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What to Eat Before a Workout: Your Ultimate Guide for Best Results

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Kasparas Aleknavičius, MD November 7, 2022

Fueling your body with high-density food can support good workout sessions.

You need plenty of healthy fats and protein to increase muscle mass and reach long-term fitness goals. But what kind of nutrition is required for that? Many people take pre-workout supplements to gain energy, however, that might not be enough.

Sports drinks and lean protein bars sound like an easy way to enhance your performance. These can still work, but consuming carbs, protein, and healthy fats will aid weight loss progress and muscle growth.

In this article, you’ll discover foods to eat before your workout.

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Foods to Eat Before Your Workout

If you work out in a gym, at some point, you might wonder how to prepare for high-energy sessions and improve your performance. The answer is in what you eat because the right food will make you feel energized, and wrong foods can make you feel sick. You need a balanced diet to lose weight and promote muscle recovery.

Let’s take a closer look at what you should eat:

Carbs

Eating carbohydrates will help your body to use glycogen for fuel. This will aid high-intensity training workouts that use more energy. Adequate carb intake enhances your athletic performance, leading to better weight loss progress.

Aim to eat one to four grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight. You can choose simple carbohydrates that are broken down quickly or complex carbohydrates that are higher in fiber and digest slowly.

Here are some of the best carb-rich foods to eat before a workout:

  • Broccoli
  • Oats
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Potatoes

Protein

Getting enough protein is essential for building and repairing muscle. It can improve your performance by activating muscle protein synthesis. It is a metabolic process that counteracts muscle breakdown and fixes damage to any muscle fibers.

Eating 20g of protein before a workout has been shown to promote muscle growth. Not fueling your body with protein might limit how much training you can do. It’s always better to have energy before you hit the gym, as this will produce the best results for losing weight.

Some good protein-rich foods can be found below:

  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Fish
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Yogurt

Fat

Healthy fats are key to fueling your weight training. They are a great energy source for long-distance, endurance-style workouts. If you plan on running a few miles, consume plenty of fats containing essential amino acids like leucine, alanine, and proline.

Ten grams of fat in your pre-workout meal should be enough. Going above this might slow you down or make you feel nauseous. A light snack could be avocado with Greek yogurt. Your body breaks down fats more slowly than carbs, so stay aware of that.

Below, you’ll find healthy fats that can benefit workout sessions:

  • Avocados
  • Cheese
  • Nuts
  • Fish
  • Pork
  • Almonds
  • Duck
  • Olives

When You Eat Your Meal Is Important

Eating right before your workout session may not go down well. The body needs at least 30 minutes to digest food properly. If you go straight into exercise, digestion issues will soon arise. Smaller meals can prevent problems like constipation and bloating.

Let’s take a look at when you should eat pre-workout meals:

Eating Before Cardio Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise drains most of your energy, so you’ll need a meal high in carbs and protein but low in fats. Too much fat close to the workout can slow down digestion. Aim to have dried fruits, oatmeal, or a chicken wrap 2 hours before the workout.

You can also eat yogurt, banana, fresh fruit, boiled eggs, or a protein shake 30 minutes before hitting the gym. Keep these portions small and give the food time to digest. High-protein and carb foods are essential for fueling high-intensity endurance training.

Eating Before Strength Training

Low-intensity strength training requires you to have important micronutrients like carbohydrates, protein, and fats. This ensures your muscles can repair after weight lifting and can prevent serious delayed muscle onset soreness (DOMS).

Consider having chicken and steamed vegetables, oatmeal with sliced almonds, natural butter on whole-grain bread, or plain granola with honey. These foods should only be consumed 2 hours before the workout to provide good digestion.

You can also have a fruit-based smoothie or protein shake 30 minutes before the strength training session. Bananas, dates, and raisins are great fruits to include since they support muscle development and contribute to the reduction of swelling.

Use the DoFasting app to discover products with complex carbohydrates. The better nutrition in your diet, the more likely you’ll produce great results.

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Supplements to Consider

Taking dietary supplements may help grow your muscle mass. They can make you feel stronger, especially during high-intensity exercise. Powders or capsule-based supplements usually have additional protein that increases muscle protein synthesis.

Here are some supplements to choose from:

Creatine

Everyone naturally has creatine in their muscle cells. This organic substance helps feed your muscles with energy during weight lifting or strenuous activity. However, the amount of creatine isn’t enough to increase your overall body composition.

A creatine supplement can improve your strength, provide short bursts of energy, and increase lean body mass. People usually take creatine before and after their workout by adding 3-5 grams of the powder into a protein shake or smoothie.

If you’re new to taking creatine, you might need to follow the loading phase. This means taking 20 grams daily for five days. The creatine will super-saturate the muscles quickly. After that, take the usual recommendation of 3–5 grams in your usual nutritious drinks.

Caffeine

Feeling tired before a workout? Try taking caffeine-based supplements. Caffeine is a stimulant drug that stimulates messages between your brain and body. It may enhance your senses and give you the boost of energy required for intense workouts.

Caffeine pills may strengthen your athletic performance and maintain concentration throughout the day. Just be aware that it can take 4-6 hours for your body to absorb the supplements, so take them in the morning to notice a physical and mental change.

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a group of three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. You can find them in protein-rich foods like beef, chicken, eggs, salmon, turkey, Greek yogurt, peanuts, canned tuna, and baked beans.

However, making these foods for a pre-workout snack may be difficult. Eating too many complex carbs might disrupt your digestion. So, opt for BCAAs that come in the form of capsules or powdered supplements, which can be taken 15 minutes before exercise.

BCAAs can help build muscle, improve overall muscle strength, decrease mental fatigue, and give you enough energy to complete a resistance workout.

Beta-Alanine

Beta-Alanine is a non-essential amino acid that naturally forms in your skeletal muscles. It can increase exercise capacity and decrease muscle fatigue. Most Beta-Alanine supplements contain antioxidants that enhance your immune system function.

The standard dosage is four to six grams daily. People usually mix powdered versions of Beta-Alanine with drinks to properly absorb the substance. You can take this before or after the pre-workout meal to aid your intense resistance training.

Foods to Avoid Before Training

Pre-workout nutrition is super important for training sessions, but eating the wrong foods can limit your performance. A simple turkey sandwich might sound delicious, right? Well, pairing the turkey with white bread can trigger constipation during a workout.

You should avoid foods like protein bars packed with sugar, high-fiber vegetables, processed meats, energy drinks, desserts, or fatty meals from a takeaway. These products contain complex carbs that will only cause heartburn and stomach pain.

Dairy products may also be a hit and miss. They are usually high in fat and could make you feel nauseous during a workout. Opt for low-fat milk or dairy-free products in your pre-workout meals. Sports nutrition is all about finding the right balance.

Poor nutrition before training might disturb your blood glucose levels. The sugars and fats in junk food promote a rapid rise in blood sugar, leading to short-term symptoms like dizziness, weak limbs, anxiety, heart palpitations, and concentration problems.

Not everyone knows how to start their diet or choose the right foods. DoFasting is an app that can provide expert tools and tips you need to reach your goals. The 100% science-based information will show recipes containing the best pre-workout foods.

Take a
1-minute quiz

and discover how much weight you can lose with DoFasting!

Conclusion

Deciding what to eat before a workout may be challenging, but there are foods that can support your performance. Anything high in protein and carbs will fuel the muscles and encourage a strong recovery, so feed your body with the right nutritious treats.

Author

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Kasparas Aleknavičius, MD
  • Head of Medical Affairs at Kilo Health
  • Medical Doctor at Vilnius University, Lithuania
  • Partnering with the EU-funded Young50 and EUPAP projects

Kasparas Aleknavicius is a medical doctor that graduated from Vilnius University, working as head of medical affairs at Kilo Health. After nearly 5 years in the industry, Kasparas focuses on digital health and is looking for innovative ways to help people lead healthy lifestyles through digital health and wellness platforms.

You can find Kasparas on LinkedIn and follow his latest research on Medium.

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