Nutrition is a significant part of health and fitness. A healthy diet should be the cornerstone to achieving decent sport or physical results, and importantly, the correct nutritional foods, quantities and timing of your nutrition can massively impact on those results.
The correct nutrients fuel your workouts whether it is running, functional fitness or even active recovery (low-intensity workouts). These nutrients are also important for post-workout muscle development and repair.
During a workout, your pre-workout nutrition aids in reducing muscle protein breakdown, glycogen depletion and post-workout cortisol level reduction. Furthermore, a study showed that pre-workout nutrition aids in your 1Rep Max strength too (i.e. the maximum amount of weight one can lift in a single repetition) – so this is a huge factor for functional fitness athletes, like CrossFitters.
The body converts nutrients into energy in two ways: via Aerobic metabolism (with oxygen – for short, high-intensity workouts) and Anaerobic metabolism (without oxygen – for longer slow low-intensity workouts).
Different nutrients feed your Aerobic and Anaerobic metabolism. These different nutrients take different amounts of time to convert into energy, which also predetermines the timing you need to take that in and the necessary quantities.
Timing of Pre-Workout Nutrition
Depending on how much you plan to eat, that meal needs to be digested before the workout. If it’s a small pre-workout meal, then use 60-90 minutes prior to workouts as a guideline. If it’s a large pre-workout meal, then use up to 3-4 hours prior to workouts as a guideline.
If you plan to workout early in the morning, eat correctly the night before, and eat a small meal 60-90 minutes before your workout.
The notion that not eating before a workout helps burn fat is a misconception – your body needs fuel to perform well and recover properly, and not eating before risks a bad performance which thwarts results.
Carbohydrates are the main nutrient for moderate to high-intensity work. They delay the onset of fatigue and improve endurance by improving blood glucose to the active muscles. Low GI carbohydrates are great for pre-workout nutrition. An example is sweet potatoes.
Fats provide energy for long, slow/low-intensity workouts. They take longer to process and digest, so keep your fat intake low too soon before workouts. However, because fats are slow release, eating them the day and night before is a great idea. An example here is avocado.
Proteins help decrease muscle breakdown and maintain body tissues, so it helps with muscle recovery after your workout and should be included in pre-workout nutrition. Another great source of nutrition in this regard is Omega-3 – it facilitates recovery by reducing inflammation and also impacts positively on behaviour and cognitive function.
Firstly, exercising on a full stomach is not ideal – if you do, you risk an upset stomach, nausea, and/or cramping. When deciding on timing and meal size, the best answer is to experiment. We are all different, so your feedback will vary.
Depending on frequency, intensity and duration of your workout, as well as the timing of your pre-workout meal, you would have to adjust quantities accordingly. Try eating at different times before a workout and at differing meal sizes – just keep in mind that your body needs time to digest and turn that meal into fuel for your system, and that the different fuel types digest differently.
What pre-workout nutrition have you tried that has or has not worked for you? Have you noticed a difference in results, be it performance of physical results?