Is your pre-workout meal really that important and what makes a good pre-workout meal?
You may run to the gym, class or down to your basement first thing in the morning and think nothing of doing your workout on an empty stomach and you may have even read that exercise on an empty stomach burns more fat. Don’t be fooled, though, because a pre-workout meal is a great benefit to your fat loss goal. You will be able to burn more calories overall and improve your lean tissue (muscle) profile.
Eating a pre-workout meal will:
1. Provide you with energy so you feel good and can work hard. No fuel means you can’t push your workout. If you want results from your workouts you have to work hard. If you want to work hard you have to eat. A pre-workout meal will prevent muscle glycogen (your body’s energy tank) depletion.
2. Maintain lean muscle. A good pre-workout meal can prevent muscle breakdown and improve energy repair and recovery. Protect the muscle you do have.
3. Help build muscle. Eating protein during your workout meal can help slowly release amino acids into your blood stream, which can promote protein synthesis. If you are breaking down muscle and eating enough calories, muscle growth can be improved.
What should your pre-workout meal look like?
1. Slow acting/low glycemic carbohydrates. These will produce a slower increase in blood glucose and moderate rise of insulin. (Insulin spikes from eating simple sugars should be avoided)
2. Lean protein. Too much fat in your protein slows digestion so pick lean sources. A major benefit of meat is that it contains Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA), which can help increase the rate of protein synthesis and decrease protein breakdown during and after your workout.
Here are some examples of pre-workout meals:
- Steal Cut Oatmeal and a hard boiled egg
- Egg Whites, Peppers, Onions, Grapefruit/Oatmeal
- Roasted Turkey with veggies (Paleo)
- Grilled Chicken with yam and asparagus (Paleo)
- Natural applesauce with egg protein powder (Paleo)
- Natural baby food banana (only because it’s not as perishable as fresh banana!) with egg protein powder (Paleo)
- Baked yam with lean turkey (Paleo)
Timing and Amount:
Eat your pre-workout meal between 2-3 hours if possible. Early morning exercisers, eat it as early as you can within that time frame – a drink with protein and carbs may be your best option (look for a 2-4:1 ratio of carbs:protein). I’ve eating it as soon as 20 minutes prior to a workout. As with timing, the amount you eat will be individual based on goals and how you feel. Some feel best with a meal 2 hours prior and I feel best with a meal 1 hour prior. You’ll have to experiment a bit to see what works best for you.
Dairy: You may have noticed that I didn’t mention dairy. As you may already know, my opinion is that diary is NOT a health food. I’m not a nutritionist or a scientist. Do your own due diligence and decide for yourself. If you would like to read more about pre and post exercise meals here is a link to my partners at ProGrade Nutrition http://personalbest.getprograde.com/Recovery-Research.html. If you do use dairy and have no intention of giving it up, Prograde has pre and post-workout shake mixes that I have used and think they taste good – I don’t use them because they have whey protein and I’ve decided my body doesn’t work best with dairy (but the article is interesting and I do like their other products like krill oil.)