Nutrition Q&A: Pre-Workout Meals for Strength TrainingMy best advice is to experiment with timing, food choices, and quantity. Make notes in your training log about how you feel after each meal. There is no magic formula for nutrient timing; it is about figuring out what works for you through trial and error.
4-16-21 Nutrition Q&A
Question from Gwenn
Is there an optimal pre-workout meal to fuel my strength training, and when should I have that meal?
Unfortunately, there is no optimal pre-workout meal that works for everyone. When thinking about pre-workout nutrition, we want to focus on nutrition that helps hydrate, sustain energy, boost performance, preserve muscle mass, and speed recovery. These factors usually call for a meal that has both high-quality protein and high-quality carbs. Some healthy fat is also helpful, as it helps to slow digestion. It also maintains blood glucose and insulin levels.
There are several options to explore for pre-workout nutrition. One option is to have a balanced, “normal-sized” meal about 2-3 hours before training, which gives you ample time for digestion.
Some of my favorite pre-workout meals to consume two to three hours before training are
- An egg omelet with whole-grain toast topped with avocado and a piece of fruit;
- A lean protein, rice, and roasted veggies brushed with olive oil;
- A sandwich on whole-grain bread containing lean protein, avocado or hummus, and veggies like lettuce and tomato along with a piece of fruit.
If you are getting closer to your training time, the meal should be smaller and more easily digestible. Avoid anything high in fat or too high in fiber if you are eating within the hour before training. You also want to steer clear of anything that may upset your stomach, cause indigestion, or cause bloat. We don’t want your digestive system competing with your muscles for the hardest worker award during your training session. Ideally, you should not feel hungry or full while training.
If you are inside an hour of your training time, some of my favorite pre-workout meals are
- Plain Greek yogurt with berries, slivered almonds, and a drizzle of honey;
- A cup of oatmeal mixed with some nuts and raisins;
- A protein smoothie made with protein powder, berries or a banana, and either a little bit of avocado or a little bit of nut butter.
My best advice is to experiment with timing, food choices, and quantity. Make notes in your training log about how you feel after each meal. There is no magic formula for nutrient timing; it is about figuring out what works for you through trial and error. For instance, I lift first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. I will have a cup of coffee and two glasses of water, though, and I feel great. I would eat before training if I lifted a few hours later, as I usually crash mid-morning without an adequate breakfast.
One of the best ways to know how different types and quantities of food affect your body is to start asking yourself basic questions about an hour after consuming your normal meals and snacks:
- Am I sleepy and lethargic, or do I have focus and feel energized?
- Is anything about that meal not sitting well with me?
- Would I feel comfortable putting on my lifting belt right now?
Keep in mind that a pre-workout meal cannot be evaluated or prescribed in isolation. If you are serious about your training, your entire nutrition plan should support your performance. The total amount of protein and carbohydrate consumed over the course of the day is far more important to lean mass gain, fat loss, and overall performance than any specific pre-workout meal strategy.