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What Science Says About Your Pre-Workout Meal for Strength Training

Your body, much like your car, won’t run on empty. Many trainees avoid eating before their workout because they mistakenly believe that they will burn more calories on an empty stomach, or they believe eating before training will lead to nausea, muscle cramps, or lethargy.

It is more likely that neglecting a pre-workout meal will leave you light-headed and weak because your body doesn’t have the fuel needed to sustain you during exercise. If you are concerned with indigestion, choose easy-to-digest carbs like a banana, peanut butter on toast, or fruit and oatmeal to provide energy for your training.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) you need fuel BEFORE your workout in order to provide your body with the energy it needs to complete the workout, whether cardio, weight–training or a combination of the two. The ACSM suggests eating two to four hours before your workout and recommends a meal that is mostly complex carbohydrates (oatmeal or ice), combined with a moderate serving of lean protein (chicken or low-fat dairy) and served with plenty of water. Sample pre-workout meals suggested include:

  • Oatmeal with berries and nuts or fruit and low-fat Greek yogurt and water.
  • Grilled chicken breast, brown rice, steamed vegetables and water.
  • Sliced turkey breast and cheese on whole wheat bread with tomato or avocado slices.
  • If you train before breakfast, a banana 30 minutes before you train will get you started. But if your workout will be long in duration or high intensity, you need more calories. Add a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a smoothie with whey protein, fruit and water.

If you train with weights and expect strength and muscle gains, you need more calories and greater protein intake. You should also consider adding a protein plus carbohydrate drink during your training to ensure available nutrients. You will still need carbs before (and possibly during) training as carbohydrates are your primary energy source during exercise. According to a study detailing the Role Of Carbohydrate In Exercise, published in Clinics in Sports Medicine:

“During short, heavy exercise it (carbs) may be the only energy source for the working muscle and may be derived exclusively from the glycogen stores within the muscle fibers themselves.”

Many experts recommend a high-glycemic, high-carbohydrate meal or snack combined with free amino acids and protein BEFORE resistance exercise to “maximally stimulate protein synthesis.” Your post-exercise meal should consist of “primarily essential amino acids which have been shown to stimulate increases in muscle protein synthesis.”

Now What?

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