When fuelling for a workout, what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. So, there is no one size fits all, but there is guidance that you can follow to try and implement the best nutrition strategy to suit you! Ultimately it comes down to your food preferences, as well as when you have the time, how much energy you require, the type and intensity of the workout, and personal goals!
Why is fuelling important pre-workout?
We fuel our bodies before a workout to ensure we have sufficient energy to perform optimally by utilising the nutrients we consume. Eating the right foods will also help us adapt to training and aid recovery! We are aiming to both maximise performance and minimise muscle damage!
Although needs may vary depending on each individual, carbs are king when it comes to training. They’re our body’s preferred source of energy for high-intensity exercise and are stored in our body as glycogen in our liver and muscles (Burke et al., 2011; Jensen and Richter, 2012) and our muscles use this stored glycogen to provide energy for exercise!
Sources of carbohydrates include bread, oats, pasta, rice, and cereals.
If exercise is >60mins we may be required to top up with a high carbohydrate snack as our glycogen stores can become depleted during exercise (see more below).
Unlike fats and carbohydrates we cannot store protein in the body for later use, it is the building block of the body. And our body can only adapt to training if it has the protein to build that new muscle (Poortmans et al., 2012).
So, it doesn’t necessarily provide the body with a source of energy for our training session but including it in pre-workout meals will contribute to total daily intake. Consuming protein along with a carbohydrate source can potentially contribute to muscle growth and repair (Kerksick et al., 2017).
Sources of protein include poultry, beef, turkey, eggs, dairy, tofu, and Quorn.
Fluid is essential for our bodies to function properly! Being only 2-3% dehydrated can have negative effects on performance (ACSM, 2009), including the perceived difficulty of training. The simplest way to monitor hydration status is by using the attached urine chart aiming for a clear or pale-yellow colour, this is usually a good sign you’re well hydrated!
Caffeine can have performance benefits when it comes to our training, improving reaction time, concentration, and improving muscular endurance (Goldstein et al., 2010). The recommended dose is approx 3-6mg/kg of body weight in 30-60mins before a session (Guest et al., 2021). Sources of caffeine include coffee, energy drinks like Nocco, and caffeine tablets/gels.
Over-consuming caffeine may have negative effects, so be sure to know what your tolerance is and if it’s something that does not work for you, then it is best to avoid it!
Please note that it is not advised to rely on caffeine to fuel us through a session, as without adequate nutrient intake you won’t be able to get the most out of your training. So, focus on food first and foremost!
What and when should I eat?
Again, this will come down to the individual themselves depending on how many meals they can get in before training, how close to the training they can stomach meals and the type of foods they prefer. So, depending on when you’re eating, the following can be used as guidance to help implement a strategy that works for you:
- >3 hours:
You could potentially opt for a larger meal consisting of carbohydrates e.g. rice, pasta, potatoes + source of protein + moderate amounts of fat and fibre. This could look like…
- Tuna and sweetcorn bagel
- Chicken salad wrap
- Spaghetti Bolognese
- Baked potato with beef and veg
- 1-2 hours prior:
Again the main focus here is on easily absorbed carbohydrates so opt for a smaller high-carbohydrate meal/snack, such as…
- Toast with banana and honey
- Overnight oats/cereal
- Granola and yoghurt
- Yoghurt rice cakes + fruit
Here we are opting for a high-carb snack to “top up” our glycogen stores, that again are easily digested for example…
- Lucozade sport
- A handful of Jellies/dried fruit
- Rice cakes with banana
- During: Again, the focus is on “topping up” glycogen stores that have been depleted during exercise. But we don’t necessarily always need to have food during a session. For example, during a light or short training session, it’s not essential to include a snack, due to sufficient fuel being provided from pre-training meals. But we may require a top-up if:
- A session is >90mins or training/playing at a high intensity e.g., a soccer match
- You didn’t eat before training
- Training more than once on the same day
- Events such as CrossFit Open, Iron Man, triathlons etc
(Burke et al., 2011)
One last thought…
Overall, carbs are our bodies’ preferred source of fuel and without them, we may not be able to perform at an optimal level day in and day out. Protein contributes to muscle repair and growth while adequate hydration is essential for optimal performance! So, find the strategy that works best for you! Although pre-training meals are important, remember it is also just as important to focus on what we eat the rest of the day, so opt for high-quality and well-balanced meals. And please note if you have specific body composition goals, ensure your pre-training meals/snack falls in line with your overall daily intake!
- American Dietetic Association; Dietitians of Canada; American College of Sports Medicine, Rodriguez NR, Di Marco NM, Langley S. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(3):709-731.
- Burke, L.M., Hawley, J.A., Wong, S.H.S. and Jeukendrup, A.E. (2011). Carbohydrates for training and competition. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29 (sup 1), S17-S27. Available from https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2011.585473 [accessed 24th April 2023].
- Guest, N. S., VanDusseldorp, T. A., Nelson, M. T., Grgic, J., Schoenfeld, B. J., Jenkins, N. D. M., Arent, S. M., Antonio, J., Stout, J. R., Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Goldstein, E. R., Kalman, D. S., and Campbell, B. I. (2021). International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 18(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-020-00383-4 [accessed 24th April 2023].
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- Kerksick, C.M., Wilborn, C.D., Roberts, M.D., Smith-Ryan, A., Kleiner, S.M., Jager, R., Colins, R., Cooke, M., Davis, J.N., Galvan, E., Greenwood, M., Lowery, L.M., Wildman, R., Antonio, J. and Kreider, R.B. (2018). ISSN exercise and sports nutrition review update: research and recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15 (1), 38. Available from https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0242-y [accessed 24th April 2023]
- McArdle, W.D., Katch, F.I. and Katch, V.l. (2015). Carbohydrates, Lipids, and Proteins. In: McArdle, W.D., Katch, F.I. and Katch, V.l. (eds.) Exercise physiology: nutrition, energy, and human performance, 8th ed. Baltimore, MD: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, p733-735
- Poortmans, J. R., Carpentier, A., Pereira-Lancha, L. O., and Lancha, A., Jr (2012). Protein turnover, amino acid requirements and recommendations for athletes and active populations. Brazilian journal of medical and biological research = Revista brasileira de pesquisas medicas e biologicas, 45(10), 875–890. https://doi.org/10.1590/s0100-879×2012007500096 [accessed 24th April 2023].