Whilst many people before a workout choose to fast in an attempt to burn and lose body fat, this is actually not the best way to get the results you are looking for from your exercise regime. If you are looking to perform and train at your best, you need to make sure your body has enough fuel to do so. If you fail to provide yourself with the energy and nutrients required during exercise, the chances are you will not see the results you want as quickly as you should.
Furthermore, over a long period of time, the likelihood of becoming ill or injured will be increased.
Three reasons to eat pre-work
1. It gives you more energy
Our bodies use carbohydrates and glycogen as the first source of fuel. This is because carbohydrates and stored glycogen can be converted into ATP (adenoise triphosphate, i.e. energy) faster than protein and fat. Therefore, filling up your glycogen stores pre-workout will mean you will have more energy to perform at your best.
2. Prevent Muscle Catabolism
When we exercise, glycogen stores are quickly used up and depleted, so the body looks for new sources of energy – our muscles. By breaking down hard-earned muscle, the body can utilise amino acids for energy. This is bad, as it puts our bodies into a catabolic state, which can prevent muscle growth and recovery.
3. Increase Muscle Anabolism
Eating the right foods pre-workout means you will not only top up your glycogen stores, but by eating a good source of protein, you will also be able to promote muscle-protein synthesis and create an anabolic environment in the body.
What and When to Eat prior to a Workout
In every meal, you need to consider the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fats. You also need to consider the ratio in which you are eating them.
Carbohydrates: There are two types of carbohydrates: simple, high glycaemic index carbohydrates, and complex, low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates. The best type really depends on your goal and the time of your pre-workout meal.
Simple carbohydrates are great for 30 minutes to an hour before a workout, as they provide the body with fast-acting glucose as fuel. However, complex carbohydrates also play a role within energy metabolism. By consuming low GI carbohydrates around 2-3 hours before a workout, you can give your body a slow-releasing source of energy. This means you will be able to work out for longer and be less likely to have a dip in your blood sugar levels in the middle of your workout.
Fats: Pre-workout, it is best to avoid too much fat. This is because, although high in energy with 9k cal per gram, fats are slow-digesting. This means, instead of making you energetic, they can actually make you feel sluggish and heavy.
Protein: Pre-workout meals containing protein provide us with a major benefit – the prevention of muscle catabolism. By consuming a good source of protein before a workout, you can give your body the amino acids (branched-chain amino acids in particular) that it needs to prevent muscle breakdown, whilst aiding muscle recovery and growth.
2 – 3 hours pre-workout: Consume a meal around 400- 500 calories containing a good source of protein (around 20g) and complex low GI carbohydrates (20-30g).
30 minutes to an hour pre-workout: Consume light meals and foods which contain simple carbohydrates and some protein.
Ten of the best Pre-Workout Foods
Bananas are a great source of natural sugars, simple carbohydrates, and potassium. In the body, potassium is only stored for a limited amount of time, so try consuming a banana around 30 minutes to an hour before your workout. Eating a banana pre-workout is an ideal way to boost your glycogen stores and increase blood sugar levels.
Blueberries are a great complex carbohydrate which can provide the body with energy for workout. In addition, blueberries contain high amounts of water, which help to keep you hydrated during exercise.
They also contain antioxidants such as anthocyanins that protect the body from oxidation, the primary cause of ageing.
3. Chicken, Rice and Vegetables
Regarded as a classic pre-workout meat, chicken, rice and vegetables combines lean protein and complex carbohydrates, and can provide amino acids to promote anabolism (muscle growth) and a slow-releasing source of energy. Consume a meal like this around 2-3 hours before a workout.
4. Dried Fruit and Greek Yoghurt
Dried fruit is high in sugar and high in calories. When it comes to dieting, dried fruit is generally avoided; however, this food is great to be consumed in measured amounts pre-workout to give a quick source of simple sugar. Consuming dried fruit with Greek yogurt can also provide the body with a source of protein to help optimise your workout. Consume a meal like this 1-1.5 hours before a workout.
5. Fruit Smoothies
Whilst smoothies do provide a series of micronutrients that are beneficial for health and well-being, they are also full of sugars, including fructose. This means that smoothies are often high in calories and what are often mistaken as drinks are actually meal replacements.
However, consuming a fruit smoothie pre-workout is a great pre-workout meal option that can provide you with a good source of fast-acting glucose.
Omelettes made using whole eggs and egg whites are a great source of muscle-building protein and amino acids. Omelettes should be consumed 2-3 hours before a workout to avoid muscle catabolism and promote muscle growth.
7. Porridge and Oatmeal
Porridge and oatmeal not only contains complex carbohydrates, but it is also a source of the soluble fibre, beta-glucan. By consuming oats around 2 hours before a workout, you will be able to satisfy your hunger throughout your workouts whilst getting a great source of slow-releasing energy.
8. Protein shakes
A quick protein shake can provide a “fix” if you are on the move or in a hurry. By consuming a shake with a good source of fast-releasing protein, such as whey protein, with simple carbohydrates like maltodextrin powder, you can get all the pre-workout nutrients you need in a matter of minutes.
9. Sweet potato
Sweet potato is a great source of complex carbohydrate, and is low on the glycaemic index, meaning that it provides sustainable energy. Sweet potatoes are also rich in fibre, helping your body process the sugars, resulting in a steady supply of energy, for longer periods.
10. Wholegrain Bread, Sweet Potato and Brown Rice
Wholegrain Bread, sweet potato, and brown rice are rich sources of carbohydrates that should be consumed around 2-3 hours pre-workout. Combining these foods with a good source of protein means you will get a good source of slow-releasing energy to fuel you throughout a whole workout. Carbohydrates should be consumed by all those physically active but, in particular, those who carry out regular endurance activities such as cycling and running.