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Right – you’re all set for your new exercise regime.

You’ve bought the trainers, joined a gym and printed out the workout you’re going to follow (or used an app – hey, you smart thing, you…)

Before you put yourself under that barbell, have you considered your pre workout nutrition?

If you want to work out to the best of your abilities, you need the fuel that will support those lifts. And that includes a decent pre workout plan of the foods, snacks and supplements that will help you.

There are gains to be had – noticeable gains, even. What you take before your session can make or break your performance in the gym and it can also help you pack on muscle. We’re suggesting to eat to fuel, and when people tell you to eat more in the name of health, who’s gonna argue with that?

Often, gym goers and bodybuilders put too much emphasis on post workout nutrition. Sure, that’s important (and you can see our article on why it’s so crucial here) as exercise places the body under a large amount of stress and you want to make sure you repair and recover as fast as you can, but the pre-workout serves many vital purposes too.

When you enter the gym, you want to go in there energised, enthusiastic and ready to work hard. That’s three hundred times easier when you feel physically able.

There are some people who like to train fasted, which might work for them, but if you think of your body as a car then how do you picture that car running without decent fuel in it? If you’re running on empty, then the chances are you will feel sluggish, and you won’t perform as well as you could if you’d eaten properly or taken a shake beforehand.

When you work out without fuel, you need to rely more on glycogen, the sugar source that is stored in the muscles. This will run out quickly, so the next available source of energy for the body is muscles. If you think about the amount of work that goes into building muscle, you’ll know that no-one wants to sacrifice it as quickly as that.

If you haven’t eaten enough prior to working out, you just won’t be able to lift as hard and heavy as you would otherwise. We know you don’t go to the gym to impress other gym-goers, but if folks see you struggling through what should be straightforward lifts, it’s not so cool, is it?

There’s not only that factor, but the end result is that you can’t stimulate your muscle fibres to break point – the magical place where they form new scar tissue and muscle mass. If you want every rep to count, the fuelled reps are worth so much more than the unfuelled ones.

If you want to blast your way through a plateau, often adjustments to the diet will actually help. And making sure your pre-workouts are fuelled accordingly is a big part of that.

Let’s do this!

Pre Workout Nutrition Plan

Generally, your pre-workout nutritional regime should be a two-pronged attack:

  • A meal one to two hours before you work out (two hours if your metabolism is sluggish to allow for proper digestion and depending on the size of the meal)
  • A supplement thirty to forty-five minutes before you start your workout

Pre Workout Meal Plan (One To Two Hours Before Training)

Clean Sources Of Moderate To Slow-Digesting Carbohydrates

pre workout nutrition foodOkay – for many people this might be breakfast or an afternoon snack, depending on when you have scheduled your workout. You need good food for this – moderate to slow-digesting carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes and fruit and veg.

This will help you power your way through a muscle-fibre tearing workout. They provide you with energy preventing your body tapping into muscles for fuel, and they will help you keep going through the whole workout because of their relatively slow digestion.

Fast-digesting carbohydrates (sometimes called high-glycaemic foods) such as white bread, white potatoes, tropical fruits, sweets and some cereals aren’t recommended because you will quickly burn out once the energy source is used up as you exercise.

Good choices are rye bread, seeded bread, oatmeal (there are good reasons why practically every bodybuilding diet you see includes oatmeal for breakfast), brown rice and even wholemeal pasta.

The general rule is to eat about 20-40g of carbohydrates before working out. What does this look like? It isn’t that much…a slice of rye bread is roughly 20g of carbs, while a roll is about 30g. One cup of cooked oatmeal (approximately 85g) is 40g of carbs. Add some protein and/or fat to your meal as this will slow down sugar-spiking too.

Peanut butter on rye toast is one example, flaked almonds mixed into oatmeal another. Or you could opt for Instagram’s most famous breakfast – the smashed avocado on wholemeal toast. Top it with a poached egg for extra goodness. (Our favourite tip there for extra palatability is a splash of Tabasco sauce.)

Portion control and timing are factors. For most people, eating this meal two hours before they hit the gym is a good idea as this gives your body enough time to metabolise the food. Blood can then be directed to the muscles, instead of your stomach where it needs to help digestion. (Blood directed to the stomach instead of muscles can result in cramps during exercise.)

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Fruit

Just before working out, you can opt for fresh fruit. These provide quick fast-digesting energy for your training session.

Choose locally-grown, seasonal fruit where you can as you’ll enjoy more of the health benefits. Apples, oranges and bananas are all great choices. Fruit has the added benefit of vitamins (particularly Vitamin C) and electrolytes.

If you want to have fruit earlier in the day, one idea is to make it part of your pre-workout meal by adding protein and or fats which will slow down the blood sugar spike you get from eating fruit.

Here are some ideas:

  • Slices of apple and pears spread with one to two tablespoons of peanut butter
  • Sliced banana mixed in with a half-portion of oatmeal and Greek yoghurt
  • Greek yoghurt mixed with 150g berries (raspberries, blueberries and strawberries are all great choices)
  • Rye bread topped with a little peanut butter and banana slices
  • One piece of fruit with walnuts and almonds
  • A banana liquidised with a little Greek yoghurt, water and peanut butter
  • Milk, berries and almond butter made into a smoothie. Add some spinach leaves if you’re hardcore

Protein

pre workout proteinEvery meal you eat should contain some protein. It’s the building block for new muscle growth and vital if you want to maintain a positive nitrogen balance.

The best sources of protein contain the correct ratio of amino acids. Complete protein sources include eggs chicken, turkey, milk, red meat, fish and tofu for vegans.

Like the recommendation for numbers of carbohydrates, you should eat about 20-40g of protein before your workout. Eggs have about 7g of protein each, while 100g of chicken breast has 23g.

Another idea is whey protein shakes. Whey protein is one of the best sources of protein you can find. Why? It has a high biological value rating (meaning it fuels muscles fast) and an exceptionally high branched-chain amino acid content.

But it also has anti-ageing properties, and other health uses. For example, studies have found that whey might potentially reduce cancer rates, combat HIV, reduce stress levels, increase brain serotonin levels, reduce blood pressure and improve liver function in people suffering from some forms of hepatitis.

Another great reason for a whey protein shake is time-saving. If you are a busy kind of dude or gal, you might find it much easier to fit in that pre-workout meal if you can swap it out for a protein shake instead.

Scientifically Formulated Pre Workout Supplements (30 To 45 Minutes Before Training)

As we said, we recommend the two-pronged attack when it comes to pre-workout nutrition. Thirty to forty-five minutes before your workout you move onto phase two – sports and nutritional supplements specially formulated for pre-workouts.

There’s a lot of choices out there. Most reputable nutritional supplement brands offer a plethora of products to choose from. You’ll be guided by the brand’s reputation, your requirements and your budget. We reviewed a ton of them and listed Top 10 pre workout supplements here. Make sure to check it out!

What you want is something that you will feel begin to work quickly, otherwise what’s the point? Your pre-workout supplement should give you a burst of energy that makes you want to go to the gym and blast your way through a workout.

Many pre-workout products contain caffeine and arginine. Caffeine is a stimulant, so you’ll get increased focus, intensity and energy for the duration of your workout. L-arginine is used for a number of different functions in the body, including wound healing, helping kidneys remove waste products from the body, and maintaining immune and hormone function. It also dilates and relaxes the arteries, and it activates peak vasodilation (i.e. widening the blood vessels) which promotes powerful muscle pumps.

Why are good pumps so important?

Pump hard, and you help muscle growth in your body by delivering vital tissue nutrients (oxygen and amino acids) to your working muscles. This creates an optimal anabolic environment that facilitates new growth.

There you go. All the reasons why it’s good to fuel up before you work out. We’ve given you the basis for the two-pronged attack for pre workout nutrition. Now, all you need to do is stock up in the supermarket and buy the nutritional supplement that will help you achieve your goals in the gym. Eat well, supplement wisely, workout with focus and intensity, and you too can achieve the physique you want.

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FAQ

Are pre workout meals necessary?

It depends on the workout you are going to do. If you get up early to go to yoga and Pilates, then you don’t necessarily need that pre-workout meal. And if your workout is relatively short and doesn’t involve weights, then we’d say don’t bother either.

For the most part, pre-workout nutrition is for people who are lifting hard and heavy for about an hour. If you work out in the morning and you really can’t face eating, supplementation beforehand will help, as will ensure you get a good meal and/or take post-workout nutritional products afterwards.

What should a pre workout meal consist of?

We’ve given you some ideas above, but the ideal ratio is about 20-40g each of protein and carbohydrate and a little fat for palatability and to help flatten the blood glucose spike you get from carbs. Love toast? Great. Pick up a slice of seeded bread, mix tuna fish with a little low-fat mayonnaise add in some sliced cucumber and eat. A perfect blend of macros and micros.

Do you take pre workout supplements with or after a meal?

For maximum benefit, take the supplements thirty to forty-five minutes before you do your work out. Some supplements are designed to be taken with food. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations closely, and ensure you are not doubling up on products – such as your pre and post-workout capsules or shakes if you don’t need to.

What does pre workout protein do?

It’s the fuel that’s going to help transform your body. Protein is the building block for new muscles, so that’s why it’s important to take them before. Most supplements contain branched-chain amino acids, and these will fuel your muscles during training. A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise found that one scoop of protein powder taken before working out increased calorie burning over the next twenty-four hours. There can’t be many people who don’t like the sound of that…

References:

  1. Willoughby, D; “Effects of 7 days of arginine-alpha-ketoglutarate supplementation on blood flow, plasma L-arginine, nitric oxide metabolites, and asymmetric dimethyl arginine after resistance exercise.”; Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab; 2011 Aug; 21(4):291-9; Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21813912
  2. Lidder, Satnam, and Andrew J. Webb; “Vascular Effects of Dietary Nitrate (as Found in Green Leafy Vegetables and Beetroot) via the Nitrate‐nitrite‐nitric Oxide Pathway.”; British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 75.3 (2013): 677–696; Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3575935/
  3. Bloomer RJ, Harvey IC, Farney TM et al; “Effects of 1,3-dimethylamylamine and caffeine alone or in combination on heart rate and blood pressure in healthy men and women.”; Phys Sportsmed. 2011 Oct;39(3):111-120; Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22030947 (original article archived at https://web.archive.org/web/20111102174432/http://www.physsportsmed.org/doi/10.3810/psm.2011.09.1927)
  4. Col John Lammie; Report of the Department of Defense 1,3 Dimethylamylamine (DMAA) Safety Review Panel; Department of Defense; June 2013; Retrieved from http://hprc-online.org/dietary-supplements/files/ReportoftheDoDDMAASafetyReviewPanel2013.pdf