Pre-Workout Nutrition 101

Nutrition Advice from Elizabeth Carpenter

by ebogacki

The question is raised all the time, “What should I eat prior to my workouts?”

Chances are you’ve heard mixed thoughts on what you should or need to take before you workout and for the most part there is some truth in the answers you come across.

Does eating before workouts actually help us during our workout and aid in overall endurance and building muscle?

Well, the long story short is this:

Pre-workout nutrition isn’t as crucial as many would have us believe, but it’s not entirely without merit, either.

Let’s get started.

The research on eating carbs before a workout is clear: it improves performance.

Specifically, eating carbs 15 to 60 minutes before working out will help you push harder in your training and may also aid in recovery and muscle growth.

There are a couple physiological mechanisms in play here.

First and foremost, eating carbs before training providing your body with an abundance of glucose (blood sugar) to burn for immediate energy, and this helps you in three major ways.

  • The more glucose that’s available for your muscles to burn, the better you’re going to do in your workouts (and especially if they’re longer).
  • Elevating blood glucose levels helps preserve the glycogen stored in your muscles. Glycogen is a type of carbohydrate stored in the body, and it’s the primary source of fuel for resistance training workouts.
  • Thus, the further you dip into your body’s glycogen stores, the more likely you are to experience a drop in workout performance.

Research also suggests that maintaining higher levels of muscle glycogen improves cellular signaling related to muscle building.

Eating carbs before a workout won’t, however, directly induce more muscle growth-unfortunately, carbs don’t have the same anabolic properties of protein.

So, by eating carbs before you train, you’ll have more energy to push harder in your workouts, which will help you gain muscle and strength faster over time, and directly enhance your body’s ability to build muscle, which will also boost your gains over time. Now, let’s talk types of carbs.

What’s best for pre-workout nutrition?

First, I have good news:

You don’t need to buy fancy, overpriced pre-workout carbohydrate supplements.

They’re usually little more than tubs of simple sugars like maltodextrin or dextrose, which aren’t bad sources of pre-workout carbs per se, but don’t offer any special benefits, either.

Research shows that for our purposes, 30 to 40 grams of any type of carbohydrate eaten 30 minutes before a workout will get the job done.

And by “any,” I mean any: fruit, starch, simple sugars, etc.

My favorite choices are nutritious whole foods like oatmeal, apples, bananas, rice, and sweet potatoes.

The Bottom Line on Pre-Workout Nutrition

Nutrient timing is far less important than hitting your macros and sticking to a meal plan.

Once those things are taken care of, though, optimizing when you eat what can help you build muscle faster.

Fortunately, it’s not very complicated, either.

  • Eat some protein, fat, and carbs every few hours.
  • Eat before you train if you haven’t eaten in a bit.
  • Eat after your workout, and sooner rather than later.
  • And get most of your calories from nutritious foods.

And you’ve got it made!