Pre-workout Nutrition

Confused about what to eat before training?  Most people are!  One of the most frequently asked questions I get is what should I eat pre-workout?  And the answer can vary.

Before we go any further, let’s quickly explain carbohydrates.  Depending on the type of carbohydrate you have, they can release slowly into the blood or quickly into the blood.  The Glycaemic Index (GI) is a measure of how quickly sugar is released into the blood and, therefore, how quickly energy is released.

Low-GI foods: release energy slowly over a few hours.  Examples include lentils, beans, brown rice, high-fibre cereals, oats, wholemeal bread, sweet potato, peas, dried apricots, apples and peaches.

High-GI foods: release energy quickly into the blood, and also lead to a dip in energy sooner than low-GI foods.  Examples include white bread, low-fibre breakfast cereals, white potato, energy gels and drinks, some fruits and table sugar.

It’s important to understand how the Glycaemic Index works in order to understand how to best fuel your workouts.

Ideally, it’s best to get some fuel in around 2-4 hours before training.  You should aim for a balanced meal that contains mostly low-GI carbohydrate with a little bit of protein.  A little bit of fat won’t hurt as it can slow the GI response down even more, but too much fat may leave you feeling sluggish.  Examples of pre-workout meals include:

  • Porridge made with semi-skimmed milk with banana and honey/nut butter.
  • Greek yoghurt with high-fibre muesli and berries
  • Jacket potato with tuna or beans
  • Wholegrain pasta or brown rice with lean meat or fish and some veg
  • Wholegrain sandwich/bagel with lean filling such as chicken or tuna and salad
  • Wholegrain toast with scrambled eggs

However, there will be times when you don’t get chance to have a meal before training, or you may find that you get a bit hungry about an hour before.  If this is the case, try having something a bit smaller 30-60 minutes before training.  Aim for something that has high-GI carbohydrate, not too high in fat or protein and is easily digestible.  Examples of pre-workout snacks include:

  • Rice cakes with nut butter and banana
  • Fresh or dried fruit such as a banana, apple, dried apricots, raisins
  • Milk or flavoured milk
  • A small fruit smoothie
  • Flapjack or granola/cereal bar
  • A small bowl of cereal with milk

And finally, just a little bit about early morning training.  If you train early morning you may struggle for time to eat or just don’t have much of an appetite and end up training fasted.  There is conflicting evidence about whether training fasted is beneficial or not but the overall consensus seems to be that training fasted is not advised as it can lead to fatigue, lack of concentration and may hinder your performance.  Here are some tips for early morning training:

  • Prioritise drinking water so that you’re properly hydrated before your session.
  • Try and eat a mini-breakfast 30-60 minutes before.
  • Have nutritious, high carb foods such as wholegrain toast with honey/jam, porridge, cereal with milk, granola bar, rice cakes with nut butter, dried fruit or a banana.
  • If you really struggle with eating early in the morning, try and have a nutritious drink such as milk, a milkshake or protein/carb shake.
  • If you struggle for time, prep your food the night before so you can just grab and go!

I’ve given you some ideas of foods and timings you can try before training but, ultimately, everyone is individual. The best way to find out what works well for you is a little bit of trial and error – so use this blog as a guide and try out different combinations to fuel yourself for success in your training!