Nutrition & Exercise Expert Matt Durkin advises on Pre-Exercise fuelling.
Nutrient Timing: When and What to Eat Before a Workout
Timing is everything, especially when it comes to pre-exercise nutrition. To maximise your energy levels and performance, consider the following guidelines:
1-3 Hours Before Exercise: A balanced meal with a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats is ideal. Carbohydrates are your primary source of energy, while protein helps with muscle repair and growth. Healthy fats provide a steady source of energy.
- Whole grain toast with avocado and eggs, quinoa with vegetables and grilled chicken, or a bowl of oatmeal with nuts and berries.
30 Minutes to 1 Hour Before Exercise: If you have less time before your workout, opt for a smaller snack that's primarily carbohydrate-based to provide quick energy.
- An apple, a bagel with jam, a handful of nuts and dried fruit, or a yoghurt parfait with granola and berries.
Less Than 30 Minutes Before Exercise: In this case, choose easily digestible, quick-energy options.
- A small piece of fruit like an apple, a handful of grapes, or a sports drink for quick hydration and carbohydrates.
Remember that individual tolerance to food varies, so it's essential to experiment with timing and types of food to see what works best for your body. Be mindful of high-fat, high-fibre, and spicy foods close to your workout, as they may cause digestive discomfort.
Some individuals prefer to complete their training fasted, especially if the chosen exercise is low-intensity and done early in the morning, and this is still a viable choice if the individual prefers it. Although this can limit exercise output, it also helps to increase the body’s ability to oxidise fat for energy.
Meal and Snack Ideas for Optimal Energy and Performance
Now that we've covered the timing aspect, let's delve into some delicious meal and snack ideas that will fuel your workouts and keep you feeling energised:
- Peanut Butter and Banana Smoothie: Blend together a banana, a tablespoon of peanut butter, 250ml of almond milk, a scoop of oats and a scoop of protein powder for a creamy and nutritious pre-workout shake.
- Greek Yogurt with Berries and Honey: Top a bowl of Greek yoghurt with fresh berries and a drizzle of honey for a protein-packed and antioxidant-rich snack.
- Sweet Potato and Chickpea Salad: Roast sweet potato cubes and toss them with chickpeas, spinach, cherry tomatoes, and a light vinaigrette for a carb-loaded and fibre-rich meal.
- Rice Cakes with Almond Butter and Sliced Strawberries: Spread almond butter on rice cakes and add strawberry slices for a crunchy and sweet pre-workout bite.
- Whole Wheat Pasta with Pesto and Grilled Chicken: Cook whole wheat pasta, toss it with pesto sauce, and add grilled chicken for a balanced meal with sustained energy.
The Role of Hydration in Pre-Workout Nutrition
Proper hydration is often overlooked but is just as crucial as food when it comes to pre-exercise nutrition. Dehydration can lead to decreased performance and a higher risk of injury.
Here are some hydration tips:
- Drink Water Throughout the Day: Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink water. Aim for steady hydration by sipping water consistently throughout the day.*
- Consider Electrolyte Drinks: If you're engaging in intense workouts or exercising in hot conditions, electrolyte drinks can help replenish lost minerals like sodium and potassium.
- Monitor Urine Colour: A simple way to check your hydration status is by observing the colour of your urine. It should be pale yellow. Dark yellow or amber urine may indicate dehydration.
- Avoid Overhydration: While it's essential to stay hydrated, excessive water consumption right before exercise can lead to discomfort and the need for frequent bathroom breaks.
*For the general population, it is recommended that they consume 25-35ml of water per kg of bodyweight (so for an 80kg person this would be 2-2.8L per day. For those who exercise more, it is recommended that they base their water intake on 1-1.5ml per kcal in the diet. So for a person needing 3000kcal per day, the recommendation is 3L - 4.5L. However, extreme climates, humid weather or a high altitude for example can affect this.
Pre-exercise nutrition is a vital component of your fitness routine. Understanding nutrient timing, choosing the right foods, and staying adequately hydrated can enhance your energy levels, improve your performance, and make the most of your workouts. Remember that what works best for you may vary, so don't be afraid to experiment and find the pre-workout nutrition strategy that suits your body and fitness goals.
Now, go fuel up and crush that workout!