To get the most out of your training, it’s vital to fuel your body with nutrients before a workout to achieve optimum performance and recovery.
To maximise the results of your training, it is recommended to eat a balanced meal containing carbs, protein and fat 2-3 hours prior to exercise. However, this isn’t always practical and there are times where you may find yourself unable to get a full meal in that window of time. In this case, you can still eat a good quality pre-workout meal or snack but it’s worth noting that the sooner you eat before training, the smaller and less complex the meal should be. If eating 45-60 minutes before training, opt for foods which are easy to digest and contain mostly carbs and some protein as this helps to avoid stomach discomfort whilst training.
Carbs Vs Protein
Pre-workout carbs optimise your body’s ability to use glycogen to provide energy for quick- and high-intensity training, whilst fat provides fuel for longer bouts of exercise (Lowery, 2004). Eating protein before strength training helps to improve muscle protein synthesis which increases muscle growth, reduces muscle damage and enhances recovery (Mamerow et al., 2014).
The most effective type of food pre-workout is therefore dependent on the type of training you are undertaking and the duration of your workout. Good hydration is also essential for enhanced performance so ensure you drink plenty of water throughout the day and stay hydrated throughout your training.
If your training is cardio heavy or of a longer duration (above 60 minutes), then a carbohydrate-rich meal or snack should be your go-to pre-workout.
Carbs play an important part in providing your body with the required energy to endure prolonged bouts of exercise. This is because your muscles will use the glucose from the carbs for fuel. Glycogen is how the body processes and stores glucose, predominantly in the liver and muscles.
For quick and high intensity workouts, your glycogen stores are the main source of energy for your muscles (Balsom et al, 1999). However, for longer duration exercise, the extent to which carbs are used is dependent on several factors. These include the type of training, the intensity of the training and your overall diet.
A well-known method to maximise glycogen stores is carb loading. This involves consuming a high-carb diet for 1-7 days and is a popular strategy used by endurance athletes, such as long-distance runners, to maximise the storage of glycogen. This being said, unless you are exercising for bouts of 90 minutes or longer, there is no need to carb load.
Examples of high-carb meals:
- Large bowl of porridge or cereal with milk and a handful of dried fruit or banana/berries.
- Large bowl of wholemeal pasta with tuna, mayonnaise and sweetcorn (and/or other veggies of your choice)
- Grilled chicken/turkey breast with a large serving of brown rice and green veg
- Chickpea and vegetable curry with a large serving of quinoa.
If you’re short on time, here are some examples of speedy and simple high-carb snacks:
- 1 baked sweet potato (or slice and bake into chips) served with hummus
- 1 large handful of raisins, dried apricots or other dried fruit
- 3 slices of wholegrain bread thinly spread with honey
- 5 rice cakes spread with jam
- Cinnamon bagel with handful of raisins
- Banana and peanut butter on oatcakes – FYI: our TPW Loaded Nuts take peanut butter to a new level! You can thank us later.
- Energy bar/bites such as our delicious and nutritious TPW Superfood Bites
If strength training is your exercise of choice, then protein should be your pre-workout go-to for optimal gains. There’s no disputing that protein is a heavy hitter in the world of nutrition, especially when it comes to maximising your efforts in the gym and building muscle mass. Whilst the benefits of consuming protein after a workout are widely recognised, it’s a lesser known fact that pre-workout protein can also help to optimise your fitness and body goals.
Studies have shown that the same benefits gained from consuming protein after training can be equally gained by taking protein pre-training. Similar increases in muscle mass and strength were found regardless of whether the same amount of protein (25g) was consumed before or after training (Candow et al, 2006).
Consuming protein pre-workout kick starts muscle protein synthesis during your training rather than after you’ve finished (Hackney, 2009), resulting in maximum pump. Gains aside, a study from Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise found that protein pre-workout can also result in an increased calorie burn. This study found that just one scoop of whey protein pre-workout resulted in an increased calorie burn over the next 24 hours. The specific metabolic cause of this increased calorie burn isn’t yet known, however it’s theorised that it could be due to the added metabolic effects of increasing protein content and subsequently modifying the energy sources used by the body during training.
Examples of quick and simple high protein meals:
- Lean bacon and mushroom omelette
- Scrambled eggs and smoked salmon bagel
- Baked falafel with hummus and salad
- Spicy chicken breast burger with sweet potato chips
- Thai chicken/king prawn lettuce wraps
- Turkey mince with spicy salsa and cauliflower rice
- King prawn and avocado salad
- Lean protein such as chicken or tuna with salad/rice/vegetables/pitta
Examples of simple and speedy high protein snacks:
- Turkey roll-ups (cheese and veg wrapped in slices of turkey breast)
- Protein bar – try our TPW Loaded Legends – you’ll never go back to another protein bar, trust us, they really are legendary!
- Edamame beans
- Apple or banana with nut butter
- Boiled eggs
- Beef Jerky – TPW Beef Jerky is made from prime selected beef and contains a massive 27g of quality protein.
- Greek yogurt with nuts and fruit
- Protein shake –TPW Whey Protein 360 Extreme is a 5* bestseller for a reason! For a plant-based alternative, try our TPW Pea Protein 80, packing a whopping 24g protein per serving!
There are clear benefits to consuming both carbs and protein pre-workout, however the effectiveness of these food groups is dependent on the type and duration of your training. Protein slows the digestion of carbs, lowering the GI (Glycaemic Index) of the meal and encouraging the body to release energy slowly rather than in a quick hit – which is ideal for longer bouts of exercise. Protein-rich carbs include lentils, chickpeas, beans and peas or combine a chicken breast or fish fillet with a large portion of rice for the same GI reducing effects.
It is therefore recommended that rather than strictly sticking to one food group, you combine both carbs and protein to stagger your energy and remain fuelled for the duration of your workout. You can change it up and customise the quantities to suit your training of choice. For example, you could increase protein amount on lifting days and increase carbs on cardio days.
- Balsom, Paul & C Gaitanos, G & Söderlund, Karin & Ekblom, B. (1999). High-intensity exercise and muscle glycogen availability in humans. Acta physiologica Scandinavica. 165. 337-45. 10.1046/j.1365-201x.1999.00517.x.
- Candow et al. (2006) Candow DG, Chilibeck PD, Facci M, Abeysekara S, Zello GA. Protein supplementation before and after resistance training in older men. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2006;97:548–556. doi: 10.1007/s00421-006-0223-8.
- Hackney, Kyle & J Bruenger, Adam & T Lemmer, Jeffrey. (2009). Timing Protein Intake Increases Energy Expenditure 24 h after Resistance Training. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 42. 998-1003. 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181c12976.
- Kumar et al. (2009) Kumar V, Atherton P, Smith K, Rennie MJ. Human muscle protein synthesis and breakdown during and after exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2009;106:2026–2039. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.91481.2008.
- Lowery, Lonnie. (2004). Dietary Fat and Sports Nutrition: A Primer. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine.
- Mamerow, M., Mettler, J., English, K., Casperson, S., Arentson-Lantz, E., Sheffield-Moore, M., Layman, D. and Paddon-Jones, D. (2014). Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults. The Journal of Nutrition, 144(6), pp.876-880.