Fueling your body with the right foods before your workout is essential for optimal performance and energy levels. Whether you are a seasoned athlete or just starting out, this guide will provide you with valuable insight to what your pre-workout nutrition should look like to help you get the most out of your workout.
In today’s article I’ll be discussing:
- What To Eat (Macronutrients)
- Timing Is Key: When To Eat
- Post Workout Nutrition
- Hydration, The Most Missed Thing For Optimal Performance
- Sample Pre-Workout Meal Options
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What To Eat (Understanding Macros)
Decades of research have shown us we can improve strength, power, and endurance when these strategies are deployed. More specifically, performance nutrition can:
- delay fatigue
- enhance the anabolic effect of strength training
- promote regeneration of energy stores, and improve cognitive function.
…so dialing in on this details can really be a game changer for you feel and perform.
Especially when we are talking about fatigue, performance drops and in some cases your injury risk is higher. So if we can “fuel” your body properly and delay fatigue you can optimize performance.
Carbs: The Fuel For Your Workout
The energy that is burned (or used) during exercise depends on intensity and duration.
As intensity increases, your primary source of “fuel” becomes carbohydrates for your energy source.
If your blood glucose cannot be stabilized, performance intensity must decrease. When you train at a high intensity, carbohydrates becomes your main source of fuel instead of fat.
You can check out this video to see how to improve your aerobic capacity and become more fat adapted.
Muscle glycogen (comes from carbs) can be depleted within 2 hours of exercise and depending on intensity/duration you can utilize those even quicker.
And when you run out…
…well you have to decrease intensity and you feel like garbage.
Carbs help maximize glycogen stores for high intensity exercise, so don’t be afraid of having carbs.
Protein: Supporting Muscle Growth For Better Performance
We say this all the time to our athletes…
“Train hard, recover even harder.”Me, Kevin Andres
What we mean by that is, give your muscles the support they need to begin the regeneration process.
As a reminder, when you strength train, workout at high intensity, etc you are inducing stress on your body. Essentially breaking your body/muscles down.
In order for your body to overcompensate aka come back stronger you want to have adequate protein to help rebuild your muscle tissues, and rest.
Protein helps optimize recovery. 1g per lb of bodyweight is what you should be shooting for. I weight 170 lbs my goal is to get close to 170 grams of protein.
Healthy Fat: Sustained Energy For Longer Training Sessions
We talked about higher intensity using carbohydrates as primary energy source and conversely fat is the primary source* for longer moderate to low intensity training.
*this depends on your level of fitness.
As exercise intensity increases, the contribution of fat begins to decrease due to carbohydrates increasing role. This is why we highly encourage our athletes to improve their aerobic capacity by doing more zone 2 work to delay this process.
There is no performance benefit to limiting your fat intake to low levels, low levels being <15% of your total calories.
In fact, low levels of fat intake can mess with women menstrual cycles and for men it can mess with serum testerone development.
Healthy fats help fuel your body for longer workouts.
Timing Of When To Eat
Timing around your workout is variable depending on when of course you train.
Morning, afternoon of evening.
Because of your fast (sleeping through the night), your liver glycogen levels are most likely low.
Your blood/muscle glycogen levels are likely going to be low as well...you replenish these by eating carbs before a workout. But since you’re are training in the morning and haven’t had an opportunity to “fuel” your workout, here’s what you can do.
The night prior, you will want to have a higher carbohydrate meal, since this will serve as your “pre-workout” meal.
Depending on how early you train:
- 90 minutes before you session – you can have some mashed or puree food, eating this close to your workout will not serve as “fuel”
- 60 minutes or less before your session – it’s best to have liquid carbohydrates, that’s actually what I do since I train first thing in the morning.
This you really have a great opportunity to fuel your body properly if you can plan accordingly.
Ideally you are eating a whole food meal 2 hours prior to your workout. This meal would consist of a lean protein choice and carboyhdrates (potatoes, white rice, things of that nature, BUT minimizing fat intake.
Another trick you can do is add in those liquid carbs (carbogain or Karolyn) 60 minutes prior to training since it’s easily digestible and will give you a little more “fuel” in the tank.
Have your meal 2 hour prior to your workout but minimize fat. Consider drinking a liquid carb 60 minutes ish prior to your session.
Post Workout Meal
The choices you make with foods, fluids, and the timing of your immediate post workout nutrition can make a significant impact.
Now, long term muscle adaptations are the result of being consistent week in and week out of training.
However, the initial action you take after your workout can begin to create great habits for you that will help optimal performance.
During the first few hours of recovery, many exercises related genes are activated, which may be linked to the repletion of muscle energy stores (glycogen).NASM Sports Performance
So if carbohydrates are ignored after a training session, you can potentially diminish the training adaptations you worked hard at.
Simplest thing you can do is have a post workout shake or smoothie with fast digesting carbohydrate.
Notice how much we have talked about carbohydrates? When you train hard, it’s okay to have carbs.
Macronutrient break down would look something like a 2:1 or 3:1 carb to protein intake which would be:
- 50 carbs to 25 grams or protein
- if you are a larger athlete 75 carbs to 25 grams of protein
- if you are an endurance athlete, even more…a 4:1 carb to protein rati
Hydration: The Most Overlooked Thing For Optimal Performance
Fluid intake and hydration is often overlooked.
As an athlete where you sport demands high intensity efforts and to have good endurance, if your hydration is lacking your missing out on key performance benefits.
Studies show that being dehydrated:
- decreased strength by 2%
- power by about 3%
- and for you crossfit athletes (high intensity endurance)…about 10%
How Much Water To Drink:
- before training 14-22 oz
- during training 6-12 oz (water, electrolytes) every 15 minutes
- after training 16-24 oz of water and electrodes for every pound of body mass lost
But not just water.
You want to have sodium, potassium, and electrolytes. Drinking sodium will help your body stimulate thirst and retain fluids you consume.
Side note – your fluids should be cool, not cold.
Sample Pre-Workout Meal Options
I’m confident you now have a better understanding as to WHY we care about what you are putting in your body prior to your workouts.
Now, let’s give you some choices:
Eating 3 Hours Prior To Workout
- lean protein, brown rice, and roasted vegetables
- lean protein and sweet potatoes (good balance of protein and complex carbs)
- quinoa salad with chickpeas (quinoa is a great source of both protein and complex carbs and the vetaqles are a nice touch for additional vitamins and minerals)
- whole grain wrap with turkey slices, advacado, spinach and cucumbers
Eating 90 Minutes Prior To Workout
In this window we are trying to minimize the complexity or our foods and get nutrients. So we want more simple carbs, here are some options:
- greek yogurt with berries and granola
- rice cakes with a banana (maybe some nut butter)
- veggie stir fry with tofu
These choices aren’t too heavy on your digestive system but give you enough in the tank to feel good going into your workout.
Eating 60 Minutes Or Less Prior To Workout
We talked about this briefly earlier how it’s best to probably just have liquid form of carbohydrates and protein.
Because any Whole Foods in this time window are not going to serve as fuel for your workout, here are some options:
- fruit smoothie with protein powder
- energy bars.
Make sure it’s high quality (meaning minimal ingredients) a solid amount of carbs and minimal to no added sugars
Pre workout nutrition is essential to optimal performance, especially carbohydrates. The closer you are to your training session you want to get away from more Whole Foods and move to more liquid carbs.
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