Pre Workout Meal: The What, When, and Why

Your diet is balanced, and your workout routine is structured. It seems like you’re doing everything right, but you still aren’t seeing the muscle gains that you want. So what gives?

It’s likely that while you’re eating a balanced diet, you simply aren’t feeding your body with the proper food sources at the optimal times for peak performance. That’s right. You could be eating everything that you’re supposed to, but if your timing is off, your muscles won’t benefit. Likewise you could be eating at the proper intervals for muscle gain, but if you’re eating the wrong types of foods, it’s unlikely that you’re going to see results.

Why Do I Need A Pre Workout Meal?

Pre Workout Meal

Your body needs fuel to function. During a workout you are pushing your body to the brink of peak performance, which requires more energy output therefore you’ll need an increase of input energy to pull from. Ideally a pre workout meal will provide your body with enough carbohydrates, proteins, and/or fats to keep you going throughout your entire workout.

If you don’t fuel your body properly before you start, you could experience an energy crash mid workout that could bring your entire session to a screeching halt. Occasionally ending a session early isn’t a big deal, but if your sessions are frequently cut short due to exhaustion, it could be due to your diet.

It’s important to take a look at not only what you’re fueling your body with before your workout, but also how long before your workout you’re eating. Both of these factors could be negatively affecting the quality and duration of your workout, putting a serious damper on your potential gains.

What Should I Eat For My Pre Workout Meal?

Knowing what to eat for a pre workout meal is the first half of the battle. Fuel your body with sugar and sludge and you’re going to crash hard and fast. But if you pack in the nutrients and don’t stuff yourself, you’ll set the pace for a productive and energetic workout.


Pre Workout Meal

Proteins are often assumed to be the best type of fuel for workouts, but unless your body is low on both carbohydrates and fats, protein isn’t going to be used for energy. Proteins are primarily used to regulate hormones, form new blood cells, and repair muscle tissue.

Whether you are focused on cardio training or weight training, performing any type of exercise that puts strain on your muscles causes micro-tears in your muscle fibers. These tears must then be repaired to stimulate growth, or gains. Protein helps to repair this muscle damage.

Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are essentially the building blocks of your muscles. Your body uses these amino acids to repair your muscles and aid in their growth. Adding protein to your pre workout meal can cut down on your post workout muscle soreness, by beginning the repairing process immediately, rather than waiting for your post workout meal to digest.


It’s important to know that there are two different types of carbohydrates, and that one is much better for you than the other. Whether you have never worked out a day in your life, or you are a marathon runner, staying away from simple carbohydrates is a must. Simple carbohydrates are sugars. They are quickly digested and provide a brief period of increased energy. Some examples of simple carbs are: refined grains, candy bars, cookies, soda, fruit juice, and most cereals.

The carbohydrates that you want to focus on in your pre workout meal are complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are made up of sugar much like simple carbs are, but their molecular makeup is more complex in nature. The sugars of complex carbs are strung in long complex chains that create a slower digestion process and offer longer and more stable energy levels. Complex carbs provide maximum energy potential.

Carbohydrates are broken down by the body and turned into glucose. Glucose is then used by your body for energy during exercise. The amount of time and effort that you are able to put into a workout is directly related to the amount of glucose your body has stored to use as energy. Once the glucose is depleted, you must either refuel, or your body will need to rely on another energy source.


Pre Workout Meal

Once the body runs out of energy supplied by glucose, it begins to use fats as energy. When your workouts last longer than an hour it is unlikely that your carbohydrate intake will be enough, and your body will require fat to keep going.

Just like there are healthy and unhealthy carbohydrates, there are also healthy and unhealthy fats. To benefit from fat consumption for energy, you’ll want to make sure that you’re focusing your pre workout meal on healthy fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from plant based foods.

Energy from fats are not as readily accessible by the body as carbohydrates, which means that healthy fats are more beneficial to low intensity, long lasting, endurance exercises, rather than short workout sessions.

When Should I Eat My Pre Workout Meal?

The amount of time that you need between your pre workout meal and your workout session is dependant upon multiple factors, including: what time you work out, what type of workout you’re planning on performing, how much time you have before your workout, and what you plan on eating. There are a few general guidelines that can help you decide what and when you should eat though.

Morning Pre Workout Meal

Pre Workout Meal

People who work out in the morning right after waking up, often don’t bother eating beforehand because they believe that doing so will lead to cramps and discomfort during their workout. Unless you’re eating a full meal and immediately pushing yourself to the brink of exhaustion, this is an unlikely scenario. A better option when you work out first thing in the morning is to choose easily digested foods or liquids for your pre workout meal. This ensures that your body is fueled properly for energy expenditure, without the threat of cramping or pain.

Afternoon & Evening Pre Workout Meal

Pre Workout Meal

If you prefer to work out in the afternoon or evening you have a little more flexibility about what and when you eat your pre workout meal. If you’d prefer a meal replacement shake or easily digested meal, eat within thirty minutes of your workout, like you would in the morning. If on the other hand, you want to enjoy a full pre workout meal of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats you should eat within an hour to an hour and a half before your workout.

The Pre Workout Meal Take-Away

gifts for dad, Pre Workout Meal

A pre workout meal balanced with protein, carbohydrates, and fats eaten within at least two hours of your workout session is likely to improve your muscular gains by improving your energy output, your endurance stamina, and your body’s ability to quickly and effectively repair micro-tears within your muscles. Meal prep your food in advance and take it with you so that you always have food on hand for your pre workout meal. Remember that you should never work out on a completely empty or full stomach as both situations can cause pain, cramps, or discomfort. If you do not have time to digest a full pre workout meal before you begin, be sure to drink a meal replacement or protein shake, or indulge in a small and easily digested meal.


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Ormsbee, M., Bach, C., & Baur, D. (2014, April). Pre-exercise nutrition: The role of macronutrients, modified starches and supplements on metabolism and endurance performance. Retrieved May 25, 2016, from

Ormsbee, M. J., Bach, C. W., & Baur, D. A. (2014, May 25). Pre-Exercise Nutrition: The Role of Macronutrients, Modified Starches and Supplements on Metabolism and Endurance Performance. Retrieved May 25, 2016, from

Shin, Y., Jung, H., Ryu, J., Kim, P., Ha, T., An, J., & Kang, H. (2013, September 25). Effects of a Pre-Exercise Meal on Plasma Growth Hormone Response and Fat Oxidation during Walking. Retrieved May 25, 2016, from

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