Is a Pre-Workout Meal Necessary
In short, having a pre-workout meal is not necessary for you to achieve your goals. However, your pre-workout meal is the second most important meal of the day behind your post-workout meal. You could even make an argument that it’s just as important. Your pre-workout meal can make or break your workout, and that is what makes it so important. The makeup of your pre-workout meal will help you get the most out of your workouts.
When do you work out? If you’re like me, it’s one of the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning. If you’re already waking up early to get your workout in, the idea of having to wake up even earlier isn’t very appealing. It’s not as simple as waking up 30 minutes earlier to eat. It takes time to both prepare a pre-worout meal and to give your food time to digest. Before you know it, you’re waking up 1.5 – 2 hours earlier just to have some food. Is that ideal? No.
The Purpose of a Pre-Workout Meal
Your pre-workout meal serves the purpose of fueling your workout and bringing up blood glucose levels for added energy. Your goal is to have the best work out you possibly can. Your pre-workout meal is going to help you accomplish that.
Are your energy levels low during your workout? If they are, you might want to take a close look at your pre-workout nutrition. Consider having a small meal containing low-glycemic carbohydrates about 30 minutes to an hour before your workout. A few ideas might be:
- Protein shake with frozen fruit
- Oatmeal alone or mixed with protein powder (if you use it)
- An apple or banana
- Greek Yogurt with fruit
- Homemade Blueberry Muffin Larabars
- Raw Vegan Energy Bars w/ Walnut, Chia, Cherry, & Pepita
- Or if you’re working out later in the day and have 2 – 3 hours between your meal and workout, you can have a regular meal consisting of a lean protein and a starchy carbohydrate.
The idea is to get your blood sugar levels up and to provide some glucose that’s needed for high-intensity exercise. But what if you’re like me and work out in the morning and don’t want to be waking up even earlier to eat? If you’ve been skipping your pre-workout meal and haven’t noticed a decrease in performance, then don’t worry about it.
Will You Burn More Fat Skipping Your Pre-Workout Meal
If your goal is fat loss, many people would suggest you skip your pre-workout meal. The reasoning is that by not eating anything before your workout, your body will be more likely to use your body fat for fuel. Is this really true though? In theory, it sounds reasonable, but why would you be more likely to use body fat for fuel simply by working out on an empty stomach?
Proponents of this idea say that after a night of fasting, your glycogen stores will be empty (only liver stores, not muscle), so your body will turn to its own fat stores for energy. After a night without food, your body is in a prime fat-burning state. Your insulin levels are low, and fat metabolizing hormones have been released to mobilize fatty acids. Studies have shown that people who work out on an empty stomach burn a higher proportion of fat during exercise. The key phrase here is during exercise. That’s great, but what about the other 23 hours in the day?
Studies have also shown that people who skip their pre-workout meal don’t perform as well as those who had a meal with carbohydrates beforehand. I think this is more important than anything. People get caught up on the 200-400 calories or so they burn during their workout, and forget about the other 2,000 or more calories they burn the rest of the day.
Your goal should be to use your workouts to improve performance, and to use your diet to manipulate body fat levels.
Read that again and let it soak in. Your diet is always going to be the biggest contributing factor when it comes to fat loss. Could you possibly lose more fat during your workout by not having a pre-workout meal? Yes, but will the decreased performance caused by not eating beforehand cause you to lose less fat the rest of the day? Will not eating a pre-workout meal prevent you from getting just one extra rep in a set, or prevent you from putting just 5 more pounds on the bar?
If it lowers your performance, it’s keeping you from building muscle, so you’re limiting your long term fat loss potential. You might be burning more fat in the short term by skipping your pre-workout meal, but in the end, you are sacrificing long term gains for short term fat loss.
I’m Confused – Should I or Shouldn’t I Have a Pre-Workout Meal
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. People exercise at different times and have different goals. If your energy levels are just fine and your workouts aren’t suffering, don’t change a thing. If you feel like you’re crashing halfway through your workouts, then consider having one of the small recommended meals above before a morning workout, or a regular meal 2-3 hours before your workout later in the day.
The most important thing to remember is that you should be using exercise to build muscle, improve performance, and create a metabolic environment that’s conducive to fat loss, and using your nutrition to manipulate body fat percentages. Don’t sacrifice your workout intensity for the sake of fat loss. That is going to work against you in the long run. Work out as hard as possible, and let your diet take care of the rest.