Planning the Pre-Workout Meal


What are some of the best pre-workout meals you can eat before heading off to the gym or working out at home? There are some great strategies that you can adopt to ensure you're providing your body with everything it needs for an intense workout and why it's just as important to follow as those after-workout rituals. Paying attention to meals that you choose before exercising can result in higher performance as well as lead to a more enjoyable workout.

Useful measures to keep in mind when preparing

The glycemic index (GI) is a scale which measures the rate at which particular food types increase blood sugar levels in your body usually over a period of two hours. For example, white bread (GI Score 100), white rice, and potatoes (all classified as complex carbohydrates) have a high glycemic index. These foods typically have a GI score of 70 and above; they break down quickly during digestion and release glucose into the blood faster.

Foods Found in the High, Medium and Low GI Range

Why it's important to understand Glycemic Index

When working out, your body converts carbohydrates into energy (glycolysis) and because high GI foods are short lived, the body may not have an adequate supply of fuel for the remainder of your training session or enough nutrients to build muscle. It's important to note that not all carbohydrates are digested and absorbed at the same rate.

Low GI foods on the other hand (GI less than 55) contain carbohydrates that are broken down more slowly and gradually release energy over a longer period which makes it ideal for consuming before physical exercise.

Best Options Prior To Your Workout

Although you might be tempted to avoid the calories before a workout, the foods you eat before physical activity are critical to maximizing your results. The following list of foods are both highly digestible and energy dense which are excellent choices, especially within one or two hours before training.

  •   Bananas are rich in digestible carbohydrates and potassium and also improve muscle function. Having a banana beforehand can help with hydration and ensures proper muscle recovery.
  •   Oats can provide you with a rich source of fiber and gradually helps the body release carbohydrates to not only prevent insulin spikes but provide a constant and prolonged supply of energy. Your metabolism also benefits from the rich source of vitamin B it provides.
  •   A slice of wholemeal bread is another excellent source for getting more carbohydrates, it's perfect served with a few slices of turkey breast, bananas, honey or jam.
  •   Fruit smoothies can be ideal if you're pressed for time and have a busy schedule. Again they provide the body with good sources of carbohydrates as well as protein, and they are quick and easy to prepare. These drinks contain a perfect combination of the sugars found in fruit (fructose, mainly), which are absorbed quickly. For best results and to ensure you're absorbing nutrients eat one or more servings of fresh fruit soon after preparation. Avoid sugary juices and flavored items filled with preservatives.
  •   Protein Bars homemade or purchased, are an excellent source of carbohydrates and protein. Eating a protein bar can help supply the body with energy during a workout and build muscle mass.

Benefits of Natural Foods vs. Protein Shakes & Protein Bars

Natural foods like fruits have the advantage of providing healthy amounts of carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals along with proteins. They don't contain preservatives or sweeteners that can sometimes come with packaged goods or products. From this viewpoint, natural sources should be preferred to protein shakes and energy bars.

However, we should note that natural foods (especially veggies) are sometimes incomplete when considering coverage over a wider range of proteins. For example, they lack in some amino acids which our body cannot produce naturally. This shortfall can be seen as a drawback when compared to protein bars and protein shakes which are also more convenient and easy to prepare i.e. only requiring a few minutes to turn into a ready-made drink.

See the table below for a summary of benefits and drawbacks.

Natural Foods Protein Bars & Shakes
Less Preservatives and artificial sweeteners Can provide amino acids the body cannot synthesize naturally
Natural carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals Convenient and easy to prepare
Taste, natual flavours and nutrients Quick but may be high in calories and expensive

Which food groups or meals are better for targeting muscle for strength training and cardio?

  •   Whole milk is an excellent way to supplement calcium and increase fat and calories in your diet, with about 150 calories per glass. Eating cottage cheese and taking whole milk provides an excellent source of protein to help build muscle.
  •   Almonds, cashews and nuts contain lots of energy and are full of monounsaturated fats; they also contain many essential minerals and micronutrients including magnesium, phosphorus, selenium and zinc. All necessary for healthy nutrition building muscle mass.
  •   Salmon is full of monounsaturated fatty acids which are super healthy, and it helps contribute to building muscle mass. Also, the large dosage of omega three we get from oily fish has been known to improve joint health and your cardiovascular system.
  •   Avocado contains monounsaturated fats like oleic acid, which is perfect to add healthy calories and fat in your diet. Eating avocados for either cardio or strength training will provide you with large amounts of antioxidants and vitamins including vitamin E; this helps improve cardiovascular health and overall well-being.

What You Should Avoid Before A Workout

Foods which contain fat can lead to bloat and slow down digestion which is uncomfortable during physical exercise and could lead to cramps. Avoid sugars and sweets that can lead to energy spikes which don't last long. Also, avoid overeating which can cause indigestion, drowsiness and nausea. Remember to also have a look at foods to avoid when trying to lose weight

Final Thoughts

Don't forget to keep your body sufficiently hydrated. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, you should drink 500 ml of fluid, two hours before exercise (Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996 Jan; 28 (1): i-vii) which is the perfect time to allow the body to expel excess water and get yourself hydrated before starting your workout.

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