We talk a lot about post workout nutrition, but rarely do you hear much about pre-workout nutrition. Why is this? The short answer is that pre-workout nutrition varies for each person and it’s arguably not as important as the post workout meal. This does not mean you should not pay attention to what you eat before you workout, it just means it’s a little less scientific.
The simple pre-workout nutrition prescription is to eat 2-3 hours before you workout. Eat a normal size meal with a good carb/protein/fat balance; avoid eating something you know you swill still be tasting 3 hours later. Note, I did not say wake up and workout hard with nothing in your stomach. Working out in a fasted state is significantly different than working out 2-3 hours after you eat. Performing a hard metabolic conditioning workout in a fasted state causes a cortisol response and can lead to increased body fat. I can already hear what people are saying, “eating 2-3 hours before a workout is great if you can workout in the middle of the morning or the middle of the afternoon, what are the rest of us supposed to do?” This is where it gets very individual. The pre-workout “snack” should have some carbs and fat, maybe some protein, and should be eaten about 30 minutes before working out. This is the one time when protein isn’t as important, but if you want to eat some protein, go for it. High glycemic carbs, such as fruit works well for many people here. The most important thing is to find something that’s easily digestible and not going to sit heavy. So how should this look? Almond butter and blueberries is a quick and easy one, so is an apple or an orange. A couple bites of whatever is leftover from the night before gets the job done as well. Much of this is individual, what works for one person may not work for another. The only way to find your optimal pre workout meal is to experiment. Try eating an orange and see what happens. Did you feel strong or did you feel like you were going to throw up the whole time? If you felt good, try it again. If you felt lousy, try something else, maybe some leftover chicken breast and broccoli will work better for you. The best way to figure it out is to write down what you ate in your workout journal, then analyze your results. Look at days you feel strong over the course of the month and see what you ate as your pre workout meal. Obviously there are several other factors at play (sleep, recovery time from the last workout, overall diet, etc) but you have to start somewhere.
I can already hear all the questions coming from the 5:30 AM folks that roll out of bed and head straight to the gym. I get it that you are not going to wake up early to eat, however I encourage you to try getting something in your stomach as soon as you wake up. It will help with you get through your workout and will also help you with body composition goals.
If you have a pre workout meal that works for you, post it in the comments section.