“Do I really need a pre-workout snack? I usually don’t eat anything before a workout or training session, especially a quick 5 miler or when it’s early in the morning.” I get this question and response a lot. Many athletes get up before the crack of dawn to get in their training sessions and for a good reason- to prevent getting too busy and missing it later in the day. However, many people don’t feel like their stomachs can handle any fuel at 5 am in the morning so they just don’t eat. That’s a problem. So in short the answer is yes, you really need a pre-workout snack and here’s why:
1) Train harder and longer
2) Higher quality training sessions
3) More muscle mass and less fat mass
I think these three reasons are pretty self-explanatory but if you need a little extra help, here goes! A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the results of 3 groups of cyclists who cycled at 70% of their V02max for 90 minutes and then underwent a performance trial for time. The low-carb group was fed 1.1g/kg of carbohydrates (approximately 75g). The high-carb group was fed 2.2g/kg of carbohydrates (approximately 150g). The third group was placebo, receiving no carbohydrates. The results, as you guessed it, showed that the high carb group performed the best out of all three groups having the fastest time, followed by the low-carb group. This is just one of many studies demonstrating how pre-workout fuel, primarily carbs, positively influences performance.
Furthermore, when you eat, you have higher quality training sessions. When you train harder and perform better during your training sessions, positive training adaptations set in. That means, fuel= better trainings= better performance come competition time. It doesn’t matter what type of athlete you are or even IF you’re an athlete. If you workout, this information applies to YOU! Even if you are training at 5 am 6 days a week, you don’t want to have 6 crappy training sessions a week or better yet, 312 crappy training sessions a year, right?Just because you are trying to lose fat mass doesn’t mean you’re exempt from eating either! Research proves that eating before and after a workout will increase muscle mass because you can work harder. This in turn burns more body fat over the course of the rest of the day. What’s the result? A lean, mean, ELITE athlete!
The Make Up Of A Good Pre-Workout Snack (30-60 minutes prior)
Primarily Low Fiber Carbohydrates-
Carbohydrates are muscle sparing (you will burn the carbs rather than your own muscle) and provide energy. Think white bread, pretzels, crackers, fruit/fruit juice is good too. Too much fiber= stomach upset and slow digestion. The amount will vary depending on your body, how long you will exercise and the intensity. A good starting point is 30 grams of carbohydrates (2 slices of bread). If you find you’re dragging during your workout, increase from there.
Protein will help to prolong your energy during your workout. Think of it as time releasing your energy from your carbs. It also helps provide amino acids to help with getting a head start on recovery. Too much can be counterproductive though. Aim for max 5-15 grams of protein, which can come in any form- nuts/nut butters, seeds, dairy, eggs, meat, protein powder.
Fat slows down the digestion of your food so having too much can prevent your muscles from utilizing the energy from the carbohydrates you just ate. Unless you’re following a low-carb high-fat diet, fat isn’t really helping much in the way of energy or performance here. Limit fat to max 5-10 grams and you don’t need to add fat in if you have carbohydrates and protein. Chances are you’re getting plenty already.
Just 65mg, which is the amount found in 8 oz of brewed coffee, is enough to see the performance boosting benefits! Caffeine helps you to do more with less perceived effort. Research shows us that consuming more than 65mg of caffeine doesn’t give any additional benefits and can cause the jitters and heart issues (if you already have a heart condition). So skip the venti coffee from Starbucks, which can have upwards of 475 mg of caffeine…that’s 4x what’s found in a can of Red Bull!
Hydration is really a whole other topic but to be brief, drink 12-24 oz of fluids prior to working out. You can skip the snack altogether by drinking a sports drink; my recommendation for those with super sensitive stomachs.
Here are some of my favorite pre-workout snacks:
- 2 waffles topped with ¼ c. Greek yogurt and ½ T. natural peanut butter
- Overnight oats: ½ c. oats mixed with 1 c. skim milk, 1 T. shredded coconut and ½ T. peanut butter
- 2 slices toast with 1 T. peanut butter and 8 oz skim milk
If you can’t stomach something before your workout, start small. A few sips of a sports drink or juice will do the trick. You can slowly work your way up from there. When you don’t have gas in your car, you’re not going anywhere. When you put cheap gas in your car, you’re getting somewhere but eventually your car’s performance will suffer. When you put good gas in your car, now we’re getting somewhere fast! Moral of the story? Put some good gas in your tank and eat a pre-workout snack!