If you take your road to fitness seriously, you should pay special attention to your pre-workout meals. An optimal pre-workout meal is one that prepares your body to handle your training efficiently and in its entirety. You should never have to hold back the intensity of your workouts because you’re running low on energy.
The main purposes of the pre-workout meal are: a) ensuring a proper availability of amino acids to the muscles; b) preventing hypoglycaemia and associated symptoms; c) supplying energy for the workout; d) avoiding hunger or gastrointestinal discomfort during workout.
It is advised that people have their pre-workout meal 60 to 90 minutes before the workout. You should focus on eating a good protein and carbohydrate source, but not any kind of carbohydrate source. Go for low glycemic index (GI) foods, such as oats, whole grain bread, sweet potato, brown rice or low-GI fruits (grapefruits, cherries, apples and pears).
This way you’ll allow for a sustained release of glucose to the bloodstream (read: sustained release of energy). If you eat high glycemic foods – such as cookies, white rice and white bread – your blood sugar levels will spike and then suddenly go down. It’s not the best strategy to hit the gym at the peak of blood sugar levels, as they will inevitably fall again after a short while, leaving you lethargic and tired.
As for protein, you can choose between lean meat (chicken, turkey), low-fat milk, low-fat greek yogurt, low-fat cheese or protein shakes (you can choose from whey, soy or egg protein). Of course you have to control food portions to avoid feeling bloated when you start working out.
Don’t forget to limit the consumption of fibre and fat, as these two nutrients delay gastric emptying and will not only delay the digestion of protein but may also cause some discomfort during your workout.
A study published in 1993 found that having a high fat meal before workout decreases growth hormone levels almost by half (1). This is another reason to avoid consuming great amounts of fat before your workout.
And let’s not forget about hydration! According to the American College of Sports Medicine, you should drink 500 ml of fluid 2 hours before the exercise (2). This is the optimal time span to allow the body to excrete excess water and to be properly hydrated when it starts exercising.
If you only have opportunity to eat some minutes before your workout, you can have a simple piece of fruit, like a ripe banana or grapes (both moderate glycemic index fruits) and/or a fast-acting protein shake such as whey protein.
As we have discovered nutrient timing is just as important as nutrient selection. By making small changes and achieving the right combination before your workout, you can directly improve your training and allow a sustained release of energy during your workout.