What to Eat Before a Workout
People often ask me what the best foods are for before workout, which is certainly a valid question considering how confusing this whole topic can be. The truth is, this isn’t a “one-meal-fits-all” kind of topic; my pre-workout food recommendations are personalized and unique to each client based on their goals, workout, and schedule. That being said, there are definitely guidelines that I would say apply to everyone doing a 45-60 minute strength training workout.
- What Should your Pre-workout Meal be Made of?
The pre-workout meal should be something easily digestible. You do not want something heavy like a high-fat or protein-packed snack before a workout because this will rush blood to your stomach for digestion rather than to your hardworking muscles. An ideal pre-workout snack includes a small fat source to sustain hunger, a slow-digesting carb to push you through your workout and shuttle protein to your muscles, and a sufficient amount of protein to fuel your muscles during the workout.
DOLL PICK: Enjoy a protein shake with 1/2 scoop of whey isolate protein powder in water or unsweetened vanilla almond milk plus a rice cake topped with 1 teaspoon of all-natural peanut butter and 1 teaspoon of sugar-free jam.
- The Idea Behind “Fasted” Workouts
A lot of people think if they are going to workout, they need to fuel up with food for energy. However, you do not need as much food as you think. Your liver stores a lot of carbs already that your body will tap into if it needs to fuel your muscles for an extended period of time. If you want to burn fat and lean out, you ideally want your workout to be strenuous enough that your body needs to tap into your fat stores for energy. This is why some people opt for fasted workouts—or workouts on an empty stomach. Usually performed in the AM, the logic behind fasted workouts is that the body is forced to burn fat for energy since there is nothing in your stomach to digest or pull fuel from. This is another reason why I recommend a lighter snack beforehand as you don’t want your workout to be dedicated to just digesting your pre-workout snack. Keep in mind, however, that fasted workouts are normally suited toward a cardio session and are not recommended for a serious weight training workout. Since nothing is on your stomach, your body is tapping into your fat stores to fuel the cardio.
- What If My Workout Suffers Because I’ve Fasted?
It is very common for some people to enjoy working out in the AM but have trouble working out in a fasted state. In this case, a small amount of a protein and light carb source would still be effective and likely make your workout more enjoyable. And don’t worry, you’ll still enjoy the same fat-burning benefits from a fasted workout since your body is getting the minimum amount of nutrients it needs to endure a workout.
DOLL PICK: If you are a very early riser, try enjoying 1/2 scoop of whey isolate protein in water with 1/4 cup sliced strawberries 30 minutes before the gym, and then a coffee or green tea on your way to the gym.
- What If I Workout After Work?
In this case, you will likely have already had breakfast, a morning snack, and lunch by the time you have finished work. If you enjoy working out after work but before dinner, then the same sort of guidelines discussed can be followed.
DOLL PICK: If you’re going straight to the gym, opt for the snack idea I suggested in question #1. But if you can stop at home before heading to the gym—or have access to a stove—my personal favourite pre-workout snack is a protein pancake, made with 1/2 scoop whey isolate protein, 1/3 – 1/2 cup of egg whites, cinnamon, and 1/4 cup of oats. (You can also add pumpkin spice, vanilla extract, or more cinnamon.) Mix together in a bowl, spray a pan with PAM and pour the mix in. Wait until you see tiny bubbles on one side before flipping the pancake, which should take about a minute. You can top the pancake with 1 teaspoon of all-natural peanut butter and Walden Farms pancake or blueberry syrup.
How Much Time Do I Need Before a Workout?
Ideally, a snack should be consumed 40-35 minutes before a workout. Conversely, a larger meal like dinner or lunch should be consumed about 1 hour before your workout. This gives your body enough time to digest your meal in order for it to be an effective source of fuel.
What if I Workout Late in the Evening?
The physical demands and schedules of each of our jobs can be very different. If you are working out late at night but before dinner, then I would recommend the quick option discussed in question #1. However, if you have eaten dinner already, I would recommend waiting 1 hour before heading to the gym and using the dinner as a pre-workout meal. Plan for your dinner to consist of an easily digestible protein like chicken, white fish, or ground turkey rather than turkey or salmon. If you’re using this meal as a pre-workout snack, it should also be lighter in carbs and lighter in fats.
DOLL PICK: I would choose 4oz of chicken breast or pickerel, with 3oz of rice or sweet potato, with 1/2C broccoli or 1C mixed greens salad with 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil, and 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar.
As you can see, there are many different pre-workout snack options to choose from based on your unique situation and schedule. While my specific suggestions usually depend on peoples’ goals, workout intensity, and performance level, the bottom line is that the snack that gives you the most energy and most effective workout is the best choice. Some of the best pre-workout sources of lean protein would be: chicken, fish, egg whites, and whey protein.
Remember, your body can handle a lot more than you think and can thrive under extreme conditions. Push yourself and make your workouts matter because every rep and set counts. Make the workout hard for yourself in order to see serious results, and fuel your body with proper nutrition. Stay tuned for next week where I will be discussing post-workout nutrition options!
Don’t forget to stay in touch! Comment below and let me know what you are thinking. Have these exercise tips helped you enhance your workout? #DollTalk