Emerging athletes consistently try to enhance their performance. Reaching their goals is crucial. It doesn’t matter if it is in the gym, work or everyday life activities.
They all have one thing in common.
Without good nutrition, you won’t be able to deliver good performance in the gym. Without good nutrition, you won’t be able to be productive and concentrated at work. Without good nutrition, you will feel tired and exhausted sooner or later.
Nutrition is one of the keys to high performance.
But, what and when should we eat before a workout?
If this is your question, then you’re in the right place. In today’s article, I am going to elaborate on pre-workout nutrition.
How does protein, carbs, and fats as a pre-workout meal affect our performance? What about supplements? Do we need them to boost our performance or is it just dalliance?
In this article, you’re going to find out why.
Why Pre-Workout Nutrition?
Imagine your body is a car. You need fuel and other liquids to perform. Much the same as our body works.
Without sufficient nutrients, our body won’t be able to give 100% and deliver our best possible performance.
Thus, it can be said that good nutrition can help you to improve your overall performance.
Furthermore, a conscious and sophisticated pre-workout meal will not only help you to enhance your performance but also minimize muscle damage (1).
What about proteins?
Pre-workout nutritional strategies refer to supply our body with energy (mainly carbohydrates) to maintain energy stores and take advantage of (2) increased blood flow to muscle tissue.
Nowadays it is common sense that protein is beneficial and crucial for muscle growth.
But, to not go beyond the scope of this article, I’ll only focus on pre-workout nutrition.
Fair enough, but how much protein should you consume prior to workout?
Since the availability of amino acids is often the limiting factor for protein synthesis, protein intake prior to pre-workout will improve the supply of amino acids to muscle tissue.
Research has proven the effectiveness of a pre-workout protein shake.
(6) One study shows that after participants consumed 20 grams of whey protein before their workout, they could reveal a positive anabolic response.
Other advantages of consuming protein before exercise encompass:
- A higher anabolic response, or muscle growth (7,8)
- Enhanced muscle recovery (8)
- Extended power and lean body mass (9)
- Increased muscle performance (7,8,9)
With this in mind, it can be said that we should pay attention to supply our body with at least 20grams of protein prior to our workout.
Will your performance suffer a lot without pre-workout protein intake?
Maybe, maybe not. This cannot be answered flat rate.
But, since studies show that there is a proven beneficial impact on your anabolism, I can only recommend you to supply your body with sufficient protein every day. Before, after and during the whole day.
What about carbs?
High-intensity training particularly (10) demands our body’s glycogen stores.
What is glycogen?
Whenever we eat carbohydrates, our body transforms it into a form of sugar called ‘glucose’ that is used for energy.
The glucose is then transformed into Glycogen which is the sugar that is stored in the liver and muscles.
For short and heavy exercise (11) carbohydrates seem to be the only energy source for the working muscle. This form of energy is stored in the glycogen stores within the muscle fibers themselves.
For longer exercises, the contribution of carbohydrates to the overall energy used depends upon other factors. (12)These are the intensity of the exercise, the duration of the exercise and the state or type of training as well as the diet.
Because our body’s glycogen stores are limited, our performance depends on its current level.
Studies show that as these stores become depleted, our performance and intensity can cease (13,14,15).
Research has consistently proven that carbs can increase glycogen stores and usage whilst boosting carb oxidation for the duration of exercise (15,16,17).
The consumption of simple sugars, just before training, can reduce the amount of glycogen used during exercise.
This can enhance performance. But more importantly, (18) higher blood sugar and insulin levels seem to create a hormonal setting that supports anabolism (growth).
Briefly speaking, carbs are our body’s main source of energy. For short and heavy exercises, carbohydrates seem to the most important energy provide. For longer exercises, other factors come into play.
What about fats?
Should you eat carbs prior to your workout?
You could, however, you don’t need to.
At the same time as glycogen is used for short- and excessive-intensity bouts of exercise, (19) fat is the source of energy for longer and light-to-low-intensity exercise.
For instance, one study showed how a four-week diet which includes 40% fats enhanced their endurance walking times in healthy, advanced runners.
So, it is not necessary or indispensable to consume a specific amount of fats pre-workout. You should keep more attention on ensuring sufficient protein and carbohydrates intake before your workouts.
But, there are indeed several theories about how eating fat earlier before your workout can enhance performance. However, the literature actually disagrees.
A great recap of present research on the topic can be found in a (22)paper posted by scientists from Deakin University.
What’s their conclusion?
To put it in a nutshell, they say hence it might seem that while this sort of strategy may have a marked effect on exercise metabolism (e.g. decreased carbohydrates usage), there’s no useful impact on workout overall performance.
Thus, we can conclude that based on Deakin University’s research that fats do not have a beneficial impact on our performance when consumed prior.
However, if you want some fats before your workout, do it. If you don’t want to, then don’t.
At this point, I am on diet for about a month. Actually, I am eating my first meal around 1-2 pm which mainly consists of protein.
Do I feel underperformed during my workout? Not really, I am feeling quite good without separate fat consumption or much carbs prior to my workout.
But, does that work for all of you? No, probably not. Everyone is unique and has their own personal preferences. Eventually, your body decides what works and what does not.
Therefore, guys, I recommend you to always take videos, articles, books and all that kind of stuff as guidelines and benchmarks.
Give them a try and check out whether it works for you or not. That’s the only way how you can figure out your optimal nutrition, training programme, volume and so on and so forth.
What about hydration?
Our body needs water in order to fulfil and perform all of its functions.
These studies recommend consuming both water and sodium before your workout. This seems to improve fluid balance (27,28).
What’s more, I personally recommend you to drink around 1 liter of water according to 20kg of bodyweight. This means if you weigh 80kg your water supply should ideally be about 4 liters then.
However, that’s only my personal experience and not fully proven by scientific research. But, there is no doubt that water is the most essential and influential resource for our health.
Supplements as pre-workout to boost your performance?
Well, a lot of people hype pre-workouts and supplements in general.
To begin with, it should be clear that supplements can’t and shouldn’t serve as substitutes for your nutrition.
Always focus first on your diet, optimize it and then you can always do the fine tuning.
What about supplements for pre-workout? Do they benefit our performance as pre-workouts or is it just dalliance?
There are too many supplements to address them all in this article. We’ll make separate articles for each supplement but for now, I’ll focus on the most common ones and briefly summarize their effects.
Creatine is one of the most studied sports dietary supplements. It’s far secure to consume and can increase muscle energy and strength, especially when combined with weight training.
The ideal creatin consumption is somewhere between 3-5 grams per day.
For more in-depth information, check out our free guide about creatine here.
Caffeine is consumed through many people all over the world.
It is safe at moderate doses and may enhance diverse factors of exercising performance, along with strength output and overall performance during long-distance activities or team sports.
You might limit your caffeine intake throughout the day and stop relatively early.
Some people have problems to properly fall asleep when they consumed a lot of caffeine in the evening.
If you’re particularly interested in caffeine, I can recommend our article about caffeine!
- Beta Alanine
Beta-Alanine is an amino acid that helps fight fatigue in your muscles. It is most effective at improving performance during short bursts of intense exercise lasting one to four minutes.
Recommendations vary, but studies set benchmarks between 4-6 grams per day.
Primarily based on current research, this dose is secure to consume.
The best-recognized side effect is a tingling or “pins and needles” feeling to your pores and skin if you take higher doses.
Citrulline is an amino acid produced naturally for your body. It can also be found in a few ingredients and available as a supplement.
Consumption of citrulline may also enhance aspects of endurance and performance in weight lifting.
For more information about pre-workout supplements and general fitness topics, I can recommend you Healthline’s blog. They always have up to date topics based on scientific research.
Once again, to go further in-depth about citrulline, click here to check out our full article about it.
When to consume pre-workout?
Good is not good enough? Do you want to have the optimal pre-workout meal?
Then this section is what you are looking for!
In order for you to be optimally supplied with nutrients during training, you need to understand how quickly certain foods are digested.
Furthermore, the meal timing, when you consume your pre-workout, comes into play.
Digestive speed overview:
- Fats: 6-8 hours
- Proteins: 3-4 hours
- Carbs: 2-3 hours (depends on the source)
After these certain periods, the nutrients have reached our small intestine, where they are further digested and our body absorbs water from the foods.
It can take 24 hours to several days for the leftovers to leave our bodies.
But, however, you do not have to completely digest the food to go into a good workout full of energy;)
The crunch point is finding out how much food you can eat before training. This, of course, varies from person to person.
Some of us can eat a full meal one hour before training, whereas others who are blessed with a more sensitive stomach need 3-4 hours between their meal and workout.
Recommendation for a man weighing about 80kg:
- Amount of calories: 600-800kcal
- Timing: 2-3 hours before training
You can use these values as a reference for your own experiments.
Depending on the objective you can vary the number of carbs and fats in your meal.
People who want to lose weight reduce carbs and someone who is close to a final competition day should increase his carb intake to get the best performance.
Let’s recap what you should keep in mind about what and when to eat before a workout.
- Pre-workout nutrition is important if you want to maximize the anabolic effects of your workout. The optimal pre-workout meal should be rich in fast digesting protein (e.g. whey and casein protein).
- This ensures a high supply of the muscles with amino acids. Carbohydrates can also be used to minimize glycogen losses and suppress catabolic hormones.
- You should avoid eating much fat before your workout unless it is endurance training. But again, if you want to eat fat as pre-workout you can.
- As the studies show there is no beneficial impact on fat as your pre-workout component. If you don’t want to relinquish on fat, that’s totally fine, but make sure you don’t neglect the more important protein and carbohydrate intake.
- Consumption of about 20grams of protein prior to your workout benefit your anabolism.
- Carbs are our main source of energy. Especially during short workouts, carbs contribute to the major part of the used energy. For longer workouts, fats take over carbs and change energy contribution.
- Supplements should and cannot serve as substitutes for your basic nutrition. Always focus and optimize your diet first and later on do some finetuning if you would like to.
- Water is the most crucial resource for our body. Make sure to stay hydrated throughout the day and drink enough during your workout! As a rule of thumb, I recommend drinking 1 liter of water for every 20kg of bodyweight.
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What and when do you eat before your workout?
Let me know in the comments below!