The One Page Guide to Pre-Workout Nutrition

Steve TheunissenPerformance, RecoveryLeave a Comment

Have you ever wondered when and what you should be eating before your workout? This article will break it down for you so that your energy levels peak during your session. It’s important to note before we start however that some days you’ll have more intense workouts than others, and anything that goes down your throat in the hour before training is likely to end up all over the gym floor. That’s why it’s important to take the following information and trial it to your own unique situation. If you’re able to maintain your workout intensity without stomach upset, great. If not, move your pre-workout meal back by up to an hour.

Set the Foundation: 90 minutes prior

Eat a nutritionally balanced meal 1 to 2 hours before the start of your workout. You should aim to eat enough calories to equal about half the calories you’d expect to burn during the upcoming workout. So, if you plan to burn 500 calories, you should consume around 250 calories. Aim to get about 55% of this meal from carbohydrates in order to keep your blood sugar and energy levels stable during the upcoming workout. You should also be consuming 35% of your meal in the form of protein. This will prevent the breakdown of muscle for fuel and give your muscle cells a head-start on post-exercise recovery.

A good example of a foundation meal for your workout would be some oatmeal for complex carbs, berries to provide simple carbs and cottage cheese for protein.

Prime for Performance: 30 minutes prior

applesWhat’s the primary goal of your workout? Is it performance related (beating a certain time, hitting a certain rep count) or does it revolve around fat loss and leanness? The answer will determine how you’ll approach your pre workout nutrition. If your key focus is fat loss, you should eat a small meal about 30 minutes prior to your workout. The macronutrient make-up of this meal should be high carb and low fat. It should include fast digesting, high glycemic index carbs. You don’t want much fat because it digests very slowly. Your goal with this meal is to provide fuel for your workout, and fat just won’t do that for you.

The following pre-workout snack ideas are all great ways to fuel up for your fat burning session:

  • fruit smoothie
  • pineapple
  • banana
  • apricot
  • pretzel
  • bagel

Perhaps the best pre-workout snack, however, is the apple. That’s because it contains an abunbance of polyphenols. Studies show that polyphenols enhance fat burning while promoting muscle strength and endurance.

Supplementation for that Extra Boost

After taking your two pre-workout meals, your body is fuelled to power you through your workout. A pre workout supplement will provide the turbo fire to super charge your training, allowing you to push harder and do more. Pre workout supplements are blends of a number of compounds designed to boost your performance, including:

  • creatine
  • nitric oxide
  • caffeine
  • amino acids
  • BCAA’s

These compounds are typically combined in a pre workout powder that is mixed with milk or water to create a protein drink. Because they’re in liquid form, the nutrients will be absorbed more quickly, providing that extra boost to power your workout. The creatine in the stack will allow you to sustain your anaerobic power and force out those last few reps that you’d otherwise fail on, while the nitric oxide allows the blood vessels to dilate, enabling the blood to flow more rapidly to your muscle cells. This delivers more oxygen to your muscles, allowing you to recover more quickly between sets. The amino acids, including the branch chains (BCAA’s) will support muscle strength and promote lean muscle tissue recovery and growth.

Overcoming a Plateau

If you reach the point where your fat loss has hit the wall, it may be time to radicalize your pre-workout nutrition plan. That means ditching the carbs altogether. By avoiding carbs completely before your workout, you’ll be forcing the body to burn fat for fuel during your workout session. Simply replace the carb content of your pre workout meals with more protein.


  • 90 minutes before the workout, eat a small meal that is 55% carbs, 35% protein and 10% fat
  • 30 minutes before the workout, have a fruit snack – ideally an apple
  • Immediately before the workout, drink a pre workout supplement stack
  • For emergency fat loss, eliminate the carbs from your pre workout meals
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Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer who lives in New Zealand with his wife, Shelley, and two daughters. For the last decade, Steve has taught literacy to Middle School students. He also runs a fitness boot camp for pre-teens.

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