“You are what you eat”, “Food is fuel”, “Abs are made in the kitchen” … sound familiar?
We’ve all heard sayings like these in recent years, as Brits have become more and more interested in fitness.
The link between nutrition and wellbeing is real – and that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about in this article.
In particular, we’ll explain how to plan your pre-workout nutrition: what and when to eat before a workout.
Your pre-workout nutrition plan starts with balancing your intake of macronutrients. These are the carbohydrates, proteins and fats which fuel the body and heal its tissues. You need these ‘macros’ to power through workouts – and also to stay functional and healthy day-to-day.
Each macro is used by the body in different ways. The amount of carbs, fats and protein you eat should vary according to the type and intensity of exercise you’re going to do, and also based on you as an individual. Use our Calorie Calculator to find your personal RDA of each macro – it only takes about 60 seconds.
Here are some examples of macro-packed meals you could eat before a workout:
Fuelling the body with carbs pre-workout can give us great ability to release energy, which powers the dynamic movement and sustained effort that can produce the best athletic performances. From a sporting perspective, carbs get a big tick.
The flipside to loading up on carbs is that they can limit our ability to burn fat. Carbs are the body’s preferred fuel source, so it will always tend to burn through carbs before fats. When you consume lots of carbs pre-workout, your insulin levels spike, and this suppresses the use of stored fat as a fuel.
The best amount of carbohydrate to consume before exercise varies depending on your aims. Eating lots of carbs comfortably ahead of the session can fuel exceptional performance, whereas avoiding carbs can give you a high rate of fat burn – ideal for transforming your body composition.
Taking on protein a few hours before workout boosts the body’s ability to build back stronger after you exercise.
This is all thanks to the pool of amino acids produced when your body breaks down the proteins from food. The presence of these aminos tells the body that it has the right nutrients to build new muscle through muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
As we all know, it’s also a good idea to take on protein after you exercise, as this will be crucial to the ability for damaged muscles to repair and redevelop.
Utilising healthy fats in your diet can provide a big performance boost for low-to-moderate-intensity activities, such as long-duration cardio sessions.
Eating the right types of fat is important to unlocking the benefits of this macro. As a rule, you should avoid saturated fats and trans fats – both of which are associated with health risks. Instead, eat controlled amounts of monounsaturated fats (from plant oils) and polyunsaturated fats (from sources such as oily fish).
If you’re looking to perform well during a long, relatively low-intensity workout session, fat could be a key part of your pre-work out nutrition mix. It can take as long as four hours after eating for fats to be stored by the body, so be sure to take on healthy fats well in advance of your endurance sessions.
So far, we’ve covered how each type of macronutrient can play into your workout.
Now it’s time to put everything together into a nutrition plan that factors in the best time period to allow between eating and exercise.
Using the graphic from the ‘What to Eat?’ section as a template, select some suitable meals and add them to your workout schedule (if you have one). Remember to adjust the meals according to the types of exercise you’ll be doing, the macronutrients you’ll need most and your personal nutritional profile.
When to eat each pre-workout meal is often the first question that comes into our mind when we start thinking about nutrition for fitness, and quite rightly too! It’s a hot topic for dietitians, nutritionists and the whole team here at GSN HQ. The timing of nutrient intake can decide whether we get what we want out of our workouts.
One thing’s for sure: you do not want to be eating your pre-workout meal on the gym floor, right before you start, practically with the dumbbell ready to lift in the other hand! If you do this, you’ll put conflicting demands on the body. On one hand, the muscles will be demanding nutrients, increased blood flow and oxygen to work at their best – while on the other hand, your digestive system will be demanding resources needed to metabolise your food. And of course, stomach discomfort can be a factor too.
We suggest eating plenty of carbohydrates and protein together as part of your main pre-workout meal – well in advance of the workout.
If you’re looking to strategically include some healthy fats for improved endurance, be sure to eat the meal no later than three hours before workout. This is the ideal timing for a big, pre-workout meal.
However, if only life were that easy! Nowadays, work and other obligations will often get in the way of a perfect dietary routine. If you don’t have the opportunity to eat your main meal three hours before exercise, the best thing you can do is modify your meal choice depending on the time window.
The closer you are to your workout, the smaller and simpler your meal should be! GSN Pots O Gold are a great choice for 2 hours before the session.
And if you’re within 45-60 minutes before your workout, simple, easily digestible foods will be best. Go for yoghurts, fruits, smoothies, shakes or other foodstuffs with a high ratio of carbohydrate to protein.