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What to eat before working out | Balance

Pre-workout nutrition (in this instance referring to within sixty minutes of training) should be geared towards providing a readily available source of energy. Typically, this will be a source of readily digestible carbohydrate although, for those who are metabolically adapted and or incorporate specific supplements / nutrients, fat can also be a viable option in some cases.

Check out the video we did alongside Myprotein discussing all things pre-workout nutrition

Why pre-workout nutrition matters

When we workout our body burns through a molecule called Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) at a much higher rate. ATP is simply the body’s “currency” of energy with all processes in the body requiring a certain amount of ATP.

Consumed and or stored carbohydrates are like large daisy chains of smaller units of carbohydrate.

When we eat carbohydrate and or we need to use our stored carbohydrate we have to cleave off these smaller units from the chain to transport around the body and or to use for energy.

Glucose is one such example (and the most abundant within the human energy production system), and it travels around the body in the blood. It travels around the body to the cells where it is either needed to produce energy or is to be stored. If it is to be used to produce energy, it enters into a series of complex processes known as cellular respiration to produce ATP. Carbohydrate produces a tonne of ATP when it enters into these energy producing processes which makes it, at least in my (and the bulk of the currently available scientific literature) opinion, the best nutrient to have leading into a workout.

The benefits of proper fuelling before training

Providing a readily available source of energy can promote performance through a variety of mechanisms.

Firstly, it can be used directly to fuel exercise itself and can even enhance our readiness to exercise (for example, there is some research showing that even swilling around in the mouth and spitting back out sweetened, energy free beverages can increase pre-workout alertness and enhance performance).

Secondly, it reduces and or delays the use of existing energy stores (namely glycogen, the stored form of carbohydrate within our muscle and liver). This may be beneficial as it can extend how long we can exercise for and or promote sustained performance throughout a session. It may also reduce the amount of muscle protein breakdown someone may experience too (as there will be less of a need to use existing potential stores of energy) and, ultimately, reduce the recovery period after a workout.

While carbohydrate (or fats for those who are metabolically adapted to utilise this nutrient as a primary energy source) should be the key consideration during the shorter window of time leading into exercise there may also be potential benefit for a source of protein too.

A source of high-quality protein can further reduce the breakdown of existing protein structures (like muscle protein) and may also contribute towards a reduced recovery period post-workout.

For simplicity’s sake, and because some can experience digestive issues when having protein pre-workout, I like to suggest having carbohydrate leading into training and then protein after training.

Pairing the two together pre- or post-workout will confer additional benefit as they work in a complimentary fashion but while this would be “optimal” on paper, it’s not always practical in real life.

Pre-workout nutrition ideas

Nature has already perfected the pre (and post) training nutrition food in the form of bananas – readily available carbohydrates, rich in electrolytes and relatively low in calories.

Other perfect pre-exercise nutrition options include;

  • A bagel

  • Rice Cakes (yoghurt coated, flavoured or plain with some kind of jam and or equivalent spread)

  • A small serving of cereal with plant-based milk (tend to provide more electrolytes than animal sourced milk alternatives)

  • Pineapple (sliced, chopped or cubed is fine)

  • Watermelon (be mindful of the food volume of watermelon as it may make you feel bloated and uncomfortable if you have too much before exercise).

  • Coconut Water

  • A carbohydrate gel

  • An isotonic drink

  • A flapjack

Concluding Remarks

Nailing your pre-workout nutrition can really help elevate your performance and optimize your recovery.

Try some of our snack ideas and let us know what you think! If you have any other suggestions we'd love to hear them!

Balance is Northern Ireland's leading nutritionist and dietician coaching team. We work with everyone from Olympians to office workers to help them achieve their nutrition and diet related goals.

Get in touch with us today to discuss how we can help you;

  • Live a life free of binge eating

  • Achieve your athletic potential and become the healthiest and happiest you can in and out of sport

  • Lose weight in a healthy way and learn to keep it off for life with no more fad diets

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