Lifestyle Science Tips & Tricks

The Science Behind Pre-Workout Meals: What to Eat and WHEN

August 20, 2020

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The Science Behind Pre-Workout Meals: What to Eat and WHEN

Remember your mom telling you not to go swimming for 30 minutes after eating? A lot of us grew up with this idea that if we dove back in before the mystical 30 minutes elapsed we might just blow up in the middle of the pool. Then we grew up and heard that this was an “old wives tale” and completely dismissed it. But it turns out there’s actually more truth to it then we thought. What you eat before, and how long before, you do any kind of vigorous exercise has a profound effect on your body.

Firstly, there’s a big difference between the average-joe-athletic and a power athlete in the big leagues or training for a specific event. So while, there are more chemical-laden products that produce fantastic results in certain high-performance scenarios, we’re sticking with the au-natural approach that’s better for every day use by people like you and me.

With that in mind… let’s dig into the the science.

What is a Pre-Workout Meal?

A pre-workout meal (whether designed that way or not) is anything you eat within the three hour time-slot before a workout.

The purpose of a preworkout meal is simple: to fuel your activity and give your body what it needs to perform at its peak. To do that, you have to understand macronutrients so that you can fuel your body with exactly what it needs.

Your body needs a balance of all three main macronutrients to keep your body strong and healthy.

Carbohydrates

Carbs are your body’s main energy source (unless you’ve chosen to live in a state of Ketosis, which is achieved by the ketogenic diet). Carbs are easily metabolized and turned into fuel in the form of glycogen. Everything in your body runs off of this fuel, most importantly your heart, muscles, kidneys, and the brain uses the energy from carbohydrates to properly function.

Proteins

They are essential for the maintenance of all the organs and the muscle tissues. When your body absorbs the proteins, they get broken down into amino acids which help with growth and repair. These amino acids are constantly working in your body to keep your cells and tissues functioning, and when your carbohydrate stores are depleted, they can act as a good source of energy.

Fats

Despite the bad rep they’ve received in the media, are just as critical for our survival. They help with immune function, absorption of vitamins, and maintaining the structures of our cells. They protect our joints, improve our eyesight, and keep our brains clear and focused. Fats, when broken down in the body are stored as triglycerides, and these guys are super rich in energy. Their structure allows them to pack on more fuel than carbohydrates, so over a prolonged period of time, fats become a preferred energy source.

Which Macronutrients are Most Important for Exercise?

Quick answer… all of them!

Best Macros for Each Exercise

Best Macro-based Pre-Workouts

While carbs are busy giving you energy, protein is helping repair and restore your muscles, and fats are keeping your joints soft and protected from impact.

However, while fats are important for a healthy body in general, they’re dense and heavy nature is often too much to consume in the immediate lead up to a high energy workout, which is why you’ll see we don’t recommend eating a lot of fat within the last hour before go-time.

5 Things To Avoid Before a Workout

There are some things that you simply shouldn’t eat before you’re about to go ask your body to perform at the highest level. Some of these will directly decrease performance by creating bloating and gas, or by drawing precious blood away from your muscles and into your gut.

1) Foods that are difficult to digest.

Whether that means foods that are more complicated in general, or foods that you have a specific intolerance to… we recommend not eating anything that your body particularly struggles with within the 2 hour window before a workout. Common examples include dairy (especially soft cows-milk dairy), wheat (some people may have no problem with this), nightshades (tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini), fried foods, added sugar.

2) High amounts of caffeine.

Okay, yes… a little bit of caffeine is fine. And for those of you freaking out because the only way you can fit in a workout is at 4am and there’s no chance you can get through it without your morning coffee, we’re right there with you. However, massive amounts of caffeine especially on an empty stomach can be really bad for your nervous system and can cause long-term side effects.

We recommend you choose the minimum amount possible, because when caffeine intake gets too high or goes on for too long you’re likely to experience jitteriness, nervousness, insomnia, headache, dizziness, and gastrointestinal distress, all of which can impair your athletic performance or cause long term adrenal issues

3) Artificial sweeteners and chemical cocktails

Read nutrition labels! We all know cakes and cookies are full of sugar, but most of us aren’t paying attention to the finer print on some of the items in our fridge and pantry. Look out for aspartame and acesulfame potassium which are neurotoxic, and can cause brain fog while you’re exercising.

You’ll be surprised once you begin inspecting labels at how many “sports nutrition fuels” actually include the stuff.

4) High amounts of fiber.

Fiber is great! We love fiber. In fact we recommend eating a healthy meal 2-3 hours before that can include plenty of fiber. However, eating a high-fiber meal within the hour, or half hour leading up to strenuous exercise is simply results in a lot of undigested foodstuff in your stomach and intestine.

For example: You could feel great just an hour after downing a well-blended kale smoothie, while the same amount of raw kale in a salad might leave you feeling tired, while you’re bodies energy resources are devoted to breaking down the leafy fibers. So blending (or juicing) can help you get some of the phytonutrients without requesting as much work from your digestive system.

5) Heavy foods.

If your goal is speed, then giant sweet potatoes, bananas, water-filled fruits, and melted dark chocolate bars are not a great solution. However, eat them early enough before your workout, and you’re fine!

As a general rule of thumb, listen to your body and do what feels right. It’s best not to eat immediately before a workout because while your muscles are trying to do their “thing,” your stomach is trying to simultaneously digest the food in your stomach.

What We Recommend:

2-3 Hours Before

Pre-Workout Meal, MacroPlate Grilled Chicken Tacos
MacroPlate’s Traditional Grilled Chicken Tacos, Pre-Workout meal

300-500 Calorie Meal with a Balance of Healthy Carbs, Proteins and Moderate Fats.

1-2 Hours Before

MacroPlate’s Chocolate Chip Protein Bites, a perfect Pre-Workout snack

150-200 Calorie Snack with a Balance of Healthy Carbs, Proteins and Low Fats.

Other examples:

  • Banana with Peanut Butter
  • MacroPlate Protein Waffles with Syrup
  • Celery and Peanut Butter with Raisins
  • Pita and Hummus

1 hour – 30 Min Before

Fruit Salad with Drizzle of Honey, Pre-Workout Quick Fuel

Quick Fuel, 100-200 Calories of Low Fat, Low Fiber, Moderate Protein, High Carb

Other Examples:

  • Protein Shake
  • Pre-Workout Drink
  • Low-Fat Fruit Smoothie
  • Cold-Pressed Juice

MacroPlate Makes Pre-Workout Easy

Want to make sure you always have the right food on hand? MacroPlate has everything you need from macro-balanced meal-prepped meals, to all-natural protein-packed baked goodies (before for pre-workouts), and even cold-pressed juice for those quick fuel carb-boosts right before you hit the mat.

Check out all our options on macro-plate.com

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