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What to eat before you workout?

Your performance in the gym will vary. How sore you are from previous workouts, how well you’re sleeping, how hydrated you are & what & how much you’ve eaten before exercising will all play a large role in determining how well your body is able to cope with the training demands you place upon it.

So unless you’re a robot, you have to accept theres going to be days (late nights, rushed mornings etc), where your bodies not in an optimal condition to train & you’re going to have a crap session. If you’re making exercise a regular part of your life, this is something you’re going to have to come to terms with & not get frustrated & quit every time you have a low energy workout.

That being said, if you’re prioritising your sleep, hydrating well & eating the right sort of stuff before working out, then these ‘off-sessions’ should only be occasional. The majority of the time, you should be aiming to arrive at the gym feeling awake, focused & full of energy, ready to work.

Do you need to eat before you workout?

Your body is an incredible storage device. It has the ability the take excess food you’ve eaten & store it in various places, ready for use at a later time. This makes it perfectly possible to wake up & head straight to the gym without eating a meal & still have the energy to get through a workout.

In my experience, exercising on an empty stomach is very much an individual thing. Some people I’ve worked with perform absolutely fine & are able to draw on their stored energy as fuel & perform well, while others aren’t quite as efficient at doing that & so do suffer from lower energy overall poorer quality workouts.

The type of exercise you’re doing is also a major thing to consider. High intensity workouts, that spend a lot of time working vs resting, will require more energy, in the form of carbohydrates & so will be more impacted by a lack of a pre-workout meal. Lower intensity workouts (like power walking or gentle cycling) or strength based ones where you’re spending a lot of time resting vs working, won’t require as much readily available fuel & so won’t be as effected by a lack of a pre-workout meal.

So if you’re choosing whether to train on an empty stomach, maker sure to consider your own personal needs, as well as the type of workout plan you’re following. & don’t be afraid to experiment & see how you feel on the day.

What to eat before you workout

If you’re exercising later in the day or you’ve chosen to go down the route of having a pre-workout meal in the morning, what you choose to eat before training will have a big impact on your performance & therefore your ability to see results long term.

We can broadly split gym workouts into 3 categories:

Metabolic, hypertrophy & neurological.

Metabolic workouts generally involve longer duration sets & shorter rest periods meaning they can burn through a lot of stored carbohydrates as fuel in a short space of time. This is where a pre-workout meal high in carbohydrates & low in fat would be a good option, to ensure you’re well prepared for the session ahead.

The irony here is that metabolic workouts are usually used for fat loss goals. But people who are trying to lose body fat often have a bit of a ‘fear’ of carbohydrates & so will do everything possible to minimise their intake, meaning their diet & training plan can become mismatched.

Do not be afraid of including some carbs in your diet. Especially if you’re only having them in meals around your workout time. They are not evil & they can have a huge impact on your energy levels when you train & your ability to make progress in the gym.

Hypertrophy workouts will also be effected by your pre-workout meal. Although sets are generally shorter, rest periods longer & the energy demand of the exercises not quite as high when compared with metabolic workouts, there is still a demand for carbs, so including some carbohydrate rich foods in your pre-workout meal would still be a good idea.

Neurological workouts, that involve very low rep, short duration sets & very long rest periods, will have the lowest demand for carbohydrates. The muscles just aren’t working for long enough to burn through that much fuel. So it’s these strength style workouts that wouldn’t need a high carbohydrate meal immediately before hand.

When to eat before you workout

Probably the main thing to consider when choosing how long of a gap to leave between your pre-workout meal & actually heading to the gym is how long it takes your body to digest the food you’ve eaten. As when you start exercising, the body will begin to direct blood flow away from the digestive system to the working muscles. You don’t want this to happen when your breakfast is still being digested.

High carbohydrate meals that are very low in fat & fibre will be the quickest to be digested & so these could be eaten anywhere from 45mins- 2 hours before training.

Pre-workout meals that contain higher levels of fibre, fats & proteins will take longer for the body to digest & so might need more like 2-3 hours before exercising.

Remember also to consider how many calories are in the meal or snack you’ve eaten. A high carb snack that only contains 200kcal will be digested much faster than a high carb meal that contains 800kcal.

Examples of pre-workout meals

High carb: low fibre cereal (rice krispies, coco pops etc), toast with jam, flavoured yogurt with honey, beans on toast, rice cakes

Med carb: eggs on toast, toast with peanut butter, high fibre cereals (granola, porridge etc),

Low carb: full fat unflavoured yogurt with nuts/seeds, eggs with vegetables, fatty meats or fish

Final thoughts

Hopefully the above gives you some useful information to consider when thinking about your pre-workout routine & what/when to eat. But as with most things, there are always exceptions to the general principles we’ve outlined.

You’re going to be the best judge of what works best for you. What makes you feel good & allows you to perform well. So never be afraid to experiment. Trial & error is often your best route to finding what works for you.

If you feel you need some extra help with your nutrition or training or if you had a specific question, make sure to get in touch.

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