When deciding on what your pre-workout meals should be, the biggest component to consider is how much time you have before your workout. Eating the wrong thing at the wrong time could end badly for you in the middle of a workout. In this article, I am going to discuss 3 different time frames and what is best to eat in those time frames to maximize muscle gain in the gym.
3+ hours before your workout
This far out before a workout, you should be fine to really eat anything as your body will have enough time to digest most of the food without it getting in the way of your energy levels.
However, you should make sure that all your pre-workout meals should have all three of your macronutrients topped off so that you can have maximal output.
My best pre-workout meals here are full meals that consist of all three macronutrients: carbs, fat, and protein.
The reason for this simply comes down to the role each of them performs in the body.
- Carbs: carbs are fasting acting within the body and provide the muscles with glycogen, their main source of energy. If your glycogen stores are depleted, then you will not be able to go to your workout with very high intensity.
- Protein: protein is the repairmen of the body. When things break down, protein comes in to fix it. Making sure that your body has protein available will speed up the recovery process, limit muscle tissue damage, and help boost your body’s anabolic response to the workout.
- Fat: fat is for the long haul. After your body breaks down all of it’s glycogen, it’s going to start going into fat stores to burn fuel. Unfortunately, this fuel is not so easily broken down which is why you don’t have the same explosive energy when your glycogen runs out and you switch to fat. However, have some fat in your diet will ensure that once all the glycogen is gone, you will have some energy stores that you can burn through.
A really good meal that I like that will consist of all of these would be something like a salmon fillet with a vegetable of your choice and some kind of whole grain like brown rice. You’ll get the protein and fat from the fish, and the carbs from the vegetables and grains.
< 2 hours before your workout
Okay, this is the most awkward period of time before working out when eating a big meal is not a good idea, but not eating at all is also not a good idea.
The key here is to stick to the same basic principle I listed above, only much smaller.
In this time frame here, the best pre-workout meals are things like a protein smoothie, a bowl of cereal, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. These things are substantial enough to hold your hunger at bay and provide you with the appropriate fuel throughout the workout, but also small enough that you should not have any stomach distress.
< 1 hour before your workout
Okay, by this point you’re probably getting ready to walk out the door. The best pre-workout meals that you can have here is going to be something very small and preferably carb-based.
The reason for this is that carbs are going to have the biggest effect on your workout since they are digested fast and provide your muscles with the fuel they need. However, even though they digest fast, it still has to be small because you still do not have that much time.
Within this timeframe, I like to have things like a banana or an apple, a granola bar of some kind, or maybe some cottage cheese or yogurt with some fruit.
Pre-workout meals before working out largely come down to time. The closer and closer you get to a workout, the simpler and more carb-focused your food choices should be.
Working out on an empty stomach is not a good idea because it could lead to seriously diminished activity levels and even a drop in your blood sugar which can cause you to feel shaky.
Different people will also have different tolerances to eating before a workout. Some people can eat a whole meal and go workout an hour later and feel fine. Others will do the same thing and feel horrible.
At the end of the day, you know your body better than anyone else. Try to stick to the guidelines I’ve laid out above, but also listen to the feedback your body is giving you and adjust for your specific needs accordingly!
Jordan Tank, Certified Personal Trainer, Columbus, Ohio
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