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Choosing a pre-workout meal – What you need to know?

Pile of fruit and vegetables

Pre-workout meal helps in maximising your efforts and results, preventing you from burning muscle mass. Eating the right amount of pre-workout meal is the key to success. Here are some more reasons why a pre workout meal is so important.

Along with foods to eat after a workout for recovery, pre-workout meal is one topic in the fitness world that incites more debate and controversy than carbohydrates. Most people are stuck with a pre-conceived notion that training on empty stomach helps burn more fat. While it is true that when you work out on an empty stomach, body uses the stored fat as energy source, we must not forget that body also burns muscle tissues in the process. To avoid the burning of muscle tissues, you need to have a light pre-workout meal.

Pre-workout meal prepares your body for a strenuous workout

Experts believe that eating something before you exercise helps fuel your workout, maximising your efforts and results. Whether you are going to gym to build muscles or lose weight, the results of your workout will largely depend on how intense your training is. But, can you do intense workout without proper energy in your body? No! To train hard, your body needs to have the energy to sustain you through the workout, and the energy will only come from the food that you eat. Eating before a workout also helps avoid low blood sugar, which leads to light-headedness and fatigue.

Fueling your body with the right nutrients prior to exercise will give you the energy and strength you need to perform better. Each macronutrient has a specific role before a workout. However, the ratio in which you need to consume them varies by individual and the type of exercise.

Right pre-workout meal is the key

Balanced Diet Pie Chart

Just because you must eat something before your workout, doesn’t mean you can gorge on anything you like. Ideally a pre-workout meal should be light and easily digestible. Though the quantity of nutrients you may need will depend largely on your metabolism and body type, the key is to eat something that is low in fat, fibres and calories. A pre-workout meal that's equal parts fast-digesting carbs and protein is ideal to fuel your muscles and jumpstart muscle growth and repair.

While diet isn’t necessarily gender specific, sizes do vary for men and women. The same is true in case of pre-workout meal as well. Normally, it is essential to consume 0.1 g of protein and 0.2 g of carbs per pound of body weight. So, a normal 130 pound woman should ingest 13 g of protein and 26 g of carbs before workout to do strength training with proper intensity.

Another important factor that you must consider while choosing pre-workout meal is your weight goal. When your aim is to lose fat, then you can’t eat carbs before exercise as you will then only burn those carbs with training, not fat. So, if you are training to lose weight, stick to ratio of 1:1 or 1:2 of carbs: protein in your pre-workout meals. But, if your goal is gaining muscles, then you must follow the ratio of 2:1 or 3:1 of carbs: protein as glucose and amino acids in body will only aid the process of anabolic muscle building.

Best pre-workout meals

Here are the best foods you can eat before your workout:

Single Banana
One Banana : 105 calories, 27g carbs, 1g protein, 0.5 g fat. Eat a medium banana with 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt 30 minutes before your workout.
Wooden bowl of oats
Oats:45 calories, 25g carbs, 6g protein, 2g fat. One cup of oatmeal before you exercise will keep you charged up for strenuous training.
Pile of lentils
Lentils:290 calories, 40g carbs, 18g protein, 1 g fat. A cupful of lentils have perfect carb and protein ratio, making it an ideal pre-workout meal.
Protein powder and scoop
Others:12 almonds, energy bars and fruit juice are other options that you can consider. Some gym goers, especially body builders, take a protein mix or supplement before workouts to kick start muscle repair, recovery, and growth.

Here are some examples of balanced pre-workout meals:

If Your Workout Starts in 2–3 Hours or More:

  • Sandwich on whole grain bread, lean protein and side salad.
  • Egg omelet and whole grain toast topped with avocado spread and a cup of fruit.
  • Lean protein, brown rice and roasted vegetables.

If Your Workout Starts Within 2 Hours:

  • Protein smoothie made with milk, protein powder, banana and mixed berries.
  • Whole-grain cereal and milk.
  • A cup of oatmeal topped with banana and sliced almonds.
  • Natural almond butter and fruit preserve sandwich on whole-grain bread.

If Your Workout Starts in 1 Hour or Less:

  • Greek yogurt and fruit.
  • Nutrition bar with protein and wholesome ingredients.
  • A piece of fruit such as banana, orange or apple.

Keep in mind that you don't need to eat many pre-workout meals at different times. Just choose one of these. For best results, experiment with different timings and compositions of your pre-workout meal.

Timing of pre-workout meal is also important

Normally pre-workout meals should be taken at least 45 minutes before you start your workout. This time will ensure that your meal is properly digested and is ready to give you energy. If you eat just before exercise, then your stomach will feel heavy and will prevent you from doing training properly. Also, make sure you are properly hydrated before you start working out. If you hit the gym early in the morning, drink some water immediately after you wake up.

To maximize the results of your training, try to eat a complete meal containing carbs, protein and fat 2–3 hours before you exercise. However, in some cases you may not be able to get in a full meal 2-3 hours before working out. In that case, then you can still eat a decent pre-workout meal. Just keep in mind that the sooner you eat before your workout, the smaller and simpler the meal should be. So if you eat 45–60 minutes prior to your workout, choose foods that are simple to digest and contain mainly carbs and some protein. This will help prevent any stomach discomfort during exercise.

Pre workout meal ideas

To maximize your performance and recovery, it's important to fuel your body with the right nutrients before a workout. Carbs help maximize your body's ability to use glycogen to fuel short- and high-intensity exercises, while fat helps fuel your body for longer exercise sessions.

Eating protein helps improve muscle protein synthesis, prevent muscle damage and promote recovery. Good hydration is also linked to enhanced performance. Pre-workout meals can be consumed 2–3 hours and up to 30 minutes before workouts. However, choose foods that are easy to digest, especially if your workout starts in one hour or less. This will help you avoid any stomach discomfort.

Additionally, many different supplements can aid performance and promote recovery. At the end of the day, simple pre-workout nutrition practices can go a long way in helping you perform better and recover faster.