We’ve all got those our pre work out food hacks we swear by.
London-based graphic designer Andy tells us that he can’t head out on his daily cycle without a breakfast of porridge with fresh milk, banana, cinnamon and honey, “If I’m feeling fancy I add in some frozen raspberries,” he says. For Mark, who lives in Manchester, it’s got to be “black coffee and a banana an hour before the gym, for a quick energy boost.”
But what do the pros think? To get the science, we asked a trio of leading experts in the field for their thoughts on what we should be cooking, blitzing and prepping up, to eat before we get our sweat on.
Alex Neilan, an Edinburgh-based sports dietician, who has worked with competing athletes and premiership football teams states, “Carbs have undeservedly obtained a bad name in the fitness industry, but they are arguably the most important macro nutrient in sports nutrition.”
He explains: “They are responsible for increased energy, performance, recovery, injury prevention, and an improved immune system.” Try whole grains, such as brown pasta or jacket potatoes (with a veggie chilli), as recommended by Anita Bean, dietician and author of The Vegetarian Athlete’s Cookbook, who says: “Carbohydrates should take up a third of your plate, they help maintain blood sugar levels, prevent early fatigue and increase your performance.”
An important factor to slow down the digestion of your carbs, Nielan explains that during your workout muscle is either being broken down (catabolism) in the body or built up (anabolism). He says: “having foods that contain 20-25g of protein close to your training times and spaced out evenly over the day can minimise muscle breakdown.”
“Ensuring you eat before a workout can give you more energy, help improve your recovery and also may delay hunger pains when you have finished your workout,” explains BDA registered dietician Gemma Sampson. “It takes the body more effort to break down fat than carbs for fuel, only include healthy fats if you must.”
So focus on good fats such as avocado and natural greek yoghurt pre-workout. Nielan reiterates this point. “Healthy fats are important for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, food taste, hormone regulation, insulation and energy. Energy intake from fat over the day should not fall below 15 per cent of an athlete’s total energy intake to ensure hormone regulation is not negatively affected.”
Everyone we spoke with agreed a gap of two to four hours is preferred between your meal and your workout. Anita says: “You should be feeling comfortable before your workout so aim for roughly 400-700 calories in your meal beforehand.” This offers space to digest properly so food doesn’t sit in the stomach. Early bird exerciser? Not a problem. Neilan suggests: “A bowl of breakfast cereal with milk before bed the night before and fruit and yoghurt in the morning just before you exercise.”