“What is the best pre-workout?” It’s an extremely common question in the fitness community, although most people asking it are thinking of some pill, powder, or elixir touted for increasing your body’s fat-burning furnace and lean muscle-building potential. Truth is, if you’re looking for a solid pre-workout, the first place you should look is your kitchen.
Choosing solid dietary staples is doubly important before an intense workout. Optimal pre-workout nutrition will prime your body to get the most out of the time you spend training, and who doesn’t want faster, more efficient results?!
If only Arnie’s pre-workout guide was legit 😭
The Macro Breakdown of Your Pre-Workout
There is a perfect mixture of protein, carbs, and healthy fats that will allow maximum performance during a workout. Fueling properly will also increase energy levels to lead you to a more intense and fulfilling workout.
Carbohydrates act as direct fuel for your muscles. All forms of intense training use glucose, which is restored by carbs. In short, whether you’re a bodybuilder, powerlifter, or newbie gymgoer, carbs serve as your body’s primary energy source. The structure of an overall diet should include carbs pre-workout unless you are attempting extreme fat loss.
Consuming protein pre-workout will not only increase lean muscle mass due to faster protein synthesis, but also increase stamina and endurance. According to one top study, a mere 20 grams of protein pre-workout can produce: (1) better anabolic response; (2) improved recovery; (3) increased strength; and (4) better overall focus and performance.
We all need a moderate amount of healthy fats in our diets. Fats are essential for proper cognitive function, maintaining healthy skin and other tissues, and transporting certain vitamins and minerals throughout our bodies. Consuming a large amount of fats post-workout can inhibit the body’s absorption of your other macronutrients. Accordingly, it’s always best to work some healthy fats into your pre-workout meal.
Timing Is Everything
The timing of your workout will dictate when you should eat what. To maximize results, try to eat a complete meal 2-3 hours before you exercise. The exception in this case is fasted AM training, which is performed on an empty stomach and should be primarily used for fat loss.
What To Eat & When
Here are some sample pre-workout meals that include a good mixture of protein, carbs, and fats for specific times:
If your workout starts in 2-3 hours
- Whole grain turkey sandwich and side spinach salad.
- Egg whites and a banana.
- 2 scoops of whey protein and a tablespoon of peanut butter.
If your workout starts in 2 hours
- 1 scoop of whey protein and a banana.
- Whole grain cereal and skim milk.
- A cup of oatmeal with banana slices and blueberries.
If your workout starts in less than 1 hour
- Greek yogurt with 1 scoop of whey protein.
- Meal replacement bar.
- 1-2 banana(s)
Within a 30-minute window
- 1 scoop of peanut butter.
- 1/2 cup of oats.
- 1 banana.
One of the most common pre-workout ingredients, creatine aids in increasing lean muscle and, over time, fat loss. Its best form is monohydrate as there is no loading period required. Creatine also stops the early onset of fatigue. Tap here for a full guide to creatine:
Aside from a wide range of general health benefits, caffeine is the primary ingredient in almost all pre-workouts. It can also be consumed raw or in tea and coffee. Caffeine often delivers its peak effect within 15-20 minutes. It also releases the glucose from carbs, thereby helping your body burn more fat.
The branched-chain amino acids consist of valine, leucine, and isoleucine. These BCAA’s are your body’s primary building blocks for new muscle and reparation of old muscle. BCAA’s can be used as a pre-workout as well as an intra-workout and will be responsible for a small boost in energy as well as increased protein synthesis during your training sessions.
Don’t Forget To Hydrate
One of the single most forgotten elements is hydration. Water intake is crucial before and during training. Your body needs water to properly function. Typically water should be consumed 30 minutes prior to an intense resistance workout, as well as frequently throughout your training session.
Put It All Together
Pre-workout nutrition is vital for a large calorie dump such as a weight resistance workout. It’s important to have a regimen customized for you as goals and starting points will dictate which system is optimal. Within a few weeks of serious training you should have an optimized pre-workout regimen that works for you.
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