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Pre-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat Before a Workout

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Eating just the right amount before you gear up for the workout is essential to accelerate your transformation. All workout and scarce food is not the way to go. Athletes seek ways to better their performance and achieve goals and so do the fitness freaks. They are conscious of the fact that acquiring proper nutrition helps the body to perform better and recover at a faster rate after the workout. Nutrient intake in an appropriate way is always fruitful, for instance, eating before exercise will not only help you improve your performance but also diminish muscle damage.

Exercising on an empty stomach will not really help as working out in a fasting state might burn more fat but it could also utilize your muscle mass for energy, thereby making your health and fitness attempts counterproductive. Filling in your body with nutrients before exercise will only give you the required strength and energy. It is imperative for you to know that every macronutrient has a particular role before a workout. But the ratio and proportion in which you have to take these macronutrients differ and is based on the individual and the type of exercise he/she does.

Macronutrients That Your Body Needs Before A Workout

The main macros that our body needs are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Yes, you must avoid unhealthy fats and simple carbs, but otherwise, you need all the three to help your body function adequately. So, let’s see how these macronutrients help you during your workout.

Carbohydrates: Muscles extract the glucose from carbohydrates for fuel. Glycogen stores glucose in the liver and the muscles. These glycogen stores are the key source of energy for both low and high-intensity exercise. However, the case is different for longer exercises. For them, the extent to which carbohydrates are used depends on various factors including intensity, type of training and your overall diet.

Why Carbs Are Important: Consuming carbohydrates in the right measure before a workout will ensure that the body has enough energy to perform better. This is true for people engaging in resistance and cardiovascular exercises.

Proteins: Protein gives amino acids, and both are necessary for a wide range of bodily functions, including the building, maintenance, and revamping muscle fibers. Thus, eating a meal that has a considerable amount of lean protein before exercising can help to improve performance. Also, eating protein either alone or with carbohydrates can increase muscle protein synthesis.

Why Proteins Are Important: Intense resistance exercise has the potential to damage the muscles, but what consuming protein does is that it increases the number of amino acids in the body. These work to reduce decay, synthesize muscle proteins, and propel growth. Consuming 20–30 grams of protein before a workout can result in an increased rate of muscle protein synthesis. Protein can increase the amount of muscle mass gained from a resistance workout.

Fats: Unlike carbohydrates, fat is the source of fuel for moderate to low-intensity exercise. Some studies have evaluated the impact of fat intake on athletic performance. However, these studies looked at high-fat diets over a long period, rather than before exercise.

Why Fats Are Important: Generally, it is recommended to have protein and carbohydrate-rich foods before a workout. But it is important to include healthy fats in your overall diet. Also, note that not all fats are healthy. Fats like saturated fats can be detrimental for your health. Doctors usually advise against consuming high-fat meals before exercise because the body digests fats more slowly than carbohydrates implying that the body may not be able to break down and absorb fats before a workout begins.

What Percent of Macros Do You Need?

Whether it is an endurance exercise or a high-intensity one, you need to maintain the number of carbs, proteins, and fats you intake for optimum functioning of your bones, muscles, and brain. As mentioned, you require fats to fuel light to moderate endurance exercises, carbs for high-intensity exercises, and protein for muscle strength and recovery. But you must sustain a percent or a balanced quantity of each macronutrient. Scientists have found that 30% carbs, 30% fat, 20% protein, and the rest 20% distributed amongst the three macros, depending on the type of exercise (endurance or high intensity), can help enhance exercise performance.

Pre-Workout Meal – Timing And What To Eat

When it comes to having a pre-workout meal, timing is very important. And if you play by the rules, you will for sure see a change in your performance, productivity, and body composition. So, let me tell you what the pre-workout meal timing guidelines are. However, please note that everyone is different, and it is advised to try out different meals/snack at different times while training.

  • Meals comprising all the macros (carbs, proteins, and fats) should be consumed 1-4 hours before working out.
  • Snacks consisting of carbohydrates and some protein should be consumed 1-2 hours prior workout. Fruit or yogurt can be taken 45-60 minutes before a workout.
  • You can drink any of the carb+protein drinks available in the market 30 minutes before the workout. However, make sure you have a word with your dietitian to find out if this kind of drink is appropriate for your workout.
  • The closer you are to your workout, the more simple your nutrition should be. You should avoid high-fiber and high-fat foods, which can cause gastrointestinal (GI) disturbance.

Pre-Workout Sample Meals

1. Workout Starts Within An Hour Or Less

  • One banana/apple/orange
  • Black coffee and a multigrain biscuit
  • A cup of Greek yogurt and a peach

2. Workout Starts Within Two Hours

  • A piece of bread with a tablespoon of sunflower/almond butter.
  • A medium bowl of oatmeal with apple slices or banana and papaya.
  • Protein powder with milk and berries.

3. Workout Starts Within Two To Three Hours

  • Mushroom soup with veggies and rice.
  • One whole wheat flatbread, chickpeas curry, and sautéed/boiled veggies.
  • Lean protein, sweet potato, and grilled veggies with toasted nuts.

10 Best Foods to Eat Before a Workout

1. Egg White Omelet And Potatoes

Egg white omelet is loaded with protein and is low in fat helping prevent any GI disturbance. Throw in some onion, tomato, bell peppers, and potatoes to have a protein and good carb-rich food before your workout. You can have it within the two-three hours or one-two hours window.

2. Smoothies

Smoothies are a great way to get ready for a high-intensity or high-endurance exercise. This is also a meal replacement option, and you can have it within two to three hours of working out. Or if you are in the one-hour window, do not have a heavy smoothie. You can make a quick smoothie by blending banana, milk, berries, dark cocoa or spinach, avocado, and coconut water.

3. Bananas

Sweet and delicate, bananas are a great way to refuel your energy reserves if you have missed out the two-three hours or two-hour window of pre-workout nutrition. They are loaded with good carbs and potassium, are moderate in calories and filling, and give an instant energy boost. However, avoid eating a banana minutes before working out.

4. Brown Rice/Boiled Sweet Potato And Lean Protein

Have this when your workout starts after two to three hours. Brown rice is a low GI grain and loaded with dietary fiber. Always have boiled sweet potato as it has lower GI than baked or grilled sweet potato and is a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Lean protein like tofu, mushroom, fish, and chicken breast will help your muscles recover sooner and prevent muscle injury.

5. Oatmeal And Berries

This is a meal replacement. If you cannot find chicken or veggies and other lean protein sources in your kitchen, just have a bowl of oatmeal and berries. You can have it within the two to three hours window.

6. Greek Yogurt And Fruit

This hearty combo would be considered a meal. You can have it within the two to three hours window.

7. Homemade Low Sugar Protein Bars

Stay away from the “low-cal” protein bars available in the market. They can be high in added sugar (in different and hidden forms) and may not be the best fuel for you. But if you are in the habit of consuming a protein bar just 30 minutes before your workout, make it at home. You can make low sugar protein bars by adding muesli, oats, nuts, seeds, honey, almond butter, milk, and coconut flour. Mix them, shape them, and bake or freeze them.

8. Protein Shakes

If you are always on the go and don’t have the option of consuming healthy protein-rich food that has an adequate amount of carbs and fats as well, you can bank on protein shakes. If you are in the two to a three-hour window, add milk, banana, berries, avocado, and nuts to make a filling meal substitute. But if you are within the 60-minute window, just have it with milk and a handful of dry fruits.

9. Chicken With Steamed/Grilled Veggies And Wild Rice

Steamed or grilled skinless chicken breast is a good source of lean protein, and wild rice offers a healthy dose of carbohydrates. Veggies are loaded with dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Add a good source of fat like avocado, nuts, or olive oil. You can have it two to three hours before your workout starts

10. Wheat Bread, Avocado, Ricotta Cheese

Have this two to three hours before your workout starts. Wheat bread is a source of good carbs, avocado contains healthy fats, and ricotta cheese is a source of protein. You can also have a piece of wheat bread, almond butter, banana slices, and a few melon seeds.

Pre-Workout Supplements that Really Work

You might have seen people using supplements to boost their performance but never considered taking them yourself. But if you have set a goal to run and win a marathon/triathlon or want to participate in a sports competition, you may need to supplement your diet to help build the required muscle strength and heal faster. Here are a few supplements that can work for you:

  1. Creatinine – Creatinine can help improve muscle power, strength, and endurance. And it acts by generating more energy molecules (ATP) in your body, thereby preventing you from running out of fuel to do the exercises with precision and energy. You can have 2-5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day. However, consult your trainer/dietitian before taking it as higher doses can be fatal.
  2. Beta Alanine – This supplement helps in both high intensity and endurance exercises. It helps to reduce muscle weakness and soreness and allows improvement in performance and the ability to workout longer. A great natural source of beta-alanine is beets, which can also be found as beet powder and beet juice.
  3. Caffeine – The main sources of caffeine are coffee, tea, energy drinks, and pre-workout supplements. Its effect kicks in within 15-60 minutes after you take it and has been seen to improve performance.
  4. Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) – These refer to three amino acids – leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Scientists have found that taking BCAAs before and after exercise can help prevent muscle damage and promote muscle protein synthesis. Research is still mixed, so please consult your trainer/dietitian before taking it.

Many times, the supplement companies use a combination of these supplements and other nutrients to give the muscles required strength and power. However, always keep in mind that supplements are not regulated by the FDA and may not contain the amounts or ingredients listed on the bottle. Always look for a third party certification.

Water!!

Yes, when it comes to enhancing exercise performance and endurance, hydration is very important. You must drink 1-2 liters of water 3-4 hours before working out or 8 ounces of water 15 minutes before working out and during. Dehydration can seriously hamper your workout routine, so make sure you drink enough water.

Benefits of Pre-Workout Nutrition

  • Can improve muscle strength.
  • Can improve muscle endurance.
  • Can boost muscle recovery.
  • Can provide you with more energy during your workout.
  • Can reduce the chances of injury.
  • Can increase the effectiveness of your workout.
  • Can improve muscle power.
  • Can improve lung capacity.
  • Can prevent muscle cramps.

Take Home Message

It is clear that you need to eat balanced foods before a workout. Keep the macros, water, supplements, and meal timing in mind to get the best benefits. So, get ready with your pre-workout nutrition plan and rock your next workout session. Cheers!

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