I get questions all the time about what people should be eating/drinking pre-workout and post-workout. I guess I should be used to it by now seeing as I’m a dietitian and more specifically a sports dietitian. Here’s the thing, it depends. I know I say it and I’ll say it again, anything related to nutrition just depends on the individual. So while I can give you my input and advice based on research and experience, it sometimes just will depend on the individual, end of story.
On that note, just know, going forward any time I talk about a nutrition topic I can guarantee it will depend on the individual. That’s where the professional comes in to play. That being said, let’s see what we can learn about what you should be eating and/or taking pre workout, shall we?!
I’m going to most likely break this into multiple posts because there are many layers to this question and many different people it applies to in different ways, stay tuned.
What is Pre-Workout?
Okay, okay, let’s back up for one minute. What do I mean when I say pre-workout?! I mean the 24-36 hours leading up to higher than normal intensity movement or your designated workout. If you want to learn more about how to prepare for a workout, check out TubbyGorilla. When you (general you) say pre-workout you most always mean some type of supplement in the form of powder or pill similar to Xwerks Ignite. When you say what should I EAT pre-workout you most likely mean what to eat the 1-3 hours prior to your workout.
So I hear 2 Main questions that we should focus on here…
1. Should I take “Pre-workout”?
In this context, “pre-workout” means a supplement, powder, pill, concoction, etc. that is designed to be consumed prior to exercise/activity. It is probably marketed to athletes (and aspiring athletes) in a manner that they need it in order to build muscle and have enough energy to fuel their workout. While marketing is a great tool to help sell a product, it tends to be incredibly misleading to the masses.
Most people do not require a supplement for a pre-workout. Here are a few that might:
- Elite athletes training multiple times in 1 day
- An athlete struggling to gain muscle and or see gains in the gym/their sport (in addition to doing everything else to help)
- An athlete who needs a short-term fix to help fuel workouts (i.e. competition season)
Disclaimer: I tried my first pre-workout supplement the other day as an n=1 experiment so I could report it to you guys and let me tell you a. I HATED the taste and b. I noticed NO change in my performance/exercise/recovery.
FYI: I love this brand’s protein powder but I think maybe I’m just not into pre-workout?! Ugh, I almost spit it right out
2. What foods/snacks should I EAT pre-workout?
This is the context in which I prefer to discuss pre-workout. It is what MOST people are referring to and what most people struggle with. Believe me, if you don’t know what to eat pre-workout you have no business even looking in the direction of a “pre-workout” supplement. Dial in your nutrition, sleep, stress, etc., determine if you have bigger goals than just general fitness (i.e. elite level stuff) and then and only then can you look in “pre-workout’s” general vicinity.
Here’s who should be concerned about what to eat pre-workout:
- Anyone physically active who is interested in being the healthiest version of themselves
So let me ask you, which category do you fall into? I would love to know because then I can tailor more specific articles to you and your questions!
Okay, so let’s focus on this idea of a pre-workout time period. Most people would consider the 1-3 hours prior to exercise as the pre-workout arena. While I’d agree that it’s PART of it, it is far longer than that. Why?. Because of how your body digests, absorbs, and stores energy (in the form of glycogen) that’s why. You don’t just store and then immediately lose nutrients in a 1-3 hour period. If you do it’s because a. you used it for energy to do said exercise OR b. you lost it because of poor digestion which means you have no business exercising and need to fix your gut ASAP.
- 24-36 hours before: just eat real food, focus on your micronutrients, and make sure you are eating ENOUGH to fuel your lifestyle and workouts (*incredibly important if going into workout fasted in the morning)
- 1-3 hours before: carbohydrate-rich foods (15g+), a moderate amount of protein (10g+), low fiber, low fat, known to be well tolerated for the individual
- <1 hour before: hydrate with water, electrolytes, easily digested carbohydrates
As you can see there are 3 key areas to consider when thinking about pre-workout. If you are unable to dedicate time and effort to the BIG CHUNK known as the 24-36 hours beforehand, focus there first. Then once you have that figured out, we can talk about the pre-workout 1-3 hours before and the hour leading up to said activity. Got it? Great.
General Tips, Tricks, and Takeaways
At the risk of going too in-depth in one post, I’m going to leave you with a few key takeaways to think about, some touched upon this post, some to come in a later post:
- Focus on the 24-36 hours pre-workout and eating sufficient quantity AND quality of food
- Limit food intake to about 90-120 min pre-workout to allow for proper digestion & absorption
- Consume lower fat & fiber pre-workout to ensure no digestive discomfort (as these items take longer to digest)
- HYDRATE! Drink your water to ensure proper hydration pre-workout. Everyone is different, but a good baseline is 1/2 body weight (lbs) in ounces over the course of one day + more for fluids lost via sweat/urine, etc.
- Focus on carbohydrates + protein pre-workout.
- Only rely on a supplement if you are unable to meet your needs through food, you are training at a more elite level, AND you should talk to a professional about it
- If you train first thing in the morning (<1.5 hrs training), it's okay to be fasted, but ensure you eat enough the night before
Need some ideas?! I have added a new Real Food Snack guide to my e-mail list. If you aren’t apart of it, sign up NOW, if you already are, I will be sending it to you this week 🙂
Final Thoughts on Pre-workout? (Part 1)
For most of you, you need absolutely nothing special pre-workout. Yes, you heard me for the majority of you, you need to focus more about what you put in your body the other 23 hours of the day instead of just what you put in your body the moment (read: hour) before you workout.
I also urge you to take a deeper look into the supplements you are using pre-workout as most of them are filled with complete garbage and you’d be better off just having coffee/tea prior to your workout. I am going to be digging more into the research, but until then, just eat real food and really evaluate if you need a pre-workout or not.
I want to know, do you take a pre-workout?! If so, I’d love to hear your experience!
Pin Now, Pre-Workout Later