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What Exactly to Eat Before Your Workouts

Matt Skeffington

Matt’s primary role at Dynamic Strength and Conditioning is to make sure that our coaches and clients are consistently improving, all while operatin...

Matt’s primary role at Dynamic Strength and Conditioning is to make sure that our coaches and clients are consistently improving, all while operatin...

Sep 29 9 minutes read

Proper nutrition is one of the most important factors when it comes to improving your health. 

It also has an incredible impact on the way you look, feel, and perform. 

This is also true when it comes to getting the most out of your workouts. 

With our Nutrition Coaching Program we teach our members to prepare. 

Like Benjamin Franklin said, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail".

What if I told you preparing to eat the right foods could make a massive difference in your workout performance and ultimately your goals?

How you eat around your workout plays a vital role in:

  • Shredding fat

  • Improving energy

  • Building strength and muscle

  • Boosting performance

  • Decreasing your risk of injury

  • Keeping you mentally focused and motivated

  • Helping with recovery and soreness

Eating the right foods, combined with training hard during your workouts, will keep you on track to reach your fitness and health goals much quicker and more effectively than with exercise alone. 

Today we will be covering everything you need to know about pre-workout nutrition so you can get the most out of your workouts. 

This is an absolute game-changer and one of biggest reasons why our Nutrition Coaching Members do so well in our program. 

Get this right and take your workouts to a whole new level! 

Let’s start by explaining the science behind what you should be eating before your workouts! 

Carbohydrates

Properly fueling your body before exercise can be the difference between a good and great workout.

It can also be the difference between you getting injured or not during your workout. 

Yes, it’s that important!

Let's start with the fuel or what is known as carbohydrates. 

Carbohydrates are molecules in certain types of food and are great for producing energy to keep you going during your workouts. 

Our bodies break down the carbohydrates we store and eat into ready to use energy. 

You probably know them as bread, rice, potatoes, and pastas, but they also make up the majority of fruits and vegetables.

They are classified as simple (candy, soda, etc.) or complex (oatmeal, vegetables, etc). 

This refers to the number of sugars it has as well as the time it takes to be digested and absorbed. 

Simple sugars absorb more quickly and are more likely to be stored as fat if not used for quick energy. 

The opposite is true for complex. 

They are slower to absorb and are great for sustaining prolonged workouts. 

So, not all carbs are created equal and should not necessarily get the bad rap they've gotten the past few years. 

Eating the right kinds, in the right amounts can fuel you to get the most out of your workouts. 

We will get into what kind, how much and when to consume carbohydrates before your workout below.

Protein

Protein is made up of amino-acids -- the building blocks of life. 

Common protein sources are chicken, steak, fish, turkey, eggs, yogurt, and protein powders. 

Our body uses the proteins to increase the amino-acid pool in our blood stream. 

Our body pulls from this pool to repair and build various areas of our bodies, especially the muscles we've worked from a hard training session. 

I typically find that most people do not get enough and encourage people to eat protein at every meal.

We want a good amount of protein in our pre-workout meal to aid in muscle repair and recovery when we are done training.

This will help you maintain your lean muscle mass and even increase it.

We will cover some examples of what proteins to eat and when before you workout, below.

Something is better than nothing!

I often ask our members what they ate before their training session. 

More often than not I hear, "nothing". 

Most of them feel it is either too early to eat if they come to a morning session or fear they will be too full during their workout and get sick. 

When you train on an empty stomach, you miss out on the many benefits of workout nutrition. Because you will be lacking carbohydrates (energy producer), you are going to have less energy, fatigue quicker, have decreased levels of power, strength and endurance. 

Also without available protein (muscle builder), your post-workout recovery will suffer as well leaving your muscles damaged and sore. 

In this case, something to give you a little fuel is better than nothing. 

If you are in a rush or train early in the morning, keep it simple.

Foods like fruit, yogurt, toast and peanut butter work well. 

Another great option is a powder BCAA (Branch-Chained Amino Acids) mixed in with some water can provide some fuel and aid in recovery.  

A meal or snack?

Now that we know the importance of a pre-workout nutrition, the question becomes what and when should we eat?

We recommend if you are eating 1-2 hours before your workout, your pre-workout nutrition should be a meal. 

This is a meal because of the time between your food and your workout. 

You will have more time to digest your food.

You want available carbohydrate and protein when it's time to workout. 

Aim for a meal consisting of a 50/50 split of high-quality complex carbohydrate and protein and of course some water. 

Example Meals:

  • 1-2 palm sized chicken breasts with small side of rice and vegetables

  • Turkey sandwich with vegetables on wheat or gluten-free bread with small side of fruit.

  • Salad with grilled chicken with side of fruit or small sweet potato

  • ** Size of meal depends on body size and duration/intensity of workout

If your pre-workout nutrition is going to be closer to your workout (45-60 minutes) you will want to have a smaller snack that will not fill you up and will quickly absorb and digest to give you the fuel to train hard. 

We like liquid meals here like protein smoothies with fruit as they digest quicker. 

Again we are looking for a 50/50 split of carbs to protein. 

Example Snacks:

  • Plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit

  • High quality protein bar

  • Small protein smoothie (check out 8 awesome shake recipes, HERE!)

  • Whole wheat or gluten-free toast with peanut butter

  • Fruit and handful of nuts

Hydrate!

Let's talk water intake.

The key here is to not wait until your workout begins to hydrate but stay in a hydrated state throughout the day, starting when you wake up.

Without adequate hydration levels your workouts will suffer due to:

  • Reduction in strength, power, and endurance
  • Increased fatigue
  • Muscle and joint stiffness and pain
  • Increase perceived exertion (you feel like you're working harder than you really are)
  • Decreased motivation and mental focus

Luckily these areas that negatively impact your workouts can be avoided.

Improve your workout strength, power, endurance, and motivation with water!

To keep it simple, keep a water with you throughout the day. 

Continue to drink and monitor your urine color.

The goal is to keep it clear or light yellow. 

Mix up your water intake and add a little flavor by adding fresh fruit like lemon, watermelon, or berries. 

What about caffeine?

Caffeine is one of the most widely consumed natural stimulants in the world -- mostly in the form of various coffees, teas, and energy drinks.

The good news is caffeine can boost performance.

This is seen especially in more cardio activities like running as it can help you work harder and longer.

It can also aid in fat-loss by mobilizing fatty-acids and even help to use them for energy. 

It can also boost performance through more alertness and motivation. 

The bad news is it's not for everyone.

We do not all metabolize caffeine the same and can cause many to feel jittery, increase fat storage, and negatively impact sleep.

Too much caffeine has been shown to have a negative impact on your health. 

If you are going to use caffeine to improve performance we recommend taking it in the form of coffee or tea 30 minutes to 1 hour before your workout.

Research shows 3-5 mg per kilogram of body-weight will do the trick. 

Keep your caffeine consumption earlier in the day (before 12pm) to keep it from impacting your sleep.

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