Does what you eat pre workout really matter? In our experience the answer is simple: yes it does.
When you really focus on the effect of pre workout food consumption; you will find that the food of choice and timing both matter significantly.
So what do you do? Spend ten to twenty hours researching the best methods for meeting your food requirements before a lift? No, you don’t; because we’ve done that for you and compiled a cheat sheet for you here. Tell your friends.
Determining the Best Pre Workout Meal or Snack
The first step to deciding what you should eat pre workout is to take a look at what time you have available to actually eat.
For those of you with schedules dynamic enough to pick your eating time; use the next few steps to determine what will work best for you.
Meal timing can effectively be broken down into 3 groups:
Depending on which timeslot you have open to eat, there are different recommendations. Essentially, the more time you have before you lift – the more food you eat. So let’s get started.
Thirty Minutes to One Hour before – Pre Workout Snack
If you have less than an hour to eat before working out, then its best to keep things light and fast digesting.
To do this, we want to keep the total quantity down and focus primarily on carbohydrates. If it’s possible, getting some quick digesting protein can be helpful; but if you’ve already eaten half-decent earlier in the day it isn’t critical.
Here are some suggestions for a pre workout snack, going from hardest to easiest to prepare.
Chicken or Turkey Wrap
- About 4 Oz Chicken/Turkey
- Whole grain/spinach/sprouted grain wrap
- Unsweetened fruit juice for natural carbs
- Note: the wrap can be replaced with a kale leaf
Cottage Cheese or Greek Yogurt with Fruit
- Half a cup of cottage cheese or Greek yogurt
- Half a cup of berries or other fruits like pineapple or banana
Protein Bar and Sports Drink
- Protein bar with around 20 grams protein
- Sports drink with around 50 grams carbs
Protein Shake and Banana
- Protein Shake with around 20 grams protein
- One large banana
There are many other options for pre workout snacks 30 minutes to an hour before lifting. The examples above are good reference points as to what you should go for.
Remember, for the pre workout snack we are trying to keep it light and fast digesting. Fats are to be avoided as much as possible, proteins moderate, and carbohydrates are the primary focus.
One to Two Hours before – Pre Workout Meal/Snack
This extra 30 to 90 minutes really counts for digestion. If you have one to two hours to eat some food before hitting the gym then you are in pretty good shape. However, fats still need to be kept to a minimum and protein cannot be overdone.
Here are some examples of Pre Workout Meals to eat from 1 to 2 hours before working out:
- 1-3 Organic Eggs
- Mix of veggies: green peppers, onions, mushrooms, etc.
- Sprouted grain bread, organic crackers, or naan bread
Oats and Protein Shake
- 1/2 cup Rolled Oats
- Roughly 20-30 grams whey protein
Classic PBJ, Protein Shake and a Banana
- Use almond butter if possible
- Use organic unsweetened Jelly if possible
- Around 20 grams Whey Protein
- One large banana
Mass Gainer Shake
- Under 600 calories (adjust serving approximately)
- We prefer real-foods, but if your bulking and must do it.
- More towards 2 hours before lifting, no less than 60 minutes
When you are able to eat 1-2 hours before working out, there are a lot more ‘normal’ options on the table. These are less pre workout snacks and more like meals. But again, we want to keep the fats to a minimum while allowing more protein and more carbohydrates (from good sources).
Two to Three Hours before – Legitimate Pre Workout Meal
Here is where we up the calories to the highest level. A lot of meals from the 1-2 hour range can be incorporated in here as well. If you have 2-3 hours before lifting to eat a meal, then it’s time to up muscle glycogen to the maximum.
Examples of Pre Workout Meals for 2-3 hours before lifting:
- Six ounces of chicken (grilled, baked, or pan cooked)
- Side of Broccoli (fresh never frozen)
- Rice or Sweet Potato
Eggs and Rice
- Three Scrambled Eggs
- One large serving of rice (boiled and then fried in butter)
- Add scrambled eggs to fried rice
- Add onions and veggies if possible
Tuna Wraps and a Banana
- Can of Tuna cooked in minimal butter and Cheese
- Whole grain/spinach/sprouted grain wrap
- Banana or some veggies on side
Organic Frozen Burritos
- 1-2 Organic burritos
- Cheese on top optional, Caesar dressing on side optional
- Veggies or banana on side
Really, at the 2-3 hour window you can get away with nearly anything. You only need to make sure that what you are eating is in line with your overall goals. No pressure.
What’s the Value of a Pre Workout Meal?
The main reason you are eating something at one of the times above is to increase your endurance and power as well as prevent muscle breakdown. This is achieved through maxing out you muscle glycogen, which are what carbohydrates are turned into for muscle cell use.
Why not just train fasted?
You can if your goal is to burn fat. If you are training fasted or following the ketogenic diet, you can opt for exogenous ketones before exercise instead of food, to maintain a state of ketosis.
Yes, eating a pre workout meal or snack is important for fat loss too.
Want to lose fat? Besides supplementation, you’ve got to nurture your muscle cells and keep your hormones in check. In a nutshell, the more muscle you have the higher your resting metabolic rate is. If you start dieting too much and start decreasing your muscle mass, you are effectively lowering your resting metabolic rate. The higher your metabolic rate is, the more calories you burn naturally.
Is there anything else I can do to have a better workout?
So you’ve got a grip on what to eat 30 minutes to 3 hours before working out. What else can you do to lift more or last longer in the gym? The kind of stuff that ultimately builds muscle or burns fat (even both).
Something that we like to do is take pre workout supplements. These are specially made powder drinks that contain multiple ingredients that can increase energy, endurance, and strength. They are not for everybody, but if you actively body build and are looking for more energy in the gym, this is the next best thing in addition to getting your meals and sleep schedule in check.