Pre-Workout Meals: What & When To Eat Before A Workout

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March 22, 2019

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If you’ve ever found it difficult to concentrate during your workouts, you fatigued faster than usual or your session simply didn't go to plan, think about what you ate prior to training — these might all be signs you aren’t giving your nutrition the attention it needs.

Pre-workout meals are an important part of any fitness routine. Eating the right foods before you train can help fuel your workouts, accelerate your results and get you closer to reaching your health and fitness goals.

The best foods will depend on your training style, workout duration and goals, and some people might prefer to eat after they work out. 

The key is to find what works for you so you can make healthy choices to help you perform at your best!

Benefits of pre-workout meals

A pre-workout meal can help you perform better and recover faster, which can have a huge impact on your results. 

Fuelling your body with nutritious foods will provide you with energy and keep you focused during and after your workout. 

Eating the right types of foods can also help build and maintain muscle, and support recovery.

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What to eat before a workout

To get the most out of your workouts and recovery, you should focus on your macronutrient or “macro” intake. This means including mostly carbohydrates and some protein in your pre-workout meals. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, studies have suggested eating or drinking carbohydrates before you work out can improve your performance and may even allow you to exercise for a longer period of time or with greater intensity. This is because carbs are your body’s main source of fuel. 

After you eat a meal that contains good quality carbs, such as a piece of fruit or a granola bar, Australia’s BetterHealth Channel explains that your body breaks these foods down into glucose (sugars) in your digestive system and triggers the release of the hormone insulin in your pancreas. Insulin helps the glucose move from your bloodstream into your cells which your body uses (with oxygen) for energy. Carb-rich snacks are ideal for high-intensity or endurance training.

Protein takes longer for the body to digest than carbs, so you don’t need a large amount. Studies suggest eating meals that contain protein such as yoghurt or nut butter with wholegrain toast before, and especially after strength training, to help muscle synthesis, maintenance and repair. 

Do you need a pre-workout meal?

Anyone following a balanced diet who eats regularly throughout the day may not need a pre-workout meal. For example, exercising in the afternoon within an hour or two of lunch may be enough to keep you energised. 

If you plan to exercise more than two hours after eating, you might need a small snack to boost your energy as you may find you become fatigued faster and find it harder to concentrate during your workout.

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What are the best pre-workout meals?

The best pre-workout meals will depend on your health and fitness goals, as well as your individual nutritional requirements — if your goal is to develop muscle, your pre-workout meals may differ from someone with fat loss as a goal. 

As a general recommendation, try to stick to a meal that is high in carbohydrates, low in fat, and has moderate protein.  

You should also aim to choose foods your body can easily digest for energy to avoid the food sitting in your stomach before it is metabolised.

When to eat a pre-workout meal

The timing of your pre-workout meal can affect how you feel during and after your workout. It can also influence your ability to train at your full potential. 

If you are planning a HIIT workout or a workout that features fast movements, avoid anything too heavy —  a light protein-filled snack or healthy smoothie is a good option. 

Allow at least 20 to 30 minutes between finishing a pre-workout meal and starting your workout — including before low-intensity exercise

Eating or drinking a small meal within an hour of exercising can help boost your energy and reduce the risk of an upset stomach. 

You can try these meal suggestions to help you get started.

Pre-workout meals for two to four hours before a workout:

  • Two slices of wholemeal toast with nut butter and sliced banana

  • A bowl of oatmeal with nuts and seeds

  • An egg omelette

  • A small portion of poached chicken with a side of rice and sweet potato 

Pre-workout snacks for 30 minutes to one hour before a workout:

  • A protein smoothie

  • A piece of fruit and a small handful of nuts 

  • One small tub of plain yoghurt with sliced banana

  • A bliss ball (these Apricot Energy Bites are a tasty option!). 

You can find more healthy pre-workout meal ideas in the Sweat app.  

What about pre-workout supplements?

While there are lots of ways to get essential vitamins and minerals from food and drink, some people find supplements help to improve their performance.

If you choose to include supplements in your pre-training routine, remember they are designed to complement an already healthy lifestyle.

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And fuel yourself forward

Start planning your pre-workout meals

Don't overlook pre-workout nutrition — how you fuel your body can have a huge impact on your results. 

The best foods to eat before a workout will depend on your training style and your personal goals, and staying hydrated throughout the day can also help to maintain your energy levels.

If you’re struggling to get started with pre-workout meals, try joining a fitness challenge — it’s a great way to learn how to fuel and support your body and develop healthy habits for long after the challenge finishes.

What are your favourite pre-workout meals? Let us know in the comments!

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A more empowered you starts with Sweat, and our editorial team is here to bring you the latest fitness tips, trainer recommendations, wellbeing news, nutritional advice, nourishing recipes and free workouts.

* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.


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