Pre-workout nutrition

To go longer and stronger, fuel up on these before your next sweat session

We live in an age where people take working out at the gym very seriously but in numerous cases, they head to their gym on an empty stomach either because they have succumbed to the notion that one shouldn’t eat before a workout or simply because they don’t know what to eat. But this doesn’t mean that you chow down heartily before your workout either. The key is to follow a middle path i.e. eating right at the right time.

Athletes and fitness enthusiasts are always looking for ways to improve their performance and achieve their goals. Good nutrition can help your body perform better and recover faster after each workout. Optimal nutrient intake prior to exercise will not only help you maximise your performance but also minimise muscle damage. Fuelling your body with the right nutrients prior to exercise will give you the energy and strength you need to perform better. Each macronutrient has a specific role before a workout. Below is a brief look at the role of each macronutrient.


Your muscles use the glucose from carbs for fuel. Glycogen is the way the body processes and stores glucose, mainly in the liver and muscles. For short and high intensity exercise, your glycogen stores are your muscles’ main source of energy. But for longer exercises, the degree to which carbs are used depends on several factors. These include the intensity, type of training and your overall diet. Your muscles’ glycogen stores are limited. As these stores become depleted, your output and intensity diminish. Studies have consistently shown that carbs can increase glycogen stores and utilisation while boosting carb oxidation during exercise. Carb loading, which involves consuming a high-carb diet for one to seven days, is a well-known method to maximise glycogen stores.


Many studies have documented the potential of pre-workout protein consumption to improve athletic performance. Eating protein (alone or with carbs) prior to exercise has been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis. One study showed a positive anabolic response after participants consumed 20 grams of whey protein before exercise. Other benefits of eating protein before exercise include:

• A better anabolic response, or muscle growth

• Improved muscle recovery

• Increased strength and lean body mass

• Increased muscle performance


While glycogen is used for short and high intensity bouts of exercise, fat is the source of fuel for longer and moderate-to-low-intensity exercise. Some studies have investigated the effects of fat intake on athletic performance. However, these studies looked at high-fat diets over a long period, rather than prior to exercise. For example, one study showed how a four-week diet consisting of 40 per cent fat increased endurance running times in healthy, trained runners.

Some examples of pre-workout meals

Which foods and how much to eat depends on the type, duration and intensity of the workout. A good rule of thumb is to eat a mixture of carbs and protein prior to exercise. If you eat fat with your pre-workout meal, then it should be consumed at least a few hours before your workout. Here are some examples of balanced pre-workout meals:

If your workout starts within two to three hours or more

• Sandwich on whole-grain bread, lean protein and a side salad

• Egg omelette and whole-grain toast topped with avocado spread and a cup of fruit

• Lean protein, brown rice and roasted vegetables

If your workout starts within two hours

• Protein smoothie made with milk, protein powder, banana and mixed berries

• Whole-grain cereal and milk

• A cup of oatmeal topped with banana and sliced almonds

• Natural almond butter and fruit preserve sandwich on whole-grain bread

If your workout starts within an hour or less

• Greek yogurt and fruit

• Nutrition bar with protein and wholesome ingredients

• A piece of fruit, such as a banana, orange or apple

Keep in mind that you don’t need to eat many pre-workout meals at different times. Just choose one of these.

For best results, experiment with different timings and nutrient compositions.

Hydration is crucial

Your body needs water to function. Good hydration has been shown to sustain and even enhance performance, while dehydration has been linked to significant decreases in performance. It’s recommended to consume both water and sodium before exercise. This will improve fluid balance. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends drinking 16 – 20 ounces (0.5 – 0.6 liters) of water at least four hours before exercise and eight to 12 ounces (0.23 – 0.35 liters) of water 10 – 15 minutes before exercise. Additionally, they recommend consuming a beverage that contains sodium to help retain fluids.