This blog post was written by Aiveen Connolly who currently lives in Ireland. Aiveen has recently graduated from a BSc in Human Nutrition, looking to do a Masters in Sports Nutrition soon. She has always been interested in nutrition, health, wellbeing and fitness but during college became more interested in sports nutrition completing her thesis looking at the micronutrient intake of Irish male soccer players. Currently, Aiveen is job hunting and applying for jobs /internships which can be hard sometimes, but is keeping busy with other things like doing online courses, participating in webinars, part time work, writing blog posts for other nutritionists and running my nutrition Instagram. Instagram: @aiveen_nutrition where she posts all things human nutrition, sports nutrition, mental and physical health.
How to Navigate Pre Workout Nutrition
Pre workout meal
A pre workout meal is so important for an athlete to prevent the feeling of hunger and to prepare an athlete for the training session and competition event. It is essential to fuel your body with the right nutrients and make good food choices prior to an event to maximise performance and recovery. Knowing when to eat before an event is important to allow time for the foods to be digested and absorbed. Planning your pre workout meals and snacks are a great way of being organised and having your high energy foods readily available. A pre workout meal a few hours before you exercise should include a combination of carbohydrates, protein and fats.
Carbohydrate is the main source of energy and fuels the body during exercise. The body stores carbohydrate as glycogen in the muscles and liver. A depletion in these stores can lead to fatigue and lowered concentration. There is significant evidence that maintaining a high carbohydrate intake prior to exercise can enhance prolonged or high intensity exercise.
A pre workout meal should include carbohydrates alongside a source of protein and try aim for a high carbohydrate source that is easily digestible. Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed.
Examples of high GI carb foods include cornflakes, weetabix, rice cakes, white rice and dates. Low GI foods are slowly digested and absorbed which causes a gradual rise in blood sugar and insulin levels. Examples of low GI foods include rolled oats, all bran cereal, skimmed milk, low fat yoghurts, brown rice and apples.
Individual recommendations for daily carbohydrate intake will depend on the athlete and their training/competition program. Usually it is recommended to consume 1-3g of carbohydrates per kg of body mass around 3-4 hours before a session or event. For example, a 60kg athlete should take between 60g-180g of carbohydrate pre workout. For events lasting 60mins or more, athletes should aim to have adequate carbohydrate stores before exercise by consuming carbohydrate rich foods beforehand. It is important for athletes to practice consuming carbohydrates and other nutrients to make an individual strategy for that athlete. It’s all about trial and error as every individual is different and it is best to trial what best suits the athlete during training sessions, not on the day of a competition.
Dietary protein plays an important role in building and repairing of skeletal muscle and connective tissues and is essential for simulating muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Having some protein in your pre workout meal may reduce the post exercise muscle soreness. The recommended protein intake for the general population is 0.8g/kg/day. Dietary protein should be consumed in greater amounts for athletes than the recommendation for the general population in order to maximise their training sessions. The daily protein intake is ranged from 1.4-2.0g/kg/day. This may vary depending on the type, intensity and duration of the sport and /or training session.
Protein intake should be met in moderate amounts of high-quality protein sources and should be evenly disturbed throughout the day, ideally consumed every 3-4 hours to help with long term maintenance of bone and muscle health and to repair damaged tissues.
Fibre and fats
Fat is a necessary component of a healthy balanced diet which provides fuel for the body. Many people may cut out or limit their fat intake, but this may hinder an athletes performance. Exercise lasting more than 60mins, the body’s glycogen supply has depleted and will start burning fat for energy. Fibre is great for digestive health but consuming too much fibre before exercise may cause an upset stomach, bloating and the need to go to the bathroom. It is best to wait 3-4 hours before exercising if you have consumed a lot of fibre.
Examples of pre workout meals to eat 3-4 hours before exercise include:
Lean mince burger on a burger bun with some fresh fruit and yoghurt
Pitta bread sandwich with chicken and salad inside
Rice bowel- rice, chicken and veggies
Bowl of oats with protein powder, skimmed milk and a banana
Peanut butter or jam on toast or a bagel
Snack ideas to eat 30-60mins before exercise:
Yoghurt with a banana
Hard boiled eggs
Low fibre cereal
Peanut butter on rice cakes with banana sliced on top
Hydration is so crucial as it can impair performance particularly in warm climates and high-altitude environments. The goal is to begin exercise in a euhydrated state (well hydrated). Some athletes begin exercise in a dehydrated state which can have adverse effects on an athletes performance. Athletes can achieve euhydration prior to exercise by aiming to consume 5-10 ml per kg of body weight of fluids. Athletes should drink their beverages slowly at least 2-4 hours prior exercise to achieve urine that is pale yellow in colour. This is a good indication that the athlete is well hydrated and drinking several hours prior to exercise. Additionally, this allows enough time for urine output to return to normal levels. Adding sodium (salt) into fluids or food before exercise can stimulate thirst and may help with fluid retention. Chilled fluids can help with performance in very hot conditions.
Jager et al. (2017) Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition – protein and exercise 14:20. DOI 10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8.
Michael N Sawka et al. (2007) American College of Sports Medicine - Exercise and Fluid Replacement DOI 10.1249/mss.0b013e31802ca597.
American College of Sports Medicine (2016) – Nutrition and Athletic Performance DOI: 10.1249/MSS. 0000000000852