Pre-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat Before Workout for MAX Performance

Man And Woman Eating Before Workout

If you want to take yourself to new levels of fitness and build muscle, you need an action plan. 

We know you’re not afraid of going to the gym or going the extra mile with your training sessions. You’ve set yourself a goal, and you’re determined to score. We’re with you every step of the way.

If you’re already in the mindset to hit your targets—that’s amazing. But, getting in the zone is only half the battle.

Without the proper pre-workout nutrition, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever reach your goals.

Knowing what to eat before a workout is essential. If you plan your pre-workout nutrition, the Smart way—you’ll reach Peak Performance in no time.

Here we’re going to tell you all you need to know about getting your pre-workout preps just right.

Ready? Let’s go.

Why is nutrition important for performance?

Nutrition is the fuel you need to complete your exercise routine with confidence. Without it, you’ll be running on empty. 

Preparing for a workout without proper nutrition is a recipe for disaster. If you put in the hours at the gym on a regular basis, your body composition will change, and you’ll need the right nutrition to sustain the changes. 

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If you don’t have enough energy to power through your exercise routine, you’ll most likely fail to get the job done. You’ll also feel fatigued and risk injury. 

But, if you plan ahead, make the right food choices, and know your nutritional needs—you’ll have the resources to push through the barriers and level up your performance in ways you never thought possible.

It’s not just about packing calories for the energy you need. Your complete meal prep should include nutrition that will help your recovery—it’s at the recovery stage where muscle building occurs, after all. 

If you’re new to exercise or pushing yourself harder than before, you’ll need to eat more of the right food to avoid burnout. 

All of this food prep might sound like a chore, but once you get used to planning your nutrition ahead of time, it’ll become second nature. Whole foods are the best choice to add essential minerals and vitamins to your system, as processed foods tend to contain additives that can cause health issues if consumed on a regular basis. 

Let’s look at the macronutrients you must concentrate on to perform at your peak and recover faster.

What should you eat before a workout to boost your energy and maximise performance?

Quite simply—energy-boosting foods. Preparing yourself for a workout is an important part of the muscle-building process. Whether it’s pre-workout snacks or a pre-workout meal, you need to eat the right foods to set you up for a tough athletic performance. 

Going into a sweat session on an empty stomach is dangerous. Getting the right balance of energy-boosting nutrition is also important. 

To ensure you can maintain your form throughout the workout, it’s important to stock up on your energy reserves. 

Carbohydrates

When it comes to energy in the gym, carbohydrates will be your best friend. Not only will they help to improve your performance and endurance, but they’ll also assist in your recovery. 

If you’re eating a high-carb diet without exercising, you can quickly expect to put on weight in all the wrong places. But, if you’re exercising regularly, you need to pack them in to give yourself the energy to see yourself through to the end of the workout. 

More carbs will help replenish glycogen stores. More carbs means more energy, so it’s a good idea to plan your sports nutrition correctly to get enough into your system before a big training session.

SmartFact: Your muscles are fuelled by the glucose your body extracts from carbohydrates (1). 

So, you should raise your blood glucose levels by consuming plenty of carbohydrate-loaded food before an exercise session to power through it without flagging. If your stores of glucose are low, you’ll find you are tired and struggling towards the end of a workout—which is the part you need to push through if you want to make gains. 

Pasta, bread, brown rice, whole grains, dairy produce, fruit and starchy vegetables are packed with complex carbohydrates and easy-to-digest carbohydrates—so add them to your pre-workout meals. 

Nuts and fruit are also great for a pre-workout snack to help raise your levels of carbohydrates and blood sugar and get an added energy boost. 

More carbs means more energy, and getting a mix of both simple and complex carbohydrates is important if you want to get the most out of your workout.  

Protein

If you ask any bodybuilder to name one nutritional supplement they wouldn’t be without, the answer is likely protein. 

Protein is packed with amino acids, which are the building blocks of your body. These amino acids are essential for repairing torn muscle fibres. So if you want to push your muscles harder to form bigger ones, you’ll need a healthy dose of protein in your system. 

Taking protein before intense workouts will help increase muscle protein synthesis, repair muscle tissue, boost muscle mass and power up your performance. Protein is great for supporting you both during your exercise and for post-workout nutrition. 

It can also help you to lose weight and reduce body fat as part of a regular exercise routine. Lean protein sources such as eggs, lean meat, low-fat milk, greek yoghurt, oats, and nuts are perfect pre-workout foods. 

Fatty fish not only contains quality protein—it’s also packed with omega-3 fatty acids—which are great for your immune system and rapid repair of muscle fibres which helps to reduce soreness. 

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Fat (the good kind)

This may not sound like a healthy choice, but if you eat moderate amounts of healthy fats it will benefit you during longer, moderate to low-intensity workouts. 

Fat is an essential part of a diet designed to power your workouts, as approximately 1g of dietary fat will give you nine calories of energy to burn. 

Your body has plenty of storage for fat. So there should be no issues with energy loading through fat, and the amount you consume should be proportional to the amount of energy you expect to need during exercise. Fat will convert to energy and keep you going through long, strenuous exercise routines. 

Water

Keeping hydrated is essential if you want to remain strong throughout your exercise session. Ensuring you are adequately hydrated before you exercise is essential, as even a 2% body mass deficit can cause issues with both physical and mental performance during a workout. 

Sweat will cool you down—but it will also reduce your sodium—magnesium and calcium levels, which will affect your performance. 

Being dehydrated will also affect your blood flow, which means less oxygen being sent to the areas of your body which will need it the most. 

This can lead to fatigue, a lack of focus and potential injuries. Always hydrate before, during and after exercise.  

How many calories should I consume before exercise?

It depends on the intensity of your exercise. Getting your nutrient timing correct is essential, and how much you eat before you exercise depends on its intensity and duration. 

Packing in too much too quickly can leave you with an upset stomach and a feeling of sluggishness. For longer-duration exercises of one or two hours, you should take in around 1,000 calories a few hours beforehand for steady digestion. 

For shorter-duration workouts, it’s okay to eat around 400 calories 45 minutes to an hour beforehand, with easy-to-digest carbs and protein, like smoothies and cereals the way to go.

If you’re working out in the morning and time is tight, a light breakfast of whole wheat toast, cereal or low-fat yoghurt is perfect. 

If you’re in a hurry, nuts and chocolate milk are a good snack. Getting your workout timing right to fit in the correct foods is important and shouldn’t be overlooked. 

Best pre-workout meals and snacks

To power up your workouts in the best possible way, there are certain foods and snacks you should consider.

Let’s start with snacks…

  • Bananas 
  • Fruit smoothies 
  • Trail mix 
  • Greek yoghurt 
  • Cottage cheese 
  • Protein bars
  • Apple and nut butter

If you’re looking for a meal that will flood your body with the nutrients you need to succeed without making you feel sluggish—give these a try…

When to eat one of these meals…

Between one and two hours before your workout.

What to eat…

1. A sandwich made with whole grain bread, filled with salad and a source of lean protein

2. A two-egg omelette on whole grain toast with avocado. A bowl of mixed fruit on the side

3. A source of lean protein, a cup of brown rice, and mixed vegetables

Which supplements should I use before a workout?

SmartTip: Getting the bulk of your nutrition through whole foods is the best way to fuel your exercise, improve athletic performance, and build muscle. But it’s also a good idea to use dietary supplements. 

Certain supplements have a proven track record for getting your body ready for a punishing workout, and they should be at the top of your list if you want to achieve peak performance and build muscle strength. Supplements will also help to combat any nutrient deficiencies you have.

Protein powder

We’ve already discussed the enormous benefits of protein, and topping up with a protein shake or adding some powder to your cereal is a great way to top up your levels. 

Protein will look after your body during and after the most arduous sessions and is an ‘essential’ exercise supplement.

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A pre-workout

A decent pre-workout supplement can make a massive difference to your gym performance. It will not only get your body into a ‘ready’ state, but it will also work as a pick-me-up when you’re not feeling up to the challenge. 

A pre-workout will empower you to fly off the starting blocks, put in the power you need right from the start, and make each rep count.

Creatine

Creatine is stored in our system and used as a ‘go-to’ whenever we need a quick energy boost. It helps to create adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an important energy source that your cells use when you exercise. 

This energy source is essential for sudden movements, such as sprinting, cycling, and strength training. 

For example, the quick, jerky movements required for each rep during weight training heavily rely on your body’s storage of creatine. As we only have a limited supply of this energy production, using a creatine dietary supplement is a good idea. 

Nootropics

Making each rep count requires mental focus and strong cognitive performance at all times. Poor concentration can mean a less-than-productive workout, so your brain health should also be at the forefront of your mind. 

After a hard day or when you have a lot on your mind, it’s not always possible to concentrate as hard as you’d like. Nootropics—also known as brain health supplements—contain ingredients that help with cognitive function and support brain health

These super supplements will keep you mentally strong, and give you the energy boost you need to succeed before exercise. 

They’re often used to treat brain fog or cognitive decline. If you want more brain power and to be super-productive every time you train, make sure you have some nootropics to hand to boost your cognitive health.

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Multivitamins

Making sure you are topped up with essential vitamins is important for your overall health and wellbeing, and to help your system to function properly during an intense workout. 

A vitamin deficiency can manifest itself in many ways, and any weak links will become apparent if you’re resistance training on a regular basis. 

B vitamins help to promote muscle growth and repair as well as improve your metabolism. Vitamin E helps to build muscle and slows muscle breakdown while promoting cardiovascular and immune health. 

What to eat before a workout

Pre-workout nutrition is essential to properly fuel your body for an intense workout—you need a solid balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. 

SmartSummary…

Simple and complex carbohydrates will allow your glycogen stores to replenish, giving you added energy when you need it the most.

Protein will look after you throughout the workout, assisting with muscle protein synthesis and speeding up your recovery time.

Fats will give you the energy to keep going for longer and push harder.

Supplements will top up your stores of essential nutrients to help you push yourself harder than you would normally.

Protein powder will give you an added boost of essential amino acids, a pre-workout will get you revved up for the challenge.

Creatine will help you to perform more reps and sets.

Nootropics will help with your mental focus.

Building muscle mass involves proper planning of your sports nutrition, and planning your pre-workout meal should go hand in hand with your training efforts.

Smart Protein has a wide range of supplements designed to take you to the next level quicker. Whether it’s protein powder, nootropics, creatine or pre-workouts, we’ve got it all.

Check out our fitness goals page to discover the tips, tricks, and supplements that will power up your performance.

Sources

Smart Protein is committed to sourcing only the best and scientifically-backed research in our articles.

1. Human Kinetics:

https://us.humankinetics.com/blogs/excerpt/the-bodys-fuel-sources#:~:text=Carbohydrates%2C%20such%20as%20sugar%20and,muscles%20and%20stored%20as%20glycoge

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