Going into a workout on an empty stomach is generally not a good idea. There a few exceptions such as for those who follow an intermittent fasting routine. However, if you don’t follow such a plan, there is no reason to work out without a proper pre-workout snack.
Whether your goal is to lose weight or to build muscle, in both cases you need to push yourself in every workout. If all your workouts are easy, then you won’t be stimulating growth. How does this all tie into a good pre-workout meal? Sometimes, it’s not your mental limitations that are getting in the way instead, it’s the physical. One needs to be properly energized before an intense workout so that they can put in maximum effort.
However, if you don’t eat before a workout, then you will lack the energy to perform your workout. You can still get a high-intensity workout without a pre-workout meal. However, with the extra boost of energy that the pre-workout gives, you can put in that extra bit of effort that you were not able to in the other scenario. Overall, it helps in giving you extra energy to really make those muscles work to the limit for optimal growth and calorie burn. With that said, a pre-workout meal is really important, here is what you should try to incorporate in one:
Your pre-workout should be high in protein
Whether you are trying to lose weight or gain muscle, protein is highly important. It’s an essential macronutrient which is responsible for building and repairing muscle. During recovery periods, protein is broken down into Amino Acids which help in repairing the muscle tissue you break down in a weightlifting session.
The optimal recovery period is right after your workout where “protein synthesis” occurs. Protein synthesis is a process where your body converts protein into Amino Acids in order to start the recovery process. The body also absorbs food really fast after a workout, so having a high-protein meal before a workout can help kickstart your recovery much faster.
Therefore, it’s highly important to have a good amount of protein in your pre-workout meal for optimal muscle growth. This ties into weight loss too as new muscle replaces the fat in your body which results in you getting “into shape”. Moreover, the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism goes, which means you can burn fat at a higher rate. Overall, protein becomes very useful in a pre-workout meal for all purposes.
Good high-protein foods you should consider
There is protein present in many different foods. However, some are overloaded with calories and unhealthy fats. Therefore, in order to build lean muscle and lose weight, one should only consider lean sources of protein. Lean sources not only have a low number of fats and carbs, but they have fewer calories too so you shouldn’t worry if weight loss is your goal. There is a full breakdown of high-protein lean sources here, but here is the list:
- Skinless White Poultry meat (chicken or turkey breast)
- Egg Whites
- Cottage Cheese
- Beans, Peas, Lentils
- Fish (tuna, salmon etc.)
Your pre-workout meal should also contain carbohydrates
While protein covers the recovery aspect of things, it isn’t really responsible for keeping you energized throughout the day. That responsibility is taken care of by carbohydrates. Carbs are the primary source of fuel, followed by fats and you need to have a decent amount of carbs in your pre-workout meal in order to crush your workout.
Just like protein, carbs are present in a lot of foods. However, not all carbs are made equal. There are two main categories of carbohydrates: Simple carbs, and complex carbs. There’s a difference between the two, and people often make the mistake of eating simple carbs which leads to weight gain as well.
Simple carbs are fast digesting which are an instant source of energy. Foods such as bananas, white rice etc. all contain simple carbs. The problem with these type of carbs is that they instantly provide you energy which gets used up. Therefore, you feel hungry sooner after you eat which often leads to people gaining weight.
Found in mostly whole-wheat sources, complex carbs digest slower compared to simple carbs. They are a much more reliable source of energy as they slowly give you energy on a consistent basis over a period of time. Complex carb foods also have a high amount of fiber in them which helps in keeping you full longer which helps if you’re trying to lose weight.
Which type of carbohydrate is good for pre-workout meals?
Although simple carbs help in giving you energy instantly, they are not reliable for an intense session in the gym. You will run out of energy quickly if you take simple carbs, which means you won’t end your workout on a high note. The energy you get from complex carbs, on the other hand, lasts longer and is more consistently released. Therefore, it’s better to include complex carbs in your pre-workout meal for a more efficient weightlifting or cardio session.
Good complex carbohydrate foods to consider
The general rule of thumb is to switch from “white” to “brown” or to whole-wheat foods. For example, if you eat white bread, switch to brown bread. Similarly, brown or whole-wheat pasta is healthier than regular pasta. All these foods taste good as well, so you can incorporate them into your daily diet for weight loss too. Here are a few:
- Whole-wheat pasta
- Bran bread
- Brown rice
- Sweet potatoes
What to avoid
For a pre-workout meal, the general rule of thumb is to avoid fats. However, that does not mean you eliminate fats from your diet altogether. Healthy fats are essential for a balanced and healthy diet. However, when it comes to being a pre-workout snack, fats aren’t up there.
Although fats have a lot of energy, even more than carbs, they are very slowly converted into energy. You would have to wait a long time after your pre-workout meal before you could work out. Therefore, it’s best to leave the fats for your other meals of the day and focus on a protein plus carbohydrate-rich pre-workout meal.
When to take the pre-workout meal
The timing of a pre-workout meal is just as important as the meal itself. You need to space out your meal in such a way that you have given it plenty of time to digest before going into the workout. Otherwise, not only will you risk feeling sick but you won’t be as energized as you could’ve been had you waited.
Therefore, it’s best to wait a few hours, around one or two before you head into a workout. If you don’t have that much time or flexibility in your schedule, then just eat simple carbohydrates 30 minutes before your workout, it should help.
Simple carbohydrates are usually the go-to for many people because of their ease of access and fast digestion times. However, if you have the time and want to reap the full benefits of a proper pre-workout meal, then go for a meal which is high in protein and complex carbohydrates a few hours before your work out and you will feel the difference.