Making sure that you get the most out of your workout, be it in the gym or pounding the pavements, should start hours before lacing up your trainers. While many people believe that skipping a pre-workout meal or cutting down on calories before exercise will help them lose more weight or gain more muscle, this can often cause more harm than good.
The key to your pre-workout process, and in particular meal preparation, is knowing what and when you should be eating. Being aware of the nutrients your body needs and in what capacity will mean that you are fully equipped to get the most out of your workout. To help you with this, we’ve put together the following pointers to be aware of, as well as a useful pre-workout tastelist:
1. Avoid fasting
While studies from International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism(1) have suggested that fasting before exercise can lead to you burning around 20% more fat during exercise than those who eat beforehand, it’s important to know where this fat is coming from, and the implications this could have on your body when you next come to eat. It’s also thought that training on an empty stomach can cause tiredness and a drop in your strength capacity.
Sports dietician Dr Kelly Pritchett has found that when you burn fat at this rapid rate, your body will change how you metabolise food to compensate. As a result, you may find that your body tries to extract more fat from your next meal and counteracts the benefits of any loss you may have seen from your exercise.
A 2011 study in Journal of Strength and Conditioning(2) suggest that when your body can’t turn to food to produce the necessary nutrients to fuel your exercise, it may instead begin to break down existing muscle to create energy, in addition to the fat you’re trying to lose, making muscle gain a much longer process.
2. Choose the right carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are very important to your workout process as they are the source of fuel your body turns to for energy. That being said, it’s important to not consume too many carbohydrates, too soon to your planned workout, or your body won’t have time to metabolise the food and may mean that you experience stomach cramps during your exercise.
There are two types of carbohydrates you need to be aware of; simple and complex.
Simple, fast-digesting carbohydrates are recommended at least 30 minutes before your workout to give you a very fast-acting boost and help you get you off to a strong, energetic start. Fresh fruit such as oranges, bananas and apples are a great source of this. These should not be the only carbohydrates you rely on though, as although an initial energy boost is good, it’s important to make sure you can maintain this activity.
Complex carbs take longer for your body to digest and therefore act as longer-lasting stores of energy. Foods such as porridge, oats, brown rice and sweet potatoes are great sources of complex carbs. These carbohydrates should be consumed no less than 2 hours before a workout for a slow release of energy that will sustain you through the whole workout and prevent you from burning out quickly, which is particularly important for endurance training or cycling.
If you’re looking for a great, simple recipe to make sure you’re fully fuelled with carbohydrates, try our tasty Blueberry Brown Rice Porridge.
3. Pre-workout protein
Protein is particularly important to prevent your body from breaking down muscle for energy during your exercise. These nutrients also create important amino acids that help to facilitate muscle recovery and growth during and after your workout.
Similar to complex carbohydrates, protein-heavy food should be eaten 2 to 3 hours before your workout to ensure your body has enough time to break down all of the useful nutrients before you start your exercise.
Chicken, seafood and omelettes are all great sources of protein. We teamed up with health and nutrition blogger Beth Trueman to create the perfect meal, packed with protein and carbohydrates to fuel your workout. Take a look at the Grilled Chicken & Aubergine with Vegetables & Halloumi here.
4. Don’t avoid sugar
Simple, natural sugars found in fruits and fructose can provide a great energy boost for any exercise. Smoothies are high in micronutrients, calories, and glucose which provides a great, fast-acting pre-workout snack. These can be consumed up to 30 minutes before your planned workout.
5. Keep away from fats
Although fats are an important part of any diet, it’s important to avoid these fatty foods before any workout as these take much longer to digest. As a result, high-fat meals before exercise can leave you feeling sluggish, heavy and much more prone to stomach cramping.(3)
If you’re looking for more healthy, pre-workout recipes, packed with nutrients to help you make the most out of your training, make sure you take a look at our Perfect Pre-Workout Tastelist!
(1) International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22248495
(2) Journal of Strength and Conditioning http://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Abstract/2011/02000/Does_Cardio_After_an_Overnight_Fast_Maximize_Fat.3.aspx