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  • Aiveen Connolly

Pre-Workout Nutrition in Practice

Fueling your body and providing your body with energy before a workout is essential. A pre workout meal should include foods rich in complex carbohydrates, moderate in lean protein, lower in fat and fibre. It should also include plenty of fluids too. What, when and how much you eat before exercise will affect your performance, strength and endurance.

Ideally you should aim to eat 2 to 4 hours before training. This allows enough time for the stomach to settle and will prevent the feeling of discomfort from being too full or too hungry. Pre exercise meals will depend on your daily schedule, activity and time of day you plan to train. A lot of the time it is about trial and error with knowing what foods work for you and when. Remember though, it is important to trial this out during training sessions and not in the run up to competitions or events.


Carbohydrates are needed to fuel almost every type of activity. The amount of glycogen stored in the muscles and liver has a huge effect on an athletes exercise performance. Low muscle glycogen levels will lead to early fatigue, reduced training intensity and lower performance. On the other hand, high muscle glycogen levels can result in optimal training intensity and greater training effect.

A carbohydrate intake of 5-7g per kilogram (kg) of body weight per day is recommended for most regular exercisers. This may be increased to 7-10g per kg of body weight per day during periods of intense training.

Low Glycemic Index (GI) causes a slow rise in blood sugar while High GI foods cause a rapid rise in blood sugar level. Low GI foods consumed before exercise may help improve endurance and reduce fatigue. High GI foods consumed as part of a pre workout meal/snack may benefit some athletes but can cause hypoglycaemia at the start of exercise in some athletes who are sensitive to blood sugar fluctuations.

A pre exercise meal should contain approx. 1-4g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight.

Ideally, eating between 2-4 hours before training is perfect because it leaves enough time for the stomach to settle and digest so you're not feeling too full or too hungry.


Protein is needed for the maintenance, replacement and growth of body tissue. It regulates

metabolism, maintains fluid balance and transports nutrients. The current protein requirement for the general population is 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight per day. Additional protein is needed for athletes during intense training sessions to repair and for the recovery of muscle tissue after training. The current guidelines recommended for protein intake for athletes is 1.2-2g of protein per kg of body weight per day.

Consuming protein along with a carbohydrate source before exercise will increase muscle

protein synthesis during exercise, reduce protein breakdown, improve recovery from exercise and result in less muscle damage.

Fats & fibre

Fat supports vital organs, insulates and preserves body heat. A fat intake of 20-35% is

recommended for athletes of energy and active people. Unsaturated fats should make up the majority of your fat intake with saturated fats making up less than 10%. It is recommended to have low intakes of fat and fibre pre exercise.


Ensuring you are well hydrated before exercise is crucial! If an athlete is not well hydrated before a training session or a competition event, their performance will suffer. Especially in hot and humid weather, making sure you are well hydrated is necessary. An easy way to check if you are well hydrated is simply from the colour and volume of your urine. It should be a pale yellow colour but not completely clear.

The American College of Sport Medicine (ACSM) recommends drinking 5-10ml of fluid per kg of body weight slowly in the 2-4hrs before exercise. This will promote hydration and allow enough time for excretion of excess water. For example, if an athlete weighs 60kg, it is recommended to consume 300-600mls of fluid before exercise.

Here are a list of pre workout meals you can have 2-4hrs before a workout:

● Porridge/oats with berries

● Turkey and cheese sandwich with lettuce, tomato on whole wheat bread with a piece of

fruit and water.

● Sandwich/roll/wrap.bagel filled with chicken, fish, cheese, egg and salad.

● Jacket potato with beans or tuna and cheese

● Vegetables and prawn or tofu stir fry with rice or noodles

● Chicken with rice and salad

Here are a list of pre workout snacks you can have 45-60mins before a workout:

● Fresh fruit

● Dried apricots or raisins

● Smoothie

● Yoghurt

● Cereal bar

● Flapjack

● Energy or protein bar

● Toast with honey or jam

● Porridge or wholegrain cereal with milk

If you workout first thing in the morning and don't have time to eat hours before, maybe opt for a granola bar, bananas or crackers 30mins before exercising.

References: 2021. Industry Presented Blog: What to Eat Before and After a Workout. Available at: < workout>

Burke, L. M. (2007), Practical Sport Nutrition (Champaign, IL, Human Kinetics).

ACSM/AND/DC ( 2016), ‘Nutrition and Athletic Performance’, Med Sci in Sport and Ex, vol 48

(3) pp. 543-568

Bean, A,. 2017, Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition. [S.I]: Bloomsbury Sport


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