Nutrition 101: Working out Pre-workout!

13th November 2017

Pre-Workout Nutrition 

“You are what you eat”, “Food is Fuel”, “Abs are made in the kitchen” ….. Sound familiar? Well these are all sayings that we have all heard over the years; particularly in recent years, as the fitness industry continues to boom with over 6,728 fitness facilities in the UK, with the industry worth an estimated £4.7 billion (2017 state of the UK fitness report).

With 1 in 7 of use now a member at one of these facilities, the above sayings, along with the topic of diet and nutrition are finding their way into everyday conversation with more and more of us striving to derive evidenced based  meaning for them. But what exactly do should we be eating around our workouts for the best results?

In our weekly Nutrition 101 post we do the hard work and present the facts of some of the best scientific evidence out there, giving you the 101 on pre, intra and post workout nutrition over the next 3 weeks, providing you with the ultimate game plan to ensure food is your fuel not foe! This week we start with Pre-workout nutrition, what and when you should be eating before your workouts!

What to eat?

Macro (Latin meaning large) nutrients fuel our body with energy to power through our workouts and enable us to perform day to day activities keeping us healthy and functional. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats fall into this nutrient category and each plays a specific role in fuelling our workouts, therefore the ratios in which we consume these become vital particularly when their recruitment and utilisation varies by exercise type, intensity and of course you as an individual. (1)

Food is fuel and given our body is the only place we have to live, we should ensure we look after it. You wouldn’t put the wrong fuel in your car and expect it to run firing on all cylinders so don’t expect your body to do the same if you are not supplying it with the correct nutrients. Remember when we are hungry and the cravings kick in, its nutrients our body is asking for, not food!

Pre-Workout nutrition therefore, is critically important and can determine whether we hit those PB’s today or just end up going through the motions. Ask yourself, which workout do you want?


If you are on the zero carbohydrate bandwagon and of the assumption that carbohydrates are bad, lets have a look at some evidence that might make us think different. Yes carbohydrates can promote excess fat but only when not programmed into a bespoke tailored exercise regime which our Personal trainers here at Energy Mill can make happen for you. If you are looking to perform your best, break those PB’s, run harder and faster, gain muscle and become stronger you should consume carbohydrates Pre-workout. Just ask the team down at Loughborough University and the University of Queensland who have all found these benefits in their studies. The Loma Linda University medical centre even took it one step further by proving that carbohydrates Pre-workout can reduce our chances picking up an illness.

As with most things, there is always a flip side to the story and indeed it is no different with Carbohydrates. So we now know that carbohydrate fuelling Pre-workout has us maximising out our ability to perform at our best however if your goal is to get that beach ready body and achieve and then attain that coveted six pack then you may not go for wrong from cutting down your carbohydrates Pre-workout and seeking some expert advice. Here’s why…..

Given that carbohydrates are our bodies preferred and primary fuel source (the quickest and easiest to break down), the ingestion of them during a Pre-workout meal spikes our hormone insulin which causes us to suppress fat oxidation/burning and our utilisation as fat as a fuel! In short, and as the guys down at University of Texas found out, carbohydrates limit our bodies ability to burn fat! So if you looking to attain that beach body and burn fat you wouldn’t go far wrong with some fasted cardio and advice on Pre-workout eating for weight loss which the energy mill team can help you with! If your looking for ultimate performance and a harder, better, faster stronger you, make carbohydrates you Allie and get to work!


Protein should only be consumed post workout right? to maximise my gains? WRONG!

Protein should be in your pre-workout meal and it plays an important part too as studies have shown that Protein consumed alone or with carbohydrates pre-workout can increase protein muscle synthesis (2).

Pre-workout protein intake can promote lean muscle mass (3), strength(4) and even help improve recovery (5) before we have even started!


Fat within our diet has, for decades had a bad reputation and it is only until recently that people have started to stand up and fight its corner! Yes fats found within our diet can be bad, particularly saturated and trans fats. However, managed carefully, in the right quantities and quality, monounsaturated (found in plant based oils) and polyunsaturated fats (found in animal and plant based fuels) can work for us rather than against!

Research has now shown us that low-fat diets for performance and fitness based goals are not all they are cracked up to be! In fact we now find that new research points us in the direction of utilising these healthy fats throughout our diet.

Unlike Carbohydrates and the glucose and glycogen it provides which fuel our body for short high-intensity exercise bouts such as sprinting and weight lifting, fat is the bodies preferred energy source for low to moderate intensity exercise (6). It has even been proven that diets as high as 40% in these good fats can increase endurance performance running in healthy trained runners (7).

If we are therefore looking to perform for longer less intense bouts or periods of work, fat adds to carbohydrate and protein in becoming crucial to our Pre-workout nutrition

When do I eat my pre-workout meal?

This is often the first question that comes into our mind when we start thinking about pre-workout nutrition and quite rightly too! It’s the hot topic for Dietitians and Nutritionists and here is what evidence suggests.

Timing of nutrient intake can be critical and can again determine whether we maximise our intended results or not. You do not want to be eating your pre-workout meal on the gym floor, right before you start, practically with the dumbbell ready to go in the other hand. If you do this, then you are creating a conflict of interest where during your workout, while your working muscles demand nutrients, increased blood flow and oxygen to work at their optimised best, your stomach and digestive system do the same working to metabolise your food. Additionally we want to ensure that we avoid stomach discomfort during our workout.

As we have already discussed carbohydrates and protein together as part of your Pre-workout meal should become a ritual, whilst if you are looking to include fats make sure you do not leave this any later than 3 hours before your workout (8). Indeed the three macro nutrients of carbohydrates, protein and fat together within a meal, 3 hours Pre-workout is the optimum way to fuel our workouts and maximise results.

However, if only it was that easy! Nowadays, working life and the general everyday gets in the way of this perfect routine, and believe it or not we have the perfect answer to that! As a rule of thumb remember, until the dumbbell is in your hand or the treadmill is fired up there is always time for a Pre-workout meal however the the closer we get to our workout, the smaller and simpler our meal should be! If your within the 45-60 minute time bracket before your workout, familiar, easy to digest foods are best. Make sure these consist of a high carbohydrate to protein ratio and even consider smoothies and shakes! Pop into the team at the Smoothie Shack above our Shipley gym for the perfect solution!

Meal Examples:

2-3 hours before:

  • Sandwich – Lean Protein and Whole-grains
  • Lean Protein, Brown rice and vegetables
  • Eggs, wholegrain bread
  • Fruit

2 hours before:

  • Wholegrain cereal and milk
  • Porridge with oats and nuts

1 hour before:

  • Greek yoghurt and fruit
  • Smoothie
  • Protein and carbohydrate shake
  • Nutrition bar with protein

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