What To Eat Before A Workout – The Ultimate Guide

No one should exercise on an empty stomach. In this article, I’m going to show you what to eat before a workout.

I researched all about pre-workout nutrition so I could give you the best piece of advice on this subject.

Most articles online about what to eat before a workout give you pre-made meals and lack an explanation on why you should eat those meals or how they benefit you. I wrote this article to fix that.

You are going to learn which nutrients you need to consume and when before working out so you can exercise healthily. I’m also going to tell you which are the best supplements you can take before working out and even some examples of foods you can eat before your training session.

Keep reading to learn all about it.

Macronutrients

If you want to make the most out of your workouts you need to make sure you are consuming the right quantities of the right nutrients. Below are explained the most essential macronutrients to us.

Carbs

You should always eat something with a high amount of carbohydrates before working out. When you work out, your muscles will use the glycogen stored in your body as fuel. Glycogen is how your body stores the glucose you consume, mainly in the muscles. For this reason, you need to eat enough carbs, because that is the way of giving your body glucose that it later processes into glycogen. If you run out of glycogen during your workout you’ll feel extremely tired. [1,2]

Protein

Consuming protein before working out is especially good for people doing weight training. When you lift weights, your muscles will create damage and the protein helps to stimulate their recovery, making them grow. [3,4]

Fat

When your workouts are intense and are shorter in time your body will use its glycogen stores as fuel. However, if you instead choose to exercise longer with lower intensity, then your body will use the fat as fuel. [1]

For the sake of your health, always opt for healthy fats like avocado, nuts, and dark chocolate.

When Should You Eat?

It’s really important to time your pre-workout meal right. You don’t want to eat right before working out because your body won’t have time to digest the food you just ate and you may feel bloated. This happens because when you exercise the blood flow is redirected to the muscles and isn’t focused on digesting the food anymore.

Woman feeling bloated

If you want to eat a big meal, with carbs, protein, and fat, that is harder to digest, we recommend doing it 2 or 3 hours before your workout. But if you don’t have time for that or simply don’t want to you can eat a smaller, easier-to-digest meal, from 30 to 60 minutes before exercising. Either way, make sure to still eat a good amount of carbs and protein.

Pre-Workout Meals

In this section, I’m going to show you some of the best foods and meals to eat before working out.

Remember that you are not limited in any way to the foods on this list. You can eat any meal you’d like as long as it contains the right amount of each nutrient.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal gives you plenty of energy and as it is really high on fibers, your body digests its carbs slowly. This helps you by giving you a steady amount of energy throughout your workout, helping you train for bigger amounts of time.

Also, it contains some B vitamins that help your body metabolize carbs, protein, and fat, among other benefits.

You can add protein to this meal by adding a scoop of protein powder or adding low-fat milk.

Banana

If you just woke up and want to exercise right away or don’t have much time before your workout, eating a banana is a good option.

It’s easy to digest and full of carbs, helping fuel longer workouts.

Bananas are also rich in potassium, which reduces muscle cramps and aid muscle recovery.

Protein Shake

If you want a pre-workout meal that is easy to digest and has lots of protein to help you build muscles or help them recover then you can’t go wrong with a scoop of your favorite protein powder. You can mix it with water, low-fat milk, or even a dairy-free substitute, it’s up to what you like.

Eggs

It’s no secret that eggs are one of the healthiest foods on the planet, it’s full of protein and super nutritional.

Eggs next workout equipment

Also, when you eat the whole egg you consume all the eight essential amino acids (EAA), producing an increase in protein synthesis. This may help your muscles grow and help them repair.

Fruit and Yogurt

If you don’t have much time before your workout eating fruit and yogurt is a great option, it’s super practical and it’s easy to digest.

Also, you will get all the nutrients you need for your workout as yogurt is high in protein and fruit is high in carbs.

If you want you can also eat greek yogurt instead as it contains almost the double amount of protein compared to the normal one.

Supplements

Below I’m going to show you what are the best supplements to take before working out. For your own well-being, make sure you respect the recommended safe doses.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a great way to feel more energized and give a boost to your workout. Drinking coffee or consuming another form of caffeine (like tea, energy drinks, or caffeine pills) has many benefits to your workout. It increases your strength, helps you burn fat, and makes you feel more awake. [5,6]

You can take it in the form you most like as the effects should be the same. We recommend you to take 60-90 minutes before your workout for the best results and be aware that it can take away your sleep so don’t consume it too late.

Creatine

Creatine is one of the most popular sports supplements, and for good reasons. Studies show that it helps increase strength and build muscle mass. There are other reported benefits like reduced risk of depression and improved brain performance. [5]

The usual recommendation is to take 3-5 grams of creatine daily. Also, you can take it any time of the day but newer studies show that it may be more effective taken post-workout. [7]

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are 3 of the 8 essential amino acids (EAAs): valine, leucine, and isoleucine.

Studies show that taking these amino acids helps increase muscle growth and decrease muscle damage. Research also shows that it can help increase endurance and reduce fatigue and muscle soreness. [8,9]

The experts’ recommendation is that a healthy adult can safely take between 4 and 20 grams daily.

Beta-Alanine

Beta-Alanine is a non-essential amino acid that helps the body in the production of carnosine. It fights muscle fatigue, increases work capacity, and increases endurance. Overall, it leads to a bigger amount of exercise done at the end of the workout.

Research shows that this supplement gives better results when doing shorter, high-intensity exercises. Research also shows that beta-alanine boosts the effects of creatine. It leads to bigger improvements in strength, training volume, and muscle mass when taken together. [10,11,12]

The recommended dose is between 4 and 6 grams daily. The only known side effect is a tingling feeling but you can attenuate it if you divide the dose into smaller doses of 1.6 grams.

Check out our review of the 6 best pre-workout supplements without Beta-Alanine.

Citrulline

Citrulline is an amino acid found in some foods, like watermelon, and is produced naturally in your body. It reduces fatigue and muscle soreness on the days following the workout.

Taking this supplement also leads to bigger levels of nitrogen in the body. This leads to an increased amount of protein in the muscles and intensifies the effects of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Citrulline also improves endurance and leads to higher blood flow to the muscle tissues.

Drink Plenty Of Water

It’s very important to hydrate yourself before working out. Studies have shown that good hydration leads to improved performance. Also, dehydration can really affect the effectiveness of your workout, making you feel tired and dizzy.

A man drinking water

Dark yellow urine with a strong smell and dry mouth are symptoms of dehydration so be aware of that. Everyone is different so there is no ideal amount of water that everyone should drink before working out. We recommend you to follow the American Council on Exercise’s suggested guidelines:

  • Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water two hours before the start of exercise.
  • Drink 7 to 10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.
  • Drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost after exercise.

What to do next?

It’s really important to have a healthy pre-workout nutrition but remember not to undervalue the post-workout.

Martim Pintão

Martim Pintão

Martim is a fitness enthusiast who loves to help people get into shape. He founded Dream Strength in order to do just that, and he doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon!

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