Picture this - you are about to embark on the most strenuous HIIT workout or strength training session of your fitness career and haven't eaten yet! Not good at all!! You won't perform at optimum capacity on an empty tank! So, what does one eat to prep them for some cardio/ strength craziness? We want to eat something that our body will immediately break down into energy.
Out of all the macronutrients we want to consume the ones that will digest quickly. Fat is out of the question unless consumed at least 3 hours prior to a workout. Carbs will digest quickly but some so fast that you experience a sugar rush followed by a crash.
We want to stick to those low in fiber (fiber like fat takes long to digest) and lower on the glycemic index. Think starchy carbs - white rice, potatoes.
Protein is great for muscle recovery and would be an ideal macro-nutrient to consume pre-and post-workout.
So how do we time this? We have a small window of opportunity to fuel our workout. If your eat too close to the workout time, you could make yourself feel sick. If you eat too far from the workout time, your body will have used the fuel for something else. The best times to eat are 30-90 minutes prior to working out (the lower end is if you are working out first thing in the morning - aim for in the 60-90-minute range if you can). If you are eating a big meal I would recommend giving the body more time to digest especially if the meal is composed of protein, carbs and fats. Each of these macronutrients have different digestion windows and the longest one (fat) will hold up the rest.
Now what are some good combinations for an early morning workout vs. a mid-day to evening workout. Early morning, I like to whip up a fruit protein smoothie (leaving out my natural peanut butter if working out first thing in the morning). Being in a liquid form means the body will digest it quickly and you will have access to it for energy during your training.
Working out mid-day or in the evening? These workouts probably follow one of your bigger meals for the day (lunch or dinner) aim to give yourself at least 2 hours to digest the mostly solid meal you just ate. Try to avoid having any fats in these meals if choosing to work out after them. The fat, as mentioned before, slows down digestion and the protein will not be available for muscle recovery and the carbs for energy.
As a rule of thumb a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio carbs to protein is good pre-workout and a 2:1 ratio post workout. This allows you to consume most of your daily carbs around your workout where they will be used and not stored. The rest of your carbs can be sprinkled amongst other meals which by process of elimination will be higher in fat (keep you full longer). Please keep in mind that your protein should be evenly distributed across all meals throughout the day.
Here are are few examples of pre-workout meal ideas from Built Lean
Oatmeal with Whey Protein Mixed In (great if you have a sensitive stomach)
2 Whole Eggs, 2 Egg Whites, Peppers, Onions, Low fat Cheese, Grapefruit/Oatmeal
Turkey Wrap with veggies (add carbs as needed)
6 Ounces Grilled Chicken with yam and asparagus
…and don’t forget to drink plenty of water! A good 16+ ounces can help you optimize your performance.
If for some reason it’s been longer than 3 hours since your last meal, you can consider adding a pre-workout snack, such as fruit (apple, strawberries, blueberries etc.), some yogurt, or a pre-workout protein shake can also work. In addition, for those who get up very early in the morning and don’t have time for a pre-workout meal, or snack, a simple sports drink with BCAA’s to help improve energy levels and protect against muscle breakdown.
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