Pre workout nutrition won't make or break your progress, but it can certainly help.
Pre workout nutrition is a topic that comes up again and again for debate. Because a lot of people think that it's one of THE most important aspect of your nutrition. And that assumption would be wrong. MASSIVELY!
There's a feeling amongst many people that if you don't have a pre workout drink before you hit the gym, then your workout will be rubbish. Because if you're not wide-eyed and wired like a crazed mad man, then you might as well stay at home, right? Well, that's what people would have you believe.
And on top of that, there isn't a supplement company around that hasn't got some form of nuclear juice to sell you. Is their claim that 'Atomic Detonator 2000' will take your workout to the next level a sound one?
This article is going to answer that for you, and more.
Because good pre workout nutrition is about more than a caffeine laden drink. You should be considering protein, carb, and fat intake at the same time. Striking a good balance across your macros pre workout is going to be much more beneficial to your progress than anything else.
All the answers you'll ever need on pre workout nutrition
So in this article, you'll find out all you need to know about pre workout nutrition. Here's a look at what answers you can expect to find over the next few paragraphs.
- Pre workout meal timing. Is it important? And what's the best approach?
- How to manage your macros for good pre workout nutrition.
- Pre workout drinks. Are they essential?
- Are protein shakes the only option for pre workout meals?
And on top of all that, you'll find a link to the Iron Paradise Fitness guide to the best pre workout drinks on the market today. Plus, you'll get the recipe for my own personal pre workout drink. But don't get too excited, it's pretty basic.
Pre Workout Nutrition: How Important is Timing?
In life they often say "timing is everything". But is that true for nutrition?
Well the simple answer is NO. In the grand scheme of things, meal timing is not that important. You can still lose fat and build muscle without paying much attention to meal timing. Of course, that's under the assumption you're focusing on the important things like calories and protein.
To illustrate that point. Here's an infographic that shows you the building blocks of effective fat loss.
As you can see, meal timing isn't the first aspect of your nutrition that you should be focusing on. The essentials start with being in a calorie deficit, understanding your macros, and making good food choices. Once you have that in place, then meal timing can start to make a difference to your progress.
But if you haven't got those initial building blocks in place, then meal timing will not make any difference.
For example, let's take an extreme situation to illustrate the point. If you ignored the first three steps and ate 3 Domino's pizzas a day, the timing of when you ate them would not dramatically mean you start to lose fat.
Now that's an extreme example, but the key principle is valid.
Calories matter, protein matters, food quality matters. Meal timing matters much less.
Let's assume that you have those initial elements in place. And you understand the importance of controlling calories. Now you can start to look at meal timing and finer tuning that aspect of your nutrition.
It's also worth noting at this point, pre workout and post workout nutrition are the only meals you need to focus on. The timing of everything else is not really worth the effort and brain power to think about in any great detail.
Pre Workout Nutrition is more than drinking your bodyweight in caffeine
When it comes to pre workout nutrition, the immediate thought is of brightly coloured drinks that look like nuclear waste. But there's more to effective pre workout nutrition than that.
The purpose of your pre workout meal is not to see how wired you can get on caffeine. You can leave that to Cro-Magnon man that's grunting his way through bicep curls in the power rack!
Other than getting wired, you still need to consider protein, carbs, and fat. Because they all play some role in in getting the most out of your efforts in the gym.
So let's start with everyone's favourite macro, protein.
Pre Workout Nutrition - Protein
Protein is the most important aspect of your nutrition when it comes to building (and preserving) lean muscle. It provides the building blocks of muscle and keeping protein high will dramatically effect how much lean muscle you have. So does it matter exactly when you have that protein?
Now there are probably a multitude of articles on the internet that will say it's incredibly important. And there's probably an equal amount that provide a counter theory.
But it's not unusual for the fitness industry to differ in opinion and leave you confused. In fact, the fitness industry is damn good at that! So how about we short circuit the BS and cut to the facts? I'm not here to sell you some pre workout products. So this is my independent take on the research, along with my experience over the years.
What the research says about pre workout nutrition
Studies show that your body takes time to digest and absorb the nutrients from the food you eat. And if you have a pretty sizeable meal, that process can take several hours (anything from 2-6+ hours). So that basically means, if you pigged out on a load of protein a few hours before your workout, you're unlikely to need anymore. Therefore, pre workout nutrition becomes less of a necessity.
However, if it's been several hours since your last meal and last intake of protein, then getting some pre workout protein is going to be beneficial.
Why? Because keeping protein levels elevated pre workout helps increase protein synthesis and ensure you're in an anabolic state. All of which are important for building lean muscle.
How much protein should you have pre workout?
Essentially, the majority of people fall in to two categories. Those that like to train early in the morning. And those that prefer to train in the late afternoon / early evening (ie after work and before dinner). And when it comes to the timing of your pre workout nutrition, it comes down to personal preference and what you've eaten already during the day.
If you're an early bird and train in the morning, you're going to want to have some pre workout protein. And the timing of your pre workout nutrition might be pretty limited. Because unless you intend on getting up at 4am to eat 2 hours before hitting the gym, you've probably got a 30-45 minute window to get something down you. So what do you do?
The following rule works well for most people training first thing in the morning. Consume 20-40g of protein, 30-45 minutes pre workout.
Consume 20-40g of protein, 30-45 minutes pre workout.
And that will work for most people, regardless of what time of day you train. But if you're not in the the early gym crew then you have a greater degree of flexibility.
If you've eaten at least 20-40g of protein 1-2 hours before you intend to train, then adding to that isn't that necessary. So don't feel like that pre workout protein shake is an absolute must. Because it most certainly isn't.
What type of Pre Workout Protein do you need?
So you've determined you need to get some protein in you before you train. But what type of protein is best?
Most people will reach for a protein shake. But they're not usually sure why. It's become kind of a reflex reaction to reach for the big tub in the cupboard, throw a scoop of powder in a shaker and go.
And that approach isn't wrong. In fact it's pretty good. And here's why.
If you're eating 30-45 minutes before you train, you're going to want something that is fast acting and quick to digest. And as nice as a 10oz steak is, it's not going to do the job for you. Because "real food" that has 20-40g of protein is going to be pretty big in volume and take a while to digest. Therefore, you'd be left with a full belly which could be very uncomfortable to train with.
And that's where good ol' whey comes in. When consuming pre workout protein, you're doing so to elevate amino acid levels. Now any type of protein will do that to some degree, but whey protein is fast-digesting and gives you more bang for your buck. So those amino acid levels will rise quicker and higher with whey. And that's what makes it a winner.
In addition to that, it's quick and convenient to make and carry with you.
Do you HAVE to have a protein shake pre workout?
The simple answer to that is NO. You don't HAVE to have a pre workout protein shake for your nutrition to be effective. If you've got plenty of time before your workout, then your pre workout nutrition can consist of a full meal if you wish. But just be sure to give yourself enough time for it to be digested properly.
The Bottom Line on Pre Workout Protein
In summary, consuming protein as part of your pre workout nutrition is a good idea. It elevates amino acid levels and is proven to help increase protein synthesis.
The importance and timing of that protein is largely dependant on when you last ate and when you intend to train.
The general rule for everyone is to consume 20-40g of protein, 30-45 minutes pre workout. But if you've already eaten that much protein (and more) within 1-2 hours of training, there's not need to bother topping that up.
And in terms of what protein to eat, then whey protein is going to to be the best bet for the majority of you.
Pre Workout Nutrition - Carbohydrate
Pre workout nutrition is pretty simple when it comes to carbs. Eat them!
Carbs are your friend when it comes to training. If you're training at a pretty high intensity, ie heavy weight training, then you need carbs to fuel those sessions. Because restricting carbs pre workout will have a detrimental impact on performance.
Overwhelmingly, the research points to the fact you should have carbs before you train.
And if you're already in a calorie deficit and targeting fat loss then it becomes even more important. Because your workouts are already in danger of being a bit pants, due to being on restricted calories. And that's normal. As your calories drop then so too will your weight. And even if your diet is perfectly setup you'll still lose a small amount of muscle. So that means your strength may also decrease over time.
And all of that together leaves you feeling like your workouts are a bit shitty.
So you don't want to make your workouts any worse by limiting carbs. In fact, if you manage things right you should still have great workouts. There's no need to suffer with crap workouts for months on end.
What type of carbohydrate should you have pre workout?
When thinking about your pre workout nutrition there's a consideration to make in terms of carbs. And that is whether to have something quick release or slow release. For me, quick release carbs are the most effective. And that's especially true if you've got a short window before you train. You want something that your body can absorb quickly and feel the effect of.
And when it comes to what that means in terms of food just keep this one simple (no carb pun intended). If years of evolution have taught us one thing it's that our bodies do just fine with real food. So you don't need to stray too far from that.
There's a plethora of different carbohydrate and energy products on the market. But these expensive and wildly overrated supplements are no match for something like a good ol' banana.
Here's a list of quick release carbs you can pick from for your pre workout nutrition:
- Puffed cereals (white rice, wheat, corn, rice cakes)
- Potatoes (instant, mashed)
- Breads (especially white bread)
- Instant products (instant: rice, oatmeal, wheat)
- Carrots, corn, peas
- Flaked cereals (corn flakes, etc.)
- Corn chips
How much carbohydrate should you have pre workout?
As with protein intake, if you're having reasonably sized meals an hour or so before you train, then the need to consume a lot of carbs is greatly reduced.
Aim for around 25-50 grams of carbs in that same 30-45 minute window.
The Bottom Line on Pre Workout Protein
In summary, aim for 25-50 grams of quick releasing carbs around 30-45 minutes pre workout.
Pre Workout Nutrition - Fats
Pre workout fats are much less of a consideration for you. In fact, don't go out of your way to fuss about how much you should have.
Fats won't improve or diminish your performance, so don't feel like they're going to give you some form of boundless energy. That's what the carbs are for!
However, fats do slow digestion. So if you're eating 30-45 minutes before training it makes sense for you to limit fat intake. Because you want those carbs and protein to be absorbed pretty quick.
Other than those general guidelines there's not much more for you to consider. Fats are essential for everyone, but just not essential for pre workout nutrition.
What Does My Pre Workout Nutrition Look Like?
I labour the point again and again. The Iron Paradise Fitness key principle is simplicity. And when it comes to pre workout nutrition that rule doesn't change.
Here's what I do to combine these guidelines for a great tasting pre workout shake:
- 250ml Unsweetened Almond Milk
- 1 x Banana
- 1 x Scoop Whey Protein
And that's it. No complicated supplements. Just a few ingredients thrown in a blender about half an hour before training. Sometimes I'll add honey for an extra dose of carbs and a flavour.
The macros come in at PROTEIN - 24g, CARBS - 36g, FAT - 5g. So if you were to do the same, you'd be perfectly within the ideal ranges for good pre workout nutrition.
Pre Workout Nutrition - What About Supplements?
There are literally hundreds of pre workout supplements on the market today. But the sad truth is that most of them aren't worth spending a single penny on.
Unfortuneately, the supplement industry is pretty unregulated, so what companies claim goes into their products may not always be the case. And on top of that, they'll list an impressive array of ingredients on the label. But what they won't tell you is that they are often under-dosed compared to what the research says is optimal.
More often than not, you're paying for cheap 'filler' ingredients that are low cost and high margin for the manufacturer. And that leaves you with a huge whole in your wallet and nothing to show for it.
Now at this point I'll say that pre workout supplements are 100% not essential for a good workout. Getting the right amount of protein, carbs, and fat is far more important. And throw in a double espresso and you're good to go.
However, a good pre workout supplement can be beneficial if you're at the stage where you're looking for marginal gains. And let me tell you that's not going to be the case for 95% of you reading this.
If you're interested in knowing what the best pre workout drinks are then click here to read an article I wrote on the subject.
How to set up the perfect meal plan
Pre workout nutrition is not essential but it can help once you have the basics in place. So if you need help setting up those basics then your next logical question is probably "how do I set up a good meal plan?". And that's a great question. Because setting up a good meal plan can make or break your success. Get a meal plan that is restrictive and dull, and you'll being ditching it within in weeks. However, set yourself up with one full of foods you enjoy and you can achieve your goals while enjoying yourself at the same time.
So if that sounds good then you can join the Iron Paradise Fitness '7 Steps to Get Lean free online nutrition workshop. All you need to do to register your place is click the image below. In the workshop you'll discover the exact approach I use with all my clients to achieve great results. You'll learn everything you need to build a plan that will help you lose body fat and build muscle, quickly and enjoyably.
Click on the image below, register for free, and get your dieting on a budget plans off to the best start.
Here's want to do if you want to take the headache out of the process
Finally, if you still feel a little overwhelmed then why not check out the Iron Paradise Fitness online coaching programme.
I can take the headache and time out of getting everything set up for you. All aspects of your training and nutrition are taken care of and done for you.
And each element is truly personalised. So you're not getting something off the shelf and generic. Every programme is 100% unique and generated from scratch using information you provide.
So if you want to find out more information and see what else is included in this comprehensive programme, then just click the button below.