the need to consume a lot of carbohydrates beforehand.

Eat protein before a workout

Consuming protein before a workout is a way to release amino acids into the bloodstream to increase muscle protein synthesis and prevent breakdown.

If your pre-workout meal is a main meal, meaning breakfast, lunch, a snack, or dinner, you can make a proportional intake of protein of the total amount you should consume per day. For example, if you eat 100 grams (4 oz) of protein a day, spread over four meals, you eat 25 grams (1 oz) per meal.

If you want to make an exclusive pre-workout meal, you can eat 30 grams of protein. You could resort to whey protein or simply eat some high protein food.

Remember that experts have shown that ensuring a proper protein intake significantly affects muscle recovery and hypertrophy.

A woman drinking a protein shake.

Fats

It’s important to reduce your fat intake before a workout, as fats delay gastric emptying. In other words, they slow down digestion. Therefore, you should avoid fatty foods or fatty sauces. If you’re going to eat 30 minutes before a workout, make sure you don’t consume more than three to four grams of fat.

Supplements

You can take many supplements before a workout, but the most useful supplement that can boost your performance is caffeine. To reap benefits from it, experts recommend consuming three to nine mg/kg of weight 60 minutes before your workout. The best options are capsules or powders. You have to regulate the dose, since each person has a specific caffeine sensitivity.

It could be very important to eat before a workout

You definitely can eat before a workout. It isn’t prohibited nor contraindicated. What experts do recommend is designing the meal wisely to make sure it doesn’t negatively affect your exercise.

You must be careful with the carbohydrates that you choose and buy proteins that help your muscles to work. It’s best to avoid fats if you can. If you want to choose a pre-workout supplement, caffeine is a great option.

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  • West DWD., Sawan SA., Mazzulla M., Williamson E., et al., Whey protein supplementation enhances whole body protein metabolism and performance recovery after resistance exercise: a double blind crossover study. Nutrients, 2017.
  • Trommelen J., Fuchs CJ., Beelen M., Lenaerts K., Jeukendrup AE., Cermak NM., et al., Fructose and sucrose intake increase exogenous carbohydrate oxidation during exercise. Nutrients, 2017.
  • Yoshii N., Sato K., Ogasawara R., Kurihara T., et al., Relationship between dietary protein or essential amino acid intake and training induced muscle hypertrophy among older individuals. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol, 2017. 63 (6): 379-388.