Is a Pre Workout Meal Vital?
Food eaten throughout the training week as well as food and fluid consumed during exercise is just as important. Consuming food and fluid before exercise should be seen as an opportunity to fine-tune carbohydrate and fluid levels and to ensure you feel comfortable.
When should I eat?
Food consumed before exercise is only useful once it has been digested and absorbed. You therefore need to time your food intake so that the energy becomes available during the exercise period. The time required for digestion depends on the type and quantity of food consumed. Foods higher in fat, protein and fibre generally take longer to digest than other foods, and can cause stomach discomfort during exercise. A general guide is to have a meal about 3-4 hours before exercise and/or a lighter snack about 1-2 hours before exercise.
What if I Exercise Early in the Morning?
If you do, try and opt for a light snack about an hour before exercise. Examples are: Fruit or a museli bar on the way to training along with some fluid such as a glass of almond milk or juice.
What should I eat?
Food eaten before exercise should provide carbohydrate containing low GI complex carbohydrates, about 15-20 grams of protein and a combination of good fats (monounsaturated fats and omega 3′s). This combination of foods will break down slowly, keeping your energy levels consistent and provide the necessary nutrients to aid muscle growth. Most exercise sessions emphasizes on carbohydrate and fluid for the pre-event meal.
Some food suggestions suitable to eat 3-4 hours before exercise:
- Salad with pumpkin and tofu
- Tuna and salad sandwich (wholemeal) and an apple
- pasta or rice with for example tomato, root vegetables and egg
- Baked beans on toast (whole grain)
- Quinoa and vegetables + banana
- Fruit & vegetable smoothie
- Fruit salad with nuts
Note: The main goal of pre workout meal is to keep your blood sugar levels consistent throughout your training session to prevent muscle catabolism (breakdown of muscle for fuel). Therefore low GI carbohydrates should form the basis of this meal in combination with lean sources of protein.
Some food suggestions suitable to eat 1-2 hours before exercise:
- Fruit and vegetable smoothie
- Sports bars (check labels for carbohydrate and protein content)
- Raw chia seeds almond milk porridge with berries
- Organic rolled oats with almond milk
- Coconut milk yogurt
The ideal pre-workout snack is one that is quickly digested and predominately consists of water and carbohydrates. Examples include solid foods like an orange, banana or grapes. Liquid snacks might include fruit juice, a pre workout shake or a sports drink.
Are Foods With a Low Glycemic Index Better?
Carbohydrate-containing foods have different effects on blood glucose levels. Foods with a low glycaemic index (GI) cause a slower, sustained release of glucose to the blood, whereas foods with a high GI cause a rapid, short-lived rise in blood glucose. Research has shown that low GI foods could be useful in the pre-event meal as they would result in a slower and more sustained release of glucose during exercise maintaining blood glucose levels for a longer period.
Athletes: What if I am too Nervous to Eat?
You will perform better when you are well-fuelled and well hydrated, and the pre-event meal could play an important role. Athletes need to experiment to find a routine that works, and foods that are safe and familiar. Liquid meal supplements such as protein shakes provide an alternative for anyone who has difficulty tolerating solid foods pre-exercise. Muesli bars and sports bars can be eaten if you nibble them slowly over the hours leading up to your game or competition.
Avoiding Carbohydrate Pre Workout
In some cases, eating carbohydrates can improve the outcome of the session. However, a small percentage of people experience a drop in blood glucose levels and symptoms such as fatigue, shakiness and dizziness after consuming carbohydrate immediately before exercise. This is a response to the increase in carbohydrate use that occurs after the intake, associated with a rise in the levels of the hormone, insulin. However, for most people, this is a temporary event which is quickly corrected by the body without any side-effects.
What if I am Trying to Lose Weight?
Exercising in a fasted state (around 8 hours since the last meal) results in a greater proportion of fat being used as energy compared to doing the same workload after a carbohydrate-containing meal or snack. However, you may be able to exercise harder and for a longer period if you consume carbohydrate before exercise. As an overall, this will result in increased energy use and a greater contribution to fat loss. If your primary goal is weight loss, (and do the same amount of exercise regardless of whether you eat or not), save your meal until after the session.
If your primary goal is weight loss, (and do the same amount of exercise regardless of whether you eat or not), save your meal until after the session.