Fueling For Success: Your Pre-Workout Nutrition Guide
If you’re at athlete or weightlifter, you’re looking to get every edge that you can at the gym. You eat right, you train hard, and you closely record your workouts and your diet.
The next phase of your growth will not be about what you eat, but when. You can optimise your workouts with a pre-workout nutrition plan that gives you the advantage you’ve been looking for. Mastering your pre-workout nutrition is the key in overcoming the plateaus and stalls we all succumb to in the gym.
We’re going to break down all the common supplements and food sources that energise and enhance your productivity in the gym. And because there are two components to pre-workout nutrition, let’s separate them into easy-to-digest sections.
Pre Workout Meals
If your goal is to gain weight, your pre-workout meal is absolutely essential to that goal. You already know how your nutrition makes or breaks your workouts, and this is just further along with that goal. We want to breakdown the main components of your pre-workout meal and the timing of when you should eat to see the maximum results.
The goal of eating a pre-workout meal is twofold. First, you want to decrease protein catabolism, the breakdown of your muscle tissue into amino acids for your your body’s use. A lack of protein in your body will prompt muscle catabolism to take effect, one of the main reasons it’s important to eat protein first thing in the morning as well as a creatine protein source right before bed. By eating a meal before you workout, you’re reversing the muscle breakdown that naturally takes place.
Secondly, you want to increase the protein synthesis in our body. A good pre-workout meal will contain the macronutrients of proteins, carbs, and fats. These macros will satisfy those two goals that you’re looking for. More on that in a minute.
The timing of your meal also matters. If you can, eat 1.5 - 2.5 hours before your heavy workout. You’ll have the food properly digested and ready to be absorbed into your bloodstream by that point. Your body will be flooded with fuel and amino acids when your muscles need it most. You’ll also prevent any stomach discomfort, because as soon as you start to workout, your blood will rush to your muscles, away from the digestion process, leaving you feeling cramped.
If you can’t eat that early (as in you have an early morning workout planned) try to focus on simple carbs and protein around 45-60 minutes before the workout. That leaves you enough time to avoid cramps and get enough food digested to make a difference.
As we mentioned before, your pre-workout meal is proteins, carbs, and fats, but the main component should be protein and carbs. There is no conclusive study that shows fat has any real effect on muscle production with a pre-workout meal. Fat is important but just not for timing’s sake.
Eating protein has two effects. First, you’ll stop the body from catabolising your muscle mass. Secondly, you break down the protein into amino acids, right when your body is craving those building blocks. 15 grams of protein is enough to slow down the muscle catabolism, but 30 - 40 grams before you train is optimal for both effects to take place.
If you have limited time before your workout, have a protein shake or smoothie to get rapid protein into your body.
Ideally, you want to consume a whey protein because it breaks down quickly into your bloodstream. Casein protein, the other main protein source breaks down into amino acids over a period of 6-8 hours, while whey can be done metabolising in as little as 45 minutes
Carbohydrates digest quickly to become the glucose your body needs for fuel. If you eat enough carbs before you train, your body doesn’t have the chance to store it and you burn that fuel source.
There is no correlation between eating carbs before your train and muscle growth. There is a significant impact on your performance, however. The more fuel you have access to, the better your workout in the gym will be. Push out that extra rep, that last curl, one more lift because you’ve pre-fueled with carbs.
The carbs you eat break down into glucose, acting as the energy source for your workout. That stops your body from accessing the stored energy, called glycogen. Your body uses glycogen for heavy resistance training. The less glycogen you have stored, the less energy you’ll have for heavy lifting. Keep your body from dipping into those glycogen reserves with carbs before training.
How much do you need? Your body has the ability to process between 60-80 grams of simple carbs an hour. But 30-40 grams of simple carbs will get the results you need before a workout. Plan for your pre-workout meal to have a minimum of 40 grams for the effect to occur.
Interesting fact: even if you swish a carbohydrate drink in your mouth before a workout, your body responds to it. It seems that receptors in your mouth help your body estimate how much energy it has to burn.
Pre Workout Supplements
Now that you understand your meals, you can appreciate how effective proteins and carbs are on your body before you train. Now let’s look at some of the supplements people advise to take pre-workout and see if they really are effective or not.
Creatine is one of the most common, most researched, and most safe supplements you can find. We already covered it in depth in this article, but what about timing? Can creatine, a known muscle-enhancing supplement make a difference when you take it?
No. Well, yes and no, actually.
Creatine is a supplement that needs to flood the bloodstream before you can see an impact. You don’t quickly metabolise it like you would with whey or simple carbs. It’s a slow build-up of creatine in the bloodstream until you’ve reached maximum levels over a period of 30-45 days. This means you won’t see results overnight but that the power-increasing nature and anabolic improvements are long-term.
Yes, creatine has been demonstrated to have an effect on those taking it before a workout, increasing the ATP production and water intake of your muscles. It’s not an instant impact, but more of a preventative measure to stop depletion of energy stores. 3-5 grams of creatine will show a good result every day.
Sometimes referred to as L-arginine, arginine is a good supplement to use before you workout. It promotes the increase of nitric oxide in the body, improving blood flow in your body. And you need that extra blood flow to oxygenate and energise your muscles during a workout. It’s been demonstrated to increase stamina over time - users have been known to exercise 20% longer when taking L-arginine up to 30 minutes before their workouts.
Citrulline is a non-essential amino acid, meaning your body produces it already. The citrulline malate has been bonded with malic acid to create a pre-workout supplement that improves your performance and speeds up recovery times.
When you workout, your muscles slowly fatigue from a buildup of ammonia. Citrulline malate both enlarges the blood vessels and neutralises this ammonia buildup to prevent fatigue. You’ll notice that you can achieve longer gym sessions without that tired feeling right afterwards.
30-45 minutes before you enter the gym, take beta-alanine to help produce a powerful peptide called carnosine. Carnosine acts as an inhibitor to your tired muscles by preventing the buildup of fatigue-inducing ions.
This is one supplement that you can actually feel working, with many first-time users reporting a pleasant “tingle” in their muscles when they take it. The effects of B-alanine are immediate but short-lived, lasting only 1-2 hours after taking it. Good timing is crucial if you want to experience the full effect during your next resistance training session.
An hour before you hit the gym, it might be wise to down a cup of coffee. A normal 250 mL of coffee contains enough caffeine to give you an edge in the gym. Caffeine slows down the pain receptors and increases the release of feel-good endorphins like dopamine. It has an effect on your entire central nervous system, enabling you to run faster and lift more with caffeine running through your veins. You’ll get the most effect 30 minutes after your first cup.
Pre-Workout Nutrition Takeaways
You now have a clear goal how to time your pre-workout meals and supplements will impact your results in the gym and afterwards. The optimal time is 1.5-2.5 hours before you hit the gym, and 45 - 60 minutes for light snacks. That will ensure the protein and carbohydrates are synthesised, floating around in your bloodstream, and ready to be utilised during your workout.
Choosing the right meals will encourage protein synthesis and fuel your muscles with the glucose they need. Choosing the right supplements will increase power, reduce fatigue, and limit the pain you feel after an intense session.
Do yourself a favour by paying attention to what you eat and when you eat it. Your gym results will be the proof you’re looking for.