I go to Fitness First about 2-3x a week to join a spin class and it always amazes me how some of the participants don’t really have a pre-workout meal.
Pre-workout meals are a crucial part of any exercise routine. You need to eat the right foods prior to training as this can fuel your workouts and prevent fatigue. What you can before you go to the gym can help you perform better. You need nutritious foods so you’ll have the energy needed to focus on your routine, and still have energy to help you recover after your workout.
But what you eat won’t make much of a difference if you don’t choose carefully. It’s essential to aim for a balance of macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein and fat which are needed for proper body functions.
About 2-3 hours before your workout, you should consume complex carbohydrates to ensure your body has enough fuel needed for it to perform well. This is particularly true if you do resistance and cardio exercises.
There are two kinds of carbohydrates – simple and complex. Simple carbs are sugars that give your body a fast increase in energy. White bread is a good example of this. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are starchy or fiber-rich foods like whole grains which give long, sustainable source of energy.
So why not just consume simple carbohydrates, you might wonder. Simple carbs, as mentioned, give short term energy source. If all your carbs are simple, you’ll likely to have a drop in energy quickly – even before your workout session ends. Besides, simple carbohydrates often have no nutritional value like cakes and chocolate bars.
Try to eat these 2-3 hours before your workout, as these are excellent sources of complex carbs:
- Sweet potatoes
- Whole grain pasta
- Brown rice
- Whole grain bread
If your only option is simple carbohydrates, however, you may consume it about 30 minutes before you begin working out. Fruits like bananas and apples are good sources of simple carbohydrates.
Protein is essential for various bodily functions including the maintenance, growth and repair of muscle fibers. You should aim to eat protein (lean) before exercising. Good sources are salmon, chicken and turkey. About 20-30g of protein consumed before workout leads to increased synthesis of muscle protein.
Include any of these in your pre-workout meal:
In the past, medical experts have discouraged people from consuming high fat meals particularly before working out because fats are digested a lot slower by the body compared to carbohydrates. But you need healthy fats for a balanced pre workout meal. Unsaturated fats are nutritious and provide a range of benefits. Besides, consuming fats means your body will gradually digest the food ensuring you have a gradual flow of energy throughout your workout session and the rest of the day.
Go for unsaturated fats like avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil
You should aim to consume a meal rich in complex carbs, protein and healthy fats about 2 hours before hitting the gym. This allows your body enough time to digest the food and give you maximum benefits.
Here’s a video that explains how carbs affect your health: