The importance of pre workout nutrition for weight-lifting
Many nutrition experts liken the body to a machine. Fuel is required for the body to function properly, but in order to get the most out of working out, a deeper understanding of pre workout nutrition and muscle protein synthesis is required.
Granted, it is empowering to think of oneself as a gran tourismo, yet human anatomy is not as straightforward as internal combustion. For this reason, knowing a few important details will go a long way towards reaching personal goals related to growth, endurance, performance or well-defined muscles.
On the whole, appropriate nutrition before physical exercises enhances muscle performance, while also speeding up muscle recovery. Food and calories are not enemies – they are trusted allies. This being said, what is essential to a pre-workout meal plan is knowing exactly what foods should be eaten and when this should be done.
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What are the best foods and snacks to eat pre workout?
The rule of thumb for weightlifters and bodybuilders in terms of pre-workout nutrition is “almost everything but fat and raw sugar”. This means avoiding any form of candy or sweets, as well as products such as peanut butter, cheese, whole eggs or heavy meat, with a high percentage of fat.
Fat may be useful when trying to perform exercises of moderate or lower intensity for extended periods of time, which is why it is recommended to endurance athletes in particular (long-distance runners, bi/tri/pentathlon competitors, etc.).
Still, the positive effect of a diet that is plentiful in fat was not examined for the specific pre-workout timeframe. It is very likely that high concentrations of fat in pre-workout meals would cause sensations of sluggishness and fatigue during training, since it takes more time and effort to digest.
However, one of the most important and overlooked substances when training is water. Drinking appropriate amounts of H2O will help the body perform optimally and even marginally increasing performance. Not consuming enough water is guaranteed to make you feel fatigued and negatively impact your workout.
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Pre workout meal and nutrition timing
The key to maximizing the benefits of pre-workout snacks is timing. Not all foods are digested and absorbed by our bodies at the same rate. Bananas and fruits, in general, along with yoghurts or nutritional bars can easily be consumed 30 minutes before stepping through the gym door, whereas rice, egg whites, toast and lean meats are advisable no later than 2 hours and a half before the workout.
Moreover, each body has its own digestive rhythm, which means that, besides following these general guidelines, it is important to jot down the time of the meal and the moment when training started. Through this practice, it is possible to ascertain more specifically how much time different food categories require to be digested and, therefore, to eat them accordingly.
Last, but not least, there shouldn’t be more than one pre-workout snack at the appropriate interval before going to the gym. A brown rice and veggie meal should not be accompanied by a protein shake one hour later; it’s either one or the other.
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The best pre-workout nutritional supplements for weight-lifting
Besides foods, there are a few pre-workout supplements recommended for weight lifters. To this end, one of the most popular and effective supplements is creatine, which is why strength and power athletes use it on a regular basis. As an organic acid that naturally occurs in the body, creatine is not considered a doping substance, unlike steroids or stimulants.
In order to get the most out of creatine’s boost to muscle mass, strength, and fatigue-delaying properties, your pre-workout meal should include one dose of 3 grams, which should be complemented by a second dose of 2 grams or so, intra or post-workout. Thus pushing towards a total of 5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day.
In terms of effects, creatine is closely followed by branched-chain amino acids, which have been proven to increase muscle protein synthesis. To achieve this, a dose of least 5 grams or more of BCAAs are ideal to increase anabolism and nitrogen retention. Since BCAA’s are pre digested, they can be consumed both pre, intra and post workout.
DNA Lean's intra workout supplement Amino-XS is a BCAA based supplement that is specifically designed to be consume during training. Additionally, the amino acid beta-alanine is recommended to be consumed pre-workout, the aim being to better manage fatigue and increase muscle endurance while training. Before working out, a minimum dose of 2 grams is necessary, while the total daily in-take should not exceed 5 grams.
Food digestion rate and effects on workout
Nutritionists use a golden rule when it comes to pre-workout snacks: the closer you are to commencing your training, the less complex the food. Regular meals with generous amounts of carbohydrates, such as pasta dishes, yams, sweet potatoes, rice or squash should be consumed around 1 and a half hours prior to working out.
Given the hectic rhythm of life today, it’s increasingly difficult to time one’s meals with such accuracy. Protein shakes are the way to go 45-65 minutes before the workout, while fruit (particularly bananas) should be the go-to pre-workout snack for those last minute calls, 30 minutes and under.
Besides ensuring that the body has the prerequisite nutrients to facilitate muscle recovery, appropriate pre-workout nutrition ensures that muscle fibres won’t be broken down to account for the energy requirements demanded by each particular session. Furthermore, appropriate nutrition translates into increased energy levels, superior muscle protein synthesis, while also promoting an anabolic state wherein the body seeks to transform readily available substances and tissues into raw energy.
The importance of pre workout meal timing is also paramount. For example, when working out, blood flow is increased to the targeted muscle group. This is known as hyperaemia, or otherwise known as “the pump”. The pump has a magnitude of effects; a temporary increase in muscle size, delivery of anabolic nutrients to muscle cells and increased oxygenation.
Nevertheless, if food is consumed too close to working out, these effects will be seriously diminished, along with digestion. Ergo, consuming food too close to a workout can cause competition between the skeletal muscles and the stomach, for blood flow. Get your pre workout meal timing wrong and you can easily find that your pump is minimal and you leave the gym with a full stomach!
Easy, rich and mouth-watering pre-workout nutrition recipes
With all the restrictions revolving around pre-workout meals, it’s easy to form a wrong impression about the idea of eating before training. Nonetheless, these snacks can be just as delicious and appetizing as they are nutritious and essential to the proper functioning of the body. Below, there are several suggestions regarding what you can eat before hugging those weights.
- Grilled vegetables and white fish with brown rice (between 1:30 hour and 2 hours from workout)
Because it’s a rather heavy meal, this first option should be consumed up to 2 hours before working out. This will of course depend on your individual digestion, some people may need longer, while some people may need less time. With plenty of fibres and carbohydrates, a dish of grilled (or steamed) veggies, white fish with a healthy side of brown rice will provide the necessary motivation and energy to get down to business. Due to the lightness of the meal, chances are incredibly small that feelings of tiredness or fatigue will set in.
- Grilled chicken with a side of asparagus and yams (over 1:30 from workout)
Much like rice, yams are an incredible source of carbohydrates that can fuel complete workout. The addition of asparagus and chicken, which, again, can also be steamed, guarantees that the organism benefits from enough fibre for digestion and protein for synthesis.
The recommended way to cook the yams (or sweet potatoes) is in the oven, since this will require minimal amounts of oil. In the off-shot that the dish seems too dry, a Greek tzatziki sauce is the perfect addition to pique your interest. Since it’s mainly yoghurt and fresh cucumbers, it’s also a heavenly alternative to high-calorie packaged sauces available at local convenience stores.
- Berry-banana smoothie (between 1 hour and 2 hours from workout)
Out of all fruits, bananas are the best source of a sustained energy and blood glucose. All you need is 2 medium bananas, a cup of Greek yoghurt, half a cup of your favourite berries and at least a cup of almond milk. Any smoothie can be easily turned into an amazing protein shake with the addition of a serving of protein powder, along with a proportionate quantity of liquid.
- Egg-white fine oats (at least 45 minutes from workout)
With one cup of oatmeal, 8 egg whites, half a cup of skimmed milk variety (preferably less fat than more), some cinnamon and one mashed banana, a simple bowl of oatmeal is transformed into a protein punch. Everything these ingredients need is to be mixed in a pot and cooked for around 10-15 minutes.
- Light yoghurt parfait (30 minutes from workout)
It rarely happens that everything goes according to plan and you might eat a great meal 3 hours beforehand. Most often than not, spare time is happened upon and that’s usually the moment when one takes the spontaneous decision to do some lifting.
In less than 2 minutes, the favourite berry can be combined with some Greek yoghurt and granola – the perfect, easily digestible snack that can be eaten on the way to the gym.
- Purple banana yoghurt (30 minutes from workout)
A banana, half a cup of Greek yoghurt and some blueberries with ice come together amazingly in a refreshing drink that can give a much-needed jolt before the session begins. With less than 30 minutes at your disposal before training, this pre-workout snack can make the difference between pushing your limits and barely keeping to your schedule.
At one time, choose just one of the meals provided. With 6 distinct recipes that can be constantly improved and innovated with the addition of just one or two ingredients, there’s enough to go around for an entire month of pre-workout meals.
In the nick of time, even a banana with some trail mix can constitute a great snack that can lay the foundation for those workouts that redefine your limits. Let good food be thy fuel, as it is your medicine!
So now it's your turn, what is your favorite pre workout meal and why?
I read every comment and would love to hear from you all.
Paul Jenkins CEO and founder of DNA Lean®
- Creatine before and after workout: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23919405
- More about the impact of creatine during training: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19087454
- More about the way in which pre-workout meals enhance performance: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3571097
- How fat should be consumed in accordance to the type of training: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24482588
- The official stand of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) on beta-alanine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4501114/
- The importance of water when exercising: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23121347
- Why carbohydrates are invaluable to your training: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17461390500076741