We all know that what you eat can have an impact, both positive and negative on our performance in the gym.
But have you ever wondered how important the TIMING of what we’re eating, is and how that might influence your ability to lift weights?
With benefits shown both in research and in the gym through our own observation and experience, pre-workout meals (particularly pre-workout carbs) can play an important role in your progress.
Today, we’re breaking things down to shed some light on pre-workout nutrition and answer the question of whether you should be eating a pre-workout meal before you lift.
“Your pre-workout nutrition begins when your last workout ends”
The reality is, what you’re eating 30-60mins prior to your training session and how that might impact performance will pale in comparison to how the rest of your diet is structured.
Daily calorie intake, protein targets, getting enough quality fruits and veggies in. These are all things you should be considering prior to breaking down the optimal pre-workout snack.
We’re not saying that it’s irrelevant, but if your first thought when setting up your nutrition plan is “what am I going to eat before I train”, you’re likely missing the forest for the trees.
“Your pre-workout nutrition begins when your last workout ends”
Like most things in health and fitness, the importance of a pre-workout meal will depend on several factors. If you’re starting to question whether you should be eating something before your next lift, here are 3 things to consider
#1 – What type of training are you doing?
We know that lifting weights can be demanding on our bodies stored carbohydrate, but what you might not know is that some workouts can be more demanding than others.
Research has shown that strength and power workouts (think lower reps like 5 or less) don’t seem to be overly impacted by lower carbohydrate intakes and stores. This is simply because for most of these workouts, we rely on other forms of energy to get the workout done.
On the other hand, if you were to come in and do a longer, higher volume, fat loss or muscle building type workout (think multiple movements, sets of 10 rep, etc), we know that these workouts really push both our bodies carbohydrate stores and the energy systems that use them.
It’s also clear that the exercises and muscle groups your training can influence your decision to eat a pre-workout meal or not. Training bigger movements and larger muscle groups has been shown to be improved by pre-training meals.
#2 – What’s the rest of your intake look like?
How a pre-workout meal might benefit someone eating 150g of carbs in a day vs someone eating 450g of carbs in a day will be different.
When it comes to higher volume strength training, most of the carbs used for ‘fuel’ in that session will come from both those stored in your muscles. Throughout the day, we’re constantly using and topping up these stores as you go about your business. As you could probably imagine, someone of a moderate to high intake of carbs will do a better job of maintaining these stores than a person who is eating a lower daily intake of carbs.
How you approach your session, the meals you’ve had leading up (or lack of), and the carbohydrate content within them will influence the amount of stored carbs you have ready to use for a workout.
There seems to be merit to including some strategically placed carbohydrate pre-workout despite your current daily intake. That said, if you’re someone eating lower carbs across your diet, with a tough session incoming, you might find yourself getting a little more out of that pre-workout meal.
# 3- What time of the day are you training?
The time of the day that you’re training can also influence your decision to eat a pre-workout meal or not.
Consider two situations. First, you have one person who’s training in the afternoon, let’s say that they eat a regular meal schedule and are eating maintenance calories (enough to maintain their current body weight). By the time they get to train, they’ve had multiple opportunities to eat a couple of meals, maybe a snack or two, and if they’ve played their cards right, a decent chunk of their daily carb targets. We could assume this person had their body’s carbs stores on point, and a pre-workout meal might not be needed.
On the other hand, you could be a person who trains first thing in the morning. Let’s complicate it further and say that their last meal was at dinner at least 10 hours ago (which was mostly salad and lean protein), and they had a hard session in the afternoon the day prior. In this case, it could be quite possible that our AM trainee could be carb-depleted (low available stores) and might very much benefit from a pre-workout meal before their morning session.
As you can see, the time of day that you train and the time available to eat leading up to a session can impact your decision to eat, what to eat, and in turn, how you perform in that workout. This is especially true if you are training in the morning. You have far less of an opportunity to eat and fuel up before your workout than if you are training in the afternoon. This is when pre-workout meals really shine.
SO… WHAT DO I EAT THEN?!
Leading into a session, you should ensure that you have enough carbohydrates available to accommodate the demands of your training. We know that traditional strength training, especially at higher volumes or work, is powered primarily by our body’s carbohydrate stores. So, for those looking to really maximize their performance during their next strength session, ensuring that they’re well-fuelled, with carbohydrate availability on point is essential.
With respect to the carbs you’re looking to eat pre-workout, it’s recommended to consume at least 1g of carbs per kilo of your body weight least 1 hour prior to your lifting session. However, research has also shown that consumption of as little 20-30g of carbohydrates, 30-60mins before you train can improve your performance.
FREE PRE-WORKOUT NUTRITION GUIDE FOR STRENGTH TRAINERS
Ultimately, the decision to eat a pre-workout meal should be one that is influenced by a number of different things (but not limited to), a) the type of workout you’re doing and what’s within it, b) your current nutrition intake and how you’re breaking it up, c) the time of day you train, and d) to whether or not you even like to eat before a session!
That being said, to ensure you’re getting the most out of your strength training sessions, if you’ve got a big, high-volume strength session with sets taken close to failure, or you’re training early in the morning, you probably don’t want to go into that session hungry and may benefit from eating a meal that contains some of your daily carbohydrates.