Pre-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat Before a Workout


Good nutrition can help your body perform better and recover faster. Optimal nutrient intake prior to exercise will not only help you maximize your performance but also minimize muscle damage.

A pre-workout snack should include a good balance of carbohydrates for quick energy coupled with small amounts of protein to help build and repair muscle tissue and regulate the release of glucose in the blood. And by keeping these meals low in fat and fibre, you can help avoid common digestive problems such as cramping and nausea.

Carbohydrates are an essential energy source. Consuming the right amount of carbohydrates before a workout will ensure that the body has enough energy to perform well. Simple carbs are sugars that provide a rapid rise in energy like white bread should be consumed in pre workout.

Complex carbohydrates include fiber or starch. They provide a slower, more long-term source of energy. Ideally, a person should eat a meal rich in complex carbohydrates and protein around 2–3 hours before exercising. Waiting a few hours after eating allows the body enough time to digest the meal. Alternately, a person may prefer a smaller meal that is mostly made up of simple carbohydrates and protein 30–45 minutes before working out

Approximately two to three hours before strength training opt for a meal that is:

  • Relatively high in carbohydrates to maximize the maintenance of blood glucose
  • Low in fat and fibre to minimize gastrointestinal distress
  • Ample in protein and fats for a complete and balanced meal.

My favourite pre workout foods to eat options

  • Banana + peanut butter + nuts
  • Oat meal + apple + nuts
  • Protein smoothie +banana + nuts
  • Chicken + sweet potato
  • Tofu sandwich
  • Chicken rice
Banana + Peanut butter + Nuts
Oat meal + Apple + Nuts
Protein smoothie + Banana + Nuts
Chicken + Sweet potato
Tofu sandwich
Chicken rice

Approximately 30 minutes to one hour before strength training, fuel up with a small and easily digestible snack that includes:

  • Simplified protein and carbohydrate foods to aid in digestion and absorption of glucose and amino acids
  • 70 to 75 percent carbohydrates
  • 20 to 25 percent easily digestible protein 

A few of my favourite options are:

  • Greek yogurt with berries
  • Oatmeal with low-fat milk and fruit
  • Whey protein + dates 
  • Jam toast + whey
  • Egg whites + dates
  • Banana + whey
  • Rice cake with honey + whey
Greek yogurt + Berries
Jam toast + Whey
Egg whites
Banana + Whey Protein
Rice cake + Honey
Oat Meal + Fruit

Coffee as a pre workout

Caffeine itself is a stimulant that is metabolized by the liver. Caffeine is absorbed within 30 to 45 minutes after ingestion, and can stay elevated in the system for up to three to six hours after consumption. As it’s metabolized, caffeine breaks down and has influence on vasodilation, triggering fat oxidation and decreasing airway constriction in the lungs.

Caffeine, a mild nervous system stimulant and principal active ingredient in most pre-workout supplements, has been shown to enhance performance for endurance sports by increasing time to exhaustion, preserving muscle glycogen content, delaying fatigue. While caffeine combines with the adenosine receptor site and induces alertness and resulting in improvement of endurance performance.

Beetroot Juice as pre workout and post workout

Taking beetroot or beetroot juice has various positive effects on an Athlete’s performance. It contains a lot of nitrates which is reduced in the body to nitric oxide and this seems to help in reducing blood pressure at rest and has positive benefits on cardiovascular health too. This increases the performance at a lower oxygen cost of exercising which means you can exercise at the same work rate for a bit longer. You are exercising at the higher intensity for the same duration.

Take home message

It is recommended to consume a full meal 2-3 hours before your workout. For meals eaten closer to your workout, Choose simpler carbohydrates and some protein. A combination of carbohydrates and protein is recommended for pre workout meals. Fat can also be beneficial, but it should be consumed at least two hours before exercise.

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