You hear about getting protein and replenishing carbs immediately after a workout, what supplements to take, and how to hydrate all the time.
But what about pre-workout nutrition?
Yes, you should be eating before you workout. Your pre-workout snack is the fuel your body needs to perform its best during your workout and recover efficiently after.
By the end of this article, you’ll have all the information you need to plan the most effective snack to eat before your workouts.
What are the benefits of a pre-workout snack?
We always hear about the importance of eating after a workout, but your body needs fuel before you workout too. Planning to eat a snack with the perfect amount of a few key nutrients can maximize the work you’re putting in at the gym.
First, eating before your workout optimizes your glycogen stores. If you didn’t know, glycogen is the body’s preferred source of energy during a workout.
If you get the feeling of “hitting a wall,” that’s the feeling of glycogen depletion. Fueling up soon before you exercise can help you avoid the wall of fatigue.
The right pre-workout snack will also speed recovery. If your snack contains protein, it will break down into amino acids that help repair and rebuild muscle. Making amino acids available before your workout “jump starts” recovery by minimizing muscle damage.
How long before a workout should I eat a snack?
Timing your pre-workout snack is key.
In the best case scenario, you would eat a full meal 2 to 3 hours before your workout. A full meal with carbs, protein, and fat will take more time to digest and absorb the nutrients you need to maximize the results during your workout.
However, if you’re just eating a snack made up of primarily carbs and protein, you can wait until 45 minutes to an hour before your workout. A snack is a smaller portion, so it won’t take as long to digest and absorb.
If your snack is high in fat, you eat it a little earlier to give it time to fully digest.
Eating too soon before your workout can cause discomfort (bloating, stomach ache, etc.), which will just slow you down.
What macros should I eat before working out?
Carbs and protein are the most important macros to include in your pre-workout snack. The amount that you need depends on the type of exercise you’re doing.
Carbs break down into glucose, which is the fastest source of energy that your body can use. Extra glucose is stored as glycogen in the muscle to use for energy later as well.
Eating carbs soon before anaerobic workouts with short bursts of energy like weightlifting, HIIT and athletic training will help improve performance and increase stamina.
If your goal was to improve aerobic workouts like endurance training, you’d want to focus on increasing carb intake over several days.
Eating protein before a workout has been shown to increase protein synthesis in the muscle. In other words, it “jumpstarts” recovery and muscle growth.
These results were shown after taking in 20 grams of whey protein immediately before resistance training.
This study also noted that while eating protein before a workout increases amino acid activity in the muscle, you still need to include protein in your post-workout nutrition for the best result.
The ideal macro ratio
The specific amount of carbs and fat you need to eat pre-workout depends on your overall daily goals, because you ultimately want to stay within your calorie and macro targets.
However, if you’re looking to improve performance and recovery for resistance training or HIIT style workouts, the ratio of your macros in your pre-workout snack should be weighted towards carbs.
These workouts are anaerobic, meaning they require an energy source that can be obtained without oxygen. Carbs are the best for this and will sustain your energy levels as you power through your workout.
Aiming for 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrate and 10 to 20 grams of protein in your pre-workout snack is a good place to start.
How many calories should your pre-workout snack be?
Again, it depends on a few things.
First, the length of your workout. If your workout will be on the shorter side, around 45 minutes or less, aim for a low-calorie snack.
If you will be working out for a longer period of time, you should eat more calories. You can also consider having a snack during long workouts to keep glucose available.
The general recommendation for a pre-workout snack is around 150-300 calories.
What is the best snack to eat before a workout?
If you’re eating more than two hours before a workout, go for a larger snack with slow-digesting carbs and some protein. Some examples include:
- Oatmeal with fruit and nuts
- Sandwich with whole-grain bread and lean protein
- Lean protein, rice, veggies
- Smoothie with fruit, milk, and protein powder.
If you’re eating within an hour of working out, you want a snack that provides a dose of quick-digesting carbs. Keep it simple and convenient.
We love Naked Cookie because it serves as a treat and a perfect pre-workout snack with the ideal balance of carbs and protein that we can take on-the-go.
Other great options include an apple with nut butter, yogurt and fruit, or dried fruit with nuts.
What and when you eat pre-workout is important to get the most out of your workout. Your energy levels, performance, recovery, and results are all affected by how you fuel before exercising.
Carbs and protein are the most important macronutrients to include in your pre-workout snack if you’re doing a higher intensity workout like resistance training.
The amount of calories and ratio of carbs and protein you need depends on how soon you’re eating before a workout, how long your workout will be, and your overall calorie and macro targets.