Fuelling before exercising can improve the quality of your workout. That doesn’t mean scoffing a Mars bar in the car on the way to the gym. What you eat, how much you eat and when you eat are all important considerations. Here’s our guide to getting maximum benefits from your pre-workout foods.
When and how much to eat
One of these factors will influence the other. You should adjust the amount of food according to how soon before your workout you are planning to eat.
Opinion differs regarding the best time to eat before a workout. Planning to eat between one and four hours beforehand will allow you to have a proper meal and give your body time to digest the food. Ideally, you should leave two hours between eating a meal and working out. This is because the food you consume prior to exercising is only beneficial once it has been absorbed and digested by the body. Eating immediately before a workout is not recommended: the additional food intake is likely to make you feel full and sluggish and exercising so quickly after eating can also cause digestive discomfort.
If you’re unable to schedule a meal that far in advance of a workout – perhaps because you’re going straight from a long meeting to the gym – you can have something to eat 30 minutes before exercising, but the amount of food needs to be reduced in this case. A snack made up of the right nutrients is better than trying to cram a full meal in or going without anything if your last meal was several hours ago.
What should your pre-workout food contain?
The ideal meal will be a combination of carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates should make up the bulk of the plate: around 50-60%. This will provide energy for your workout and keep blood sugar levels stable. The addition of protein supports muscle recovery post-exercise.
It is advisable to include a moderate amount of fibre in this meal, but avoid foods too high in fibre so that you don’t feel gassy whilst exercising. Foods consumed before a workout are ideally low in fat, too: fat takes longer to digest, which could be uncomfortable whilst exercising.
Balanced meal suggestions for 1-4 hours before a workout:
- A sandwich made with wholegrain bread will provide the carbohydrates your body needs. Choose a protein filling such as turkey or chicken. Peanut butter is a vegetarian filling that will satisfy the protein requirement.
- Half a sweet potato with cottage cheese makes a balanced meal that feels substantial without leaving you stuffed.
- Fruit and yogurt is a great breakfast combination ahead of a morning workout.
- Crumpets topped with honey or jam will do the job. Have a glass of milk to up the protein content.
- Beans on toast is quick to prepare: carbohydrates from the bread; protein from the beans.
- A cup of oats with milk has energy and fibre.
Snack suggestions for 30 minutes-1 hour before a workout:
- The banana is the king of pre-workout snacks. So easy, packed with digestible carbohydrates and absolutely delicious. Pair with half a cup of Greek yogurt for the ideal carbohydrate/protein combo.
- Crudités (raw vegetable sticks) dipped in hummus will provide energy without being too filling.
- Trail mix: the combination of dried fruit, nuts and seeds with give you everything you need plus extra vitamins and minerals. They’re also easy to carry around and keep close by as they don’t need refrigerating.
- Boiled eggs are a low-fuss, compact snack. They can be boiled the night before and kept in the fridge if you’re short on time.