Not sure why your workouts seem to be effortless one day and a nightmare the next? Take a hard look at your pre-workout nutrition. Feed your body junk, and it will perform poorly. But give it nutrient-rich, energy-dense foods, and you’ve got a much better chance of feeling energetic, setting personal records and performing up to your potential.
Improve your performance by examining pre-workout nutrition in three categories: food, hydration and supplements.
Many athletes’ eyes glaze over when they start reading about nutrition, but you don’t have to make things complicated. Just focus on protein, carbs and fat.
Protein contains the amino acid “building blocks” for muscles. Picture the amino acids as the bricks you need to build a house. If you don’t supply the bricks, your muscles won’t be able to repair themselves and grow.
Protein needs vary from person to person. Ideally, you should consume roughly two grams of protein per kilogram (which equals 2.2 pounds) of bodyweight a day. Before a workout, you don’t want anything sitting too heavy in your stomach (that is unless you want it to make a reappearance on the gym floor). Around 20 to 30 grams of protein from chicken, fish, steak, cottage cheese or eggs is ideal.
Carbohydrates provide the quick-release energy you need to get through tough training sessions. Carb needs vary depending on your goals, body type, weight and genetics, but you should try to consume 30 to 50 percent of your daily carb intake one to two hours before your workout. Try for nutrient-dense carb sources like oats, sweet potatoes and brown rice to sustain workout intensity.
Finally, consider your fat intake. Fat is a source of more sustained energy than carbs, which means it won’t really help you unless your training lasts more than a couple of hours. Don’t go out of your way to add fat to your pre-training meal, but don’t sweat it if you choose a slightly fatty protein source, such as beef or salmon. The fat won’t directly improve your performance, but it won’t have negative effects either.
Dehydration is a major cause of poor performance. Although you don’t want to feel bloated from drinking too much water before training, you certainly should make every effort to avoid dehydration.
Two hours before your workout, fill a bottle with 32 ounces of water, and sip it at regular intervals until you start training. Refill it again when you get to the gym, and make sure it’s all gone by the time you finish your workout.
If your session lasts over an hour or you’re training in intense heat, consider a sports drink with added minerals and electrolytes to help replenish the ones you lose through sweat. Alternatively, adding a pinch of salt and two to three ounces of pure fruit juice to your water also works well.
Supplements are not a necessary part of pre-workout nutrition, but they can be useful. Although no supplement can dramatically improve your performance, some can provide that extra edge you need to beat your competition.
Some of the most common pre-workout supplements are:
- Beta Alanine: Helps prevent fatigue by buffering hydrogen ions and lactic acid
- Creatine: Increases tri-phosphate, the fuel your muscles need for maximal contractions
- Caffeine: Increases mental focus, energy levels and concentration
- Nitric Oxide (NO) Supplements: Delays muscle fatigue by increasing blood flow
Before choosing any supplement, clear it with your physician and your coach, and make sure you’re buying from a reputable manufacturer. Introduce supplements one at a time so you can see how your body responds.
Pre-workout nutrition doesn’t have to be confusing. Simply by tweaking your diet to get protein and carbs from quality sources, stay hydrated and use supplements strategically, you’ll set yourself up for some fantastic workouts.
Mike Samuels is a UK-based personal trainer, diet coach, writer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist. He has a Level 3 Personal Trainer certification from premier Global UK and accreditation as a Precision Nutrition Diet Coach. He has written for Livestrong.com, EliteFTS.com, BuiltFit.com and Kettlebell Inc. Visit his website at mikesamuelspersonaltraining.co.uk.