Pre-Workout Meals: What & When To Eat Before A Workout
Are there some days you feel as though your workout just didn’t go to plan? Maybe you found it hard to concentrate and kept forgetting how many reps you were up to. Maybe you just felt tired much faster than normal. It can be so frustrating!
Next time it happens, think about what you ate prior to training. Did you have a pre-workout meal or were you hungry? When was the last time you ate? If you have to think for a little while, it might be a sign that you aren’t giving your nutrition the attention it needs.
- Benefits of pre-workout meals
- What to eat before a workout
- Do you need a pre-workout meal?
- What is the best pre-workout meal?
- When to eat a pre-workout meal?
- What about pre-workout supplements?
We’re here to help you learn what to eat before a workout, so you can make healthy pre-workout meals and snacks to help you perform at your best!
Benefits of pre-workout meals
If you are putting a lot of effort into your training but your meal planning and nutrition could do with some more attention, this article can help. A pre-workout meal may not be at the front of your mind when you think about training, but giving your body the fuel it needs can have a huge impact on your ability to train and to get results.
Exercise takes a lot of energy and your body has to source that energy from the food you eat. When you’re between meals, your blood sugar is naturally lower and the same goes for your energy levels. You know what it can feel like as it gets closer to meal time — usually you start feeling a bit tired or you may have trouble concentrating. You may also notice a drop in motivation towards your overall fitness goals.
Giving your body the proper fuel can help to keep you focused and it can also energise you so you can maintain your training performance and finish your workout strongly. You probably already know what it feels like when you run out of energy. It can be really hard to keep the motivation up to finish. Having a pre-workout meal or snack can help to improve your focus, help you to preserve lean muscle mass and it can help support the body’s ability to recover as well.
What to eat before a workout
To get the most out of your workouts, try to focus on getting the necessary macronutrients to fuel your training and your recovery. There are two main macros that you should aim to include in a pre-workout meal: carbohydrates and protein.
Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of fuel. Eating a pre-workout meal with carbohydrates triggers the release of the hormone insulin, which allows your body to use those carbohydrates for energy. If you are doing any high-intensity training, such as the BBG or FIERCE programs in the SWEAT app, your body relies on fast-absorbing carbohydrates to fuel fast-twitch muscle fibres. Without sufficient carbohydrates, it can be much harder to do these exercises.
Protein is used by your body to build, maintain and regulate cells. The amino acids found in protein are important for muscle synthesis, maintenance and repairs, so eating protein-rich foods such as lean meats, legumes, fish and seafood can help to support your training.
Having a combination of both protein and carbohydrates in a pre-workout meal can provide the best results for muscle growth and repair, so aim to include both (not just one or the other).
If you know your macronutrients, you might be wondering where fat fits in with pre-workout meal planning. Incorporating a small amount of healthy fat is okay too, but it is more important to prioritise carbohydrates and protein first. As we’ve explained, these are the primary nutrients that help to provide energy and prevent the breakdown of muscle.
Do you need a pre-workout meal?
For anyone who is following a balanced diet and eating regularly throughout the day, you may not need to have specific pre-workout meals. For example, you might exercise in the afternoon, within an hour or two of lunch. The food you ate for lunch may provide sufficient nutrients to keep you energised for your workout. However, if you are planning on exercising more than two hours after eating, you may want to have a small snack before your workout for an extra boost of energy.
Without a pre-workout meal or snack, you may find you become fatigued faster and find it harder to concentrate on your workout. Even if you are having a quick snack before you train, you might find it easier to get your workout done when you’ve had some good gym food prior to starting.
What is the best pre-workout meal?
The best pre-workout meal is going to depend on your personal health and fitness goals, as well as your individual nutritional requirements. For example, if you are trying to develop muscle mass, your pre-workout meal may be a little different to someone with fat loss as a goal.
For a general recommendation, try to stick to a meal that is higher in carbohydrates but lower in fat, with moderate protein. That way, you are giving your body energy and fuel to maintain or grow muscle.
Try to choose a pre-workout meal or snack that includes foods that your body can easily digest, as this will provide your body with energy faster. Otherwise, you can find yourself feeling uncomfortable because the food is sitting in the stomach longer waiting to be metabolised.
When to eat a pre-workout meal
The timing of your pre-workout meal can make a big difference in how you feel during and after your workout, not to mention it can also affect your ability to train to your full potential.
If you are planning a HIIT workout or any style of workout that features lots of fast movements, you probably don’t want to eat anything too large. A snack with some protein or a healthy smoothie which is easily digested is probably a better option.
Even when you’re planning a low-intensity workout, eating immediately before you start exercise may not be the best plan. Try to allow at least 20-30 minutes between finishing a pre-workout meal and starting your workout. Eating or drinking a small meal within an hour of exercise is more likely to help boost your energy and can reduce the risk of an upset stomach.
Planning your pre-workout meals around the times you like to work out can help you to perform at your best. Here are some meal and snack suggestions to help you out!
Pre-workout meals for 2 to 4 hours before a workout:
- Two slices of wholemeal toast with some nut butter and sliced banana
- A bowl of oatmeal with nuts and seeds on top
- An egg omelette
- A small portion of poached chicken with a side of rice and sweet potato.
Pre-workout snacks for 30 minutes to 1 hour before a workout:
- A protein smoothie
- A piece of fruit and a small handful of nuts
- One small tub of plain yoghurt with a sliced banana
- A bliss ball (these Apricot Energy Bites are a good option!).
For some additional healthy pre-workout meal inspiration, you can also check out the recipes in the Sweat app.
In addition to eating before a workout, make sure you remember to stay hydrated too. Often, we are so focused on what we eat, you may not realise that water plays a vital role in energy production for the body as well. Try to sip water regularly throughout the day and keep a water bottle handy during your workout too.
What about pre-workout supplements?
Just as the best pre-workout nutrition for you is going to depend on your goals, the same goes for supplements. While there are lots of ways to get the essential vitamins and minerals you need from your food and drink, some people may find a pre-workout supplement helps them to train a little bit better. This is up to you personally — pay attention to how your body feels and performs if you have a snack versus a supplement and make a decision on what works for you.
If you choose to include supplements in your pre-training routine, just remember that they are designed to be used to supplement an already healthy lifestyle.
Start planning your pre-workout meals
Participating in a fitness challenge is a great way to learn how to fuel and support your body during workouts, so you can continue these healthy habits long after the challenge finishes.
The best foods to eat before a workout will depend on the type of training you are doing and your personal goals. Being well-informed about nutrition can help you choose pre-workout meals and snacks that suit your tastes and your goals.
Don't overlook pre-workout nutrition, because ensuring that your body gets sufficient fuel to perform can have an impact on your results. Putting some effort into planning the timing of your pre-workout meals and snacks can help ensure you are getting the most out of your training! Be sure to check out some of the best foods for muscle recovery for after your workout too.
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.