As an athlete, you've probably already encountered the question of what proper nutrition should look like and whether eating before exercise has a positive or negative effect on training performance and body composition. Conversations with other more or less experienced fitness enthusiasts often revolve around this topic. The question Should you eat something before exercising? must be affirmed for athletes in almost all cases, although for some it may be tempting to skip the meal, especially if the hunger is not too great. While some people's reason may be to cut down on the calories, eating before you work out is a great way to improve your workout performance!
It is undisputed that eating before training is one of the most important meals of the day for people with sporting goals, because athletes need one thing above all: energy! If you follow a few simple principles, you won't have to worry about getting out of shape because of your pre-workout meal. A calorie deficit is only an option for athletes in exceptional cases, as it significantly reduces training performance. So the question shouldn't be whether to eat before exercise, but rather what to eat before exercise.
Eating before exercise - the optimal pre-workout meal
As a general recommendation, maintenance calories or a slight calorie surplus will be optimal for most lifters. That way, you don't have to worry about gaining unnecessary fat either. In particular, those who do strength or hypertrophy training can derive many positive effects from more calories. In addition, it is always beneficial for exercisers to make good and sensible choices regarding the quality and micronutrient density of the foods they eat, as these factors are essential to performance and overall health. Because if you are too tired or ill, you cannot train or only train insufficiently. So, to get further into the question of what is the right pre-workout meal, here are the macronutrients and their respective pre-workout roles:
Eating before exercise: pre-workout protein
Anyone who has been involved with fitness and nutrition for some time knows that protein before training is a must. But what are the reasons for this? The most important is obvious: protein makes up by far the largest proportion of dry muscle mass - 20% of muscle mass consists of protein! Therefore, the macronutrient is of great importance. In addition, the body cannot produce some of the amino acids that make up protein. These amino acids are therefore referred to as essential - they must necessarily be ingested through food, for example in food before exercise. The remaining amino acids are also not preferentially produced by the body, but are also absorbed, since their production consumes a lot of energy. That's why protein is essential in the pre-workout meal or shake. Accordingly, protein is a building material of the body and is responsible for building and repairing the body and muscles.
If you forego protein when eating before exercise or generally consume too little protein, everything that serves the elementary, absolutely necessary functions will be prioritized to ensure survival. Of course, life-sustaining functions such as heartbeat, breathing and brain activity have absolute priority. Since muscles have a higher energy expenditure and depend on protein to function and grow, the muscle tissue would be gradually broken down to bring the body's energy balance back into balance. Particularly advanced athletes often have a high proportion of skeletal muscles. The body will gradually break down these muscles in order to realize the maintenance of vital functions: Additional training-related muscle mass is a luxury in this scenario, i.e. dispensable. On the other hand, under no circumstances can you do without heart and brain function, your intestines, blood vessels, a functioning immune system and so on. Skeletal muscle, on the other hand, can be broken down and used relatively safely. Since a lot of energy is used during training, you are particularly prone to breaking down muscles here. Now, however, most want to build muscle , so consuming protein before exercise is essential. This is all the more true since protein cannot be stored. Protein is also key to muscle repair and recovery.
The macronutrient fat in pre-exercise food
The situation is different with fat: Should you eat fat before or after exercise? In fact, fats shouldn't be consumed around exercise - especially pre-workout, you should consume them in very small amounts. This is because fats are difficult to digest, so anything that was part of the meal along with the fat is also digested more slowly. For example, if you eat a pre-workout meal containing 50 grams of fat three hours before your workout, the food will be far less than half digested when you start your workout - the food is still in the digestive tract. When you train, your body has to withdraw blood from the digestive system, because here too priority is given: The energy must now be used in the corresponding muscles due to the training. As a result, the food sits relatively undigested in the stomach, digestion is slowed down overall by the training, micronutrients can hardly be absorbed due to the lack of blood circulation. If you train very intensively, you may even get sick. The quintessence is therefore: Please do not eat too much and not too greasy before training , because it has a negative effect on performance and your well-being.
Eating before exercise: carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are primarily stored in three different ways: as blood sugar, as glycogen in the liver, and as muscle glycogen. They should be eaten urgently around training. They are relevant before the workout because they significantly improve your training performance: If carbs are available, your body will use them as an energy source and not protein, which in the worst case can come from your muscles. Training will be more effective because carbohydrates and training trigger significantly more muscle growth than training alone. First and foremost, pre-workout carbs should be quick and easy to digest. Low carb and no carb variations as food before exercise are not a good option if you want to build muscle and deliver the highest possible performance. Although carbohydrates are not essential, i.e. the body can produce them itself, they are important for athletes: When you eat them, insulin is released. The more carbohydrates you consume, the greater this insulin release.
There are hardly any better ways to get the repair and build-up processes going than insulin. A higher insulin release is associated with a correspondingly improved recovery. So you can train more often and harder, get better performance and build more muscles! Insulin is also a strong anabolic hormone - especially in combination with strength training and enough calories, it takes your training performance and muscle building to a new level. In addition, insulin has strong anti-catabolic properties, the breakdown of muscles is very unlikely to impossible in the presence of insulin. Another aspect is the improved recovery through more muscle glycogen: More carbohydrates before training means fuller glycogen stores. These lead to better blood circulation in the muscles during and after training and to an improved supply of nutrients. The result is faster recovery and more efficient muscle building. You can train more often, perform better and reach your goals faster: Carbohydrates are therefore more important than eating before exercise.
Eating before and after exercise: Meal timing and a good choice of food
Fats are therefore not suitable as food before training, protein and carbohydrates are even more so. You'll learn in the next section exactly how to time your pre-workout eating so you get the most benefit from each macronutrient and have the best workout you can have. In addition, it is clarified how the respective foodstuffs are used most sensibly throughout the day. To make the suggestions easier to implement, take a look at which foods are the best sources of fat, protein and carbohydrates.
When should you eat before exercise?
As you have already seen above, you should under no circumstances consume large amounts of food too shortly before training, since digestion then suffers because your body uses the energy for training and the muscles are supplied with more blood. Therefore, easily digestible food is the best pre-workout alternative. Fats play a special role here, as they often cause problems during training if you have eaten them too shortly before exercise or if they were generally eaten in too large a quantity. In order not to impair your performance through digestive problems, you should therefore avoid fats two to three hours before training and also focus more on carbohydrates and protein in the two to three hours after training.
In order to stimulate muscle protein biosynthesis as often as possible and to counteract muscle breakdown, the protein should be distributed evenly throughout the day. Four to seven meals with approximately the same amounts of protein are ideal – so if possible also in the meal before sport. In principle, carbohydrates can always be consumed, but personal preference is particularly important here: if you can tolerate it well, you should consume short-chain carbohydrates or carbohydrates with a high glycemic index as soon as possible before training and immediately afterwards. These ensure that you have enough energy available during training and then trigger the greatest possible growth stimulus through insulin release. In addition, these are generally digested very quickly. Those who are less able to cope with the rapid rise and fall in blood sugar levels can fall back on long-chain carbohydrates: These are processed and digested more slowly, which is why the blood sugar level does not rise and fall as quickly. However, they are often not suitable for eating before exercise.
What foods are suitable for eating before exercise?
Basically, you shouldn't have a stone in your stomach after eating, but you don't have to do without hearty food. All dishes from Löwenshare have a high protein content, a portion of chipotle chili , for example, convinces with an unbeatable 41 grams of protein! Casein is recommended before going to bed because it is digested particularly slowly and provides you with protein throughout the night. It is found in quark and cheese and can also be consumed individually as casein protein powder.
When it comes to fats, you should mainly make sure you have enough essential fatty acids, especially omega-3 fatty acids: It makes the most sense to get EPA and DHA from fatty fish or fish oil. Monounsaturated fatty acids also seem to have positive effects. These are found, for example, in many nuts and nut butters and vegetable oils such as olive or rapeseed oil. Bananas are a good idea as a pre-workout meal and as a pre-workout snack, while eating lots of whole grains and legumes if you're focused on complex carbohydrates. Incidentally, it is also allowed to treat yourself to something every now and then - gummy bears can be a valid and, above all, tasty option to eat before or after sport!