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Like fueling your car before a race or studying before a test, you should feed your body before working out.
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When improperly fed, your workout and recovery suffers.
Your glycogen stores won’t be full so you can’t push as hard.
Then, after the workout, your muscles may enter a catabolic state and eat themselves for energy!
However, when properly fed, things go better.
Your muscles will be full of energy, so you can sprint forever.
Then, afterward, your muscles will synthesize more protein.
The end result is bigger muscles, faster!
We’ll cover the science first then there will be meals, both vegan and meatarian, for you to try!
Pre-Workout Meals and You
Let’s get something out of the way first:
You don’t want to eat anything within 30 minutes before your workout.
You see, digestion ties up some of your blood.
When you exercise with food in your belly, that blood can’t make it to your muscles.
You need as much blood flow as possible to bring in oxygen and clear out lactic acid, so give it some time before exerting yourself.
Waiting 30 minutes is good for a snack but for larger meals, you should wait at least an hour.
If your stomach is sensitive you can even wait two or three hours. We don’t want that food to come back up!
But what should the meals be made up of?
Simply stated, you want to eat protein and complex carbs.
Let’s look at why.
Which Macronutrients are Important?
All of the macronutrients are important, but for this purpose, you want to eat particular types.
Carbs are used to replenish your muscles’ glycogen stores.
Glycogen fuels your muscles so wanting that is a no-brainer.
However, carbs are also digested very quickly compared to proteins and fats.
You still want some replenishment to go on even when exercising.
This means that you should avoid simple carbs such as sugar.
Your body uses them up too quickly!
Complex carbs, however, take longer to digest.
So they will hang out and support your workout longer.
You’ll also avoid an insulin crash, which can rob you of energy and lead to a poor workout.
Even those of you on a low-carb diet should carb up before a workout.
If you can only have so many, use them where they will count.
Not all dietary fats are bad for you.
Some, such as in avocados, are downright good.
However, all fats are to be minimized before a workout.
That’s because fat takes much longer to digest than carbs or protein and will horde that blood for itself!
If you want to gain muscle mass, protein is your best friend.
That’s because they contain high levels of branch-chained amino acids.
BCAAs promote muscle synthesis, repairing the muscles broken down by the workout.
Good protein, therefore, turns a would-be catabolic state into an anabolic state.
That’s what you need for a fast recovery and maximum muscle gain!
Some Great Pre-Workout Meals
Now that we know the building blocks for a good pre-workout meal, let’s look at a few!
Oatmeal and Protein Powder
According to the Scottish, the best oatmeal is made with oats, water, and salt.
Oats are a complex, vegan carb with no additives or other nasty bits. Not even gluten!
However, for our purposes, they need a bit more protein.
You can glob in a spoonful of peanut butter, true.
But I like to add a serving of protein powder instead.
That keeps the meal simple, easy, low-fat, and high in the protein and carbs you need for the optimum pre-workout meal!
Chicken and Starch
Ah, good ol’ chicken and rice.
Complex starch and low-fat meat. It’s a great combination for a pre-workout meal and is easy to prepare.
Just don’t douse the rice in butter.
However, it can be a bit bland for some, so I like to use a different starch.
Normal potatoes are a bit too, ah, insulin-crashy, to be a good pre-workout meal.
Chicken and sweet potato, however, is a killer combination for fueling even the toughest workout!
Why not try out our mashed sweet potato recipe?
Cottage Cheese and Fruit
Low-fat cottage cheese is packed with those BCAAs we want so much.
When mixed with the right fruit, you are eating a nearly-perfect pre-workout meal.
You want to use fruit that’s high in fiber. So, put down the grapes and watermelon and grab the berries and bananas.
Stay away from dried fruits. Those are high in sugar.
One bonus of this meal is that you don’t have to cook anything!
Add in some low-fat yogurt for even more goodness.
Just watch out for added sugars in the yogurt!
Add a handful of nuts (I like cashews) for crunch and protein.
Another easy-to-prepare pre-workout meal is a wrap.
Sliced chicken or turkey wrapped up with some veggies in a tortilla makes for a good, low-fat meal.
Hold off on the oily dressing, though. Remember, we want little to no fat.
I especially like wraps made with hummus.
Hummus adds good carbs and moisture without the slow digestion rate of an oil.
You can also use spinach tortillas for a little extra vegetable goodness.
Try some ready-made protein bars!
I would snack on those all the time but, well, they do contain calories!
But that’s good for right now.
You want those calories to fuel your workout then the post-workout recovery.
Make sure to avoid bars made with lots of added sugar, though.
Lots of “energy bars” are candy bars in disguise, so watch out!
Another bonus to protein bars is that they can be consumed closer to the workout than a full meal can be.
Pre-workout meals are great, but there are other things you can do as well to ensure you have a great workout.
Fittingly called pre-workouts, they help give you extra energy to dominate even tough routines!
They do often contain caffeine, though.
So if you are sensitive, watch out.
And avoid them for late-night workouts.
A bad pre-workout meal can slow you down and harm your workout.
A good one, however, can keep you light on your feet, help you lift a heavy bar, and help you put on muscle more quickly.
Don’t feel bad if you can’t eat anything before your workout, though!
Supplements, protein powders, and pre-workout meals can help your improve workout, but…
…any workout is better than no workout.
Get out there and kick butt!