Many fitness gurus advocate eating before working out, but the truth is eating 2 or 3 hours before a workout doesn’t really do anything. In fact, your muscles don’t burn fuel from what you ate a few hours prior to your workout. Instead, they burn energy from already stored glycogen and fat, which came from the food you ate in the previous day. You read that right. You most likely have enough energy to fuel your workouts if you’re getting enough calories daily.
So does the pre-workout meal make any sense?
Well, it does for some people, particularly those prone to hypoglycemia or those with diabetes or any condition that affects blood glucose levels. These people may go dizzy without eating before their workout because their bodies run low of energy supply. Even normal, healthy individuals, particularly those who get famished in the middle of the workout, may also find eating before cranking out sets in the gym beneficial. Also, a major meal 2 or 3 hours before heavy exercise is not bad, especially if you’re the type of person who feels sluggish when working out on empty stomach.
Eat a balanced meal 2 hours before your workout.
If you are do moderate exercise, whether cardio or strength training, a balanced meal about 2 hours before your workout is ideal. Imagine a balanced meal on a plate. Half of it is carbs, hopefully good, complex carbs, like whole grains. A quarter is lean meat or any good protein source. The other quarter is vegetables. Then you can add a bit of good fat, about the size of your thumb. This is a good partitioning in case you are not fond of calculating your calories.
That’s it! You don’t need fancy high-protein diet before workout. You don’t need special preparation. What you might have read online is all bro-science.
People work out in the gym to build muscle. Most people think muscle fiber is essentially protein. So it seems to make sense to load up on protein sources. That’s wrong. Your muscles have glycogen and some fat too. Glycogen is the stored form of glucose. Actually, it’s glycogen that gets used up during strenuous activities like lifting weights. The carbs you eat replenish used up glycogen during workout. You tear muscle fibers during workout, but the energy you use comes from glycogen mainly. This is why eating carbs is important. You eat enough protein because it’s needed for muscle repair and growth.
So what should you eat?
Picture a decent pre-workout meal with half of the plate containing whole grains (e.g. brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa), a quarter of the platter is fish or meat or chicken, and another quarter for vegetables. That’s all you need. Eat this 2 hours before your workout. It’s bad to exercise within 45 minutes after a full meal.