Confused about what to eat before a workout? There’s real science to what goes on your lips before a workout: Generally, you’ll want to consume slow-release carbs for longer endurance sessions and you’ll need quick-release carbs for short and long workouts. intense.
But what counts as a slow-release or fast-release carb? And how do other macronutrients, like protein and fat, help during training? We asked a group of qualified nutrition experts to explain it to us.
What should you eat before a workout?
Pre-workout nutrition should be determined by the type of exercise you plan to do and the physiological adaptation you are trying to achieve – such as gain muscle (opens in a new tab) or lose weight. But carbohydrates are the best for providing energy.
If you prefer exercises like HIIT, weight lifting, or power training, you should try to prioritize quick-release, high-glycemic carbs that boost sugar levels for a quick release of energy. Think instant oatmeal and sports drinks. If you prefer low-intensity endurance exercise like longer runs, slow-release carbs planned a few hours to an hour ahead will help maintain the energy release over time. Think quinoa, whole grains, sweet potatoes, and legumes in this case.
Rob Hobson, Nutrition Manager at Healthspan Elite, recommends consuming something fast-digesting before your standard workout, such as toast with peanut butter, an oatmeal smoothie, or a banana (opens in a new tab). But for a long run of more than an hour, Hobson says you should ideally plan your carb intake more carefully, “aim for up to 4g of carbs per kg of bodyweight, which means eating multiple meals in starting four hours before hitting the start line.”
Rob Hobson is an award-winning Registered Nutritionist with 15 years of industry work experience. He has previously worked with public health bodies in the UK, as well as commercial bodies and private clients. He holds a BSc in Nutrition and an MSc in Public Health Nutrition and has lectured at various universities in the UK.
Jamie Wright, Maprotein (opens in a new tab) nutritionist, agrees that carbs should be the main focus leading up to a workout, but says you shouldn’t neglect other macronutrients. “A high-quality protein source can further reduce the breakdown of existing protein structures (like muscle) and can help reduce post-workout recovery,” he says. “But for the sake of simplicity, and because some may have digestive issues when they have pre-workout protein, I generally suggest having pre-workout carbs and post-workout protein.”
Why should you eat carbs before a workout
There are actually three different energy sources available to your body: crabs (opens in a new tab), protein (opens in a new tab)and fats (opens in a new tab). All of them play a crucial role in the functioning of your body, but carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body.
Fat can be used as a source of energy, but it’s usually only tapped when you’re fasting and haven’t consumed carbohydrates. And the body typically only uses protein for fuel when it can’t access carbohydrates or fats. As such, having a good carbohydrate intake is crucial for workouts because it provides the energy you need.
Wright explains the science behind it: “When we exercise, our body burns through a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) at a much higher rate than usual. ATP is simply the energy “currency” of the body, and all processes in the body require a certain amount of it.
“Carbohydrates consumed or stored are like large chains in a daisy chain of smaller units of carbohydrates. When we eat carbohydrates or need to use up our stores, we have to separate these small units from the chain to transport them around the body in order to ‘get energy,’ he explains. [from carbohydrate] is an example of this and it travels through the blood to our cells. If it is to be used to produce energy, it enters a series of complex processes known as cellular respiration to produce ATP.
“Carbohydrates produce a ton of ATP during these processes, which makes it, at least in my opinion – and according to most of the available scientific literature – the best nutrient to have before a workout.”
Wright adds that consuming carbohydrates before training also reduces or delays the use of existing energy stores (namely glycogen, the stored form of carbohydrates in our muscles and liver), which can extend the duration of exercise.
Jamie Wright is a Registered Nutritionist with a Bachelor’s degree in Sport and Exercise Science and a Master’s degree in Human Nutrition. He is currently Chief Nutritionist at Balance; a team of fully qualified nutritionists and dieticians working with everyone from office workers to Olympic athletes.
When to eat before a workout
Most advice says you should eat two to three hours before a workout. A small study published in Nutrient Diary (opens in a new tab), compared the effects of a six-hour versus three-hour pre-feeding regimen in a group of eight active women. In general, performance results were more favorable for the three-hour group, suggesting this really is a great time to refuel.
However, it is not always possible to respect this rule of two to three hours. “If you have an early morning workout (especially if you don’t feel like eating before your workout), a high-carb meal the night before can still give you the energy you need,” Hobson suggests. .
Should you eat after a workout?
If the thought of eating before you work out makes your stomach turn, there might be benefits to skipping a meal altogether. Brian Carson, head of science and innovation at Whole Supp and senior lecturer in exercise physiology, tells Live Science that exercising after a period of fasting can help your body adapt to its capacity. to use fat as a source of fuel.
“We have already published a Systematic review (opens in a new tab) and a meta-analysis at the University of Limerick examining this approach and found greater fat utilization during exercise, with no negative impact on performance for exercise lasting less than 60 minutes when performed on an empty stomach. “, he explains. “We also recently released to research looking at carbohydrate restriction before exercise and protein feeding before high-intensity sprint interval training, and found it to be a great approach for this short, intermittent-type activity.
Brian Carson, Phd, is a Senior Lecturer in Exercise Physiology at the University of Limerick, where he pursues research on the role of exercise and nutrition in regulating metabolism for performance and health. He is also responsible for science and innovation at whole soup (opens in a new tab).
Hobson suggests that other factors can help you decide whether or not to plan a pre-workout meal. “Some people like to train on an empty stomach, and endurance athletes often train after fasting, which is called ‘training low’,” he explains. “The effect of intermittently periodizing your nutritional intake in this way (intermittent fasting (opens in a new tab)) is that the body adapts in positive ways, such as improved fat oxidation (breakdown of fatty acids); this has a glycogen-sparing effect and can improve running performance.
In other words? There is no one-size-fits-all approach to pre-exercise meals. Fasting has benefits, but if your body is in a situation calorie deficit (opens in a new tab)you might not have the energy to perform.