Pre-workout nutrition: what to eat before you exercise

Posted on: February 18th 2020

Photo credit: David Fedulov

Fueling correctly before your workout will help you perform better and recover quickly. Ideally, you want to have energy during the workout without feeling too full. Here’s how to achieve that ideal balance, whether you workout first thing in the morning, mid-day, or in the evening.

If you have time: eat two to three hours before working out

A good rule of thumb is to eat a meal containing carbs, protein, and fat about two to three hours before working out. Pre-workout protein can help you maintain or increase muscle size, helps your muscles recover faster, and floods your bloodstream with amino acids. Carbs give you fuel during your exercise — even short-duration, high-intensity workouts — and help with recovery while preserving muscle and liver glycogen. They also stimulate the release of insulin, which when combined with protein, improves protein synthesis. Finally, fats before exercise help slow
digestion and maintain blood glucose and insulin levels.

If you’re eating around two to three hours before exercising, you don’t have to drink a protein shake. Any source of protein is fine, and be sure to combine it with carbs and fat. Try eggs with sauteed veggies, avocado, and fruit or maybe oatmeal with a sliced banana and nuts. Chicken with rice and vegetables is another great option!

Early morning exercise nutrition: an hour to 30 minutes
before working out

For those who exercise first thing in the morning, there’s certainly no reason to wake up two to three hours early just to eat!

Many people find they don’t need to eat anything at all, especially if the workout will last less than an hour. If you wake up about an hour before you exercise, you should eat a small meal that contains mostly carbs and a bit of protein. A piece of fruit or yogurt are great choices.

Try these nutrition guidelines and see how you feel. Do you have more energy during the workout? Are you recovering better? If not, you may need to adjust the type and quantity of food to find what works best for you.

Late afternoon or early evening: a pre-workout snack

If you’re exercising before dinner and you’ve eaten a healthy breakfast and lunch, all you need is a small pre-workout snack about an hour or two before working out. This is when a protein shake might be a good idea, because you don’t want a heavy meal sitting in your stomach. Or try a small snack like nuts and fruit to give you energy. Some people prefer to exercise on an empty stomach — in that case, don’t eat anything after lunch. As always, be sure to eat high-quality, unprocessed food, and avoid added sugar whenever possible.

Now go work out!

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