Nutrition

8 Vegan Pre-Workout Foods That Are Scientifically Backed

These vegan pre-workout foods are backed by research, so you can make the right choice.

You’ll find a vast quantity of information on getting the right vegan pre-workout foods, and it can sometimes be overwhelming. But in reality, it’s pretty simple! Focus on food groups that you can choose from to ensure your body is getting the right fuel to optimise its performance.

Here’s a list of scientifically backed vegan pre-workout foods that you can choose from to increase your exercise endurance and push your workouts to the limits.

vegan pre-workout foods

1. Low-GI Carbohydrates

If you’re looking to improve or maintain your exercise performance, scientists generally recommend eating a high-carbohydrate meal 1-4 hours before exercise.

Carbs are known to be the main energy-providing nutrient and are metabolised by the body most easily during exercise – providing the energy you need during a workout or exercise session where your fast-twitch muscle fibres are relied upon1.

Glycaemic index is the ranking of carbohydrates in relation to how they affect blood sugar levels. Although there’s some conflicting evidence, many studies have found that low-glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates are better than high-GI carbohydrates before endurance-based exercise. This is thought to be because low-GI carbs lead to a steady blood sugar level, while high-GI carbohydrates may cause a spike and sudden drop in blood sugar levels – acting to decrease energy levels.

Common vegan high-carbohydrate foods with a low glycaemic index:

  • Sweet potatoes, new potatoes and yams (non-mashed)
  • Brown rice and white long grain rice
  • Pasta
  • Oats and muesli
  • Whole wheat bread, mixed grain bread and sourdough bread
  • Some legumes such as chickpeas, red and green lentils, butter beans, kidney beans, haricot beans, pinto beans and black-eyed beans

sausage pasta recipe

2. Protein Sources: High-Carbohydrate

Protein is important for building and repairing muscle, and it’s well known that post-workout protein consumption optimises muscle growth. But recent research shows that consuming both pre- and post-workout stimulates better muscle growth2.

Since it’s important to consume pre-workout carbohydrates, eating foods that contain both protein and low-GI carbs is a great way to maximise your performance and results.

Common vegan pre-workout foods that contain protein and low-GI carbohydrates include:

  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils (red and green)
  • Butter beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Haricot beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Black-eyed beans

3. Protein Sources: Low-Carbohydrate

As we mentioned in the previous point, pre- and post-workout protein has been shown to optimise muscle growth and repair.

If you’re getting your carbs elsewhere and you’re looking to boost your protein before your workout, try these low-carbohydrate protein sources:

protein shake

4. Beetroot

Beetroot and beetroot powder as a sports supplement has gained attention recently as a food that can enhance exercise performance.

Beetroot contains a high level of nitrates, which increase blood flow to muscles – enhancing their efficiency during exercise3. Add beetroot powder or beetroot juice to your pre-workout shake around 60 minutes before exercise for best results.

beetroot

5. Modified Starches

Starches come from carbohydrate foods like maize and barley, while modified starches are made by hydrothermally or chemically modifying the starch to decrease the rate at which they’re digested.

As well as providing carbohydrate for energy, pre-workout consumption of modified starches like Waxy Maize Starch has been shown to increase the body’s ability to use fat instead of glucose for energy4, preserving carbohydrate stores and therefore increasing exercise endurance.

6. Caffeine

Caffeine is renowned for improving exercise performance – enhancing a range of endurance-based tasks like running, cycling, swimming and rowing, plus increasing reps performed during resistance exercise4.

Caffeine is known to enhance exercise performance by increasing utilisation of free fatty acids and reducing the breakdown of glycogen (carbohydrate energy stores), as well as making adaptations in the central nervous system.

You can find caffeine in these plant-based drinks and supplements:

coffee

7. Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine Monohydrate (or just ‘creatine’) is a chemical compound that’s made naturally by our bodies to supply muscles with energy. During exercise, the body’s demand for creatine increases and stores need to be replenished for optimum exercise performance.

Creatine has been scientifically proven to improve physical performance during bursts of short-term exercise (like weight training or sprinting), as well as increasing muscle size5.

You can find creatine naturally in meat and fish, but there aren’t any significant plant-based sources, therefore taking a creatine supplement is the best way for vegans to get creatine into their diet.

Research recommends that you take 4-10g of creatine per day, spread out in your pre- and post-workout shakes.

homemade pre-workout shake

8. High-GI Carbohydrates

Where it’s generally recommended that you opt for lower-GI carbohydrates before exercise (although there are some conflicting results), intra-workout high-GI carbohydrates have been shown to be best for endurance exercise6 – which means eating them during exercise.

Common carbohydrates with a medium to high glycaemic index include:

  • Bananas
  • Mangos
  • Pineapple
  • Watermelon
  • Dates

If you can’t stomach eating food during exercise, carbohydrate supplements like maltodextrin, dextrose, and carbohydrate energy gels are perfect, plus they’re designed to be digested quickly for optimum performance.


A word on eating fat before your workout: Researchers have recently explored eating fatty foods before exercise, but this hasn’t proved useful. The results have shown that although eating a fatty meal raises the amount of fat in the blood, the body still uses carbohydrates as fuel on the whole, and exercise performance isn’t enhanced.

Enjoy this article on vegan pre-workout foods?

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1. Kanter, M. (2018). High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance: Expert Panel Report. Nutrition today53(1), 35.

2. Cribb, P. J., & Hayes, A. (2006). Effects of supplement-timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise38(11), 1918-1925.

3. Murphy, M., Eliot, K., Heuertz, R. M., & Weiss, E. (2012). Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics112(4), 548-552.

4. Ormsbee, M. J., Bach, C. W., & Baur, D. A. (2014). Pre-exercise nutrition: the role of macronutrients, modified starches and supplements on metabolism and endurance performance. Nutrients6(5), 1782-1808.

5. Bemben, M. G., & Lamont, H. S. (2005). Creatine supplementation and exercise performance. Sports Medicine35(2), 107-125.

6. Saunders, M. J., Luden, N. D., & Herrick, J. E. (2007). Consumption of an oral carbohydrate-protein gel improves cycling endurance and prevents postexercise muscle damage. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research21(3), 678.

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Jennifer Blow

Jennifer Blow

Qualified Nutritionist

Jennifer is our qualified AfN nutritionist, inspiring you with her tried-and-tested recipes and handy food hacks. She loves hill walking and cycling, loathes bad science, and loves proving healthy eating doesn’t equal plain, boring, and a lifetime of hunger.


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