Some people can be rather superstitious before a big run or session in the gym, particularly about what and when they eat — that’s if they consume anything at all. Running in a fasted state can be a good idea, as can a hearty, carby dinner the night before hitting the weights room early the next morning. The key is to do what feels right for you and your body, but if you need any guidance, here are six of the best pre-workout food and drinks to consider before your next sweat.
6 Of The Best Pre-Workout Foods And Drinks
Before we go into some pre-workout no-no’s, let’s break down some pre-workout yes-yes’s. Pre-workout, carbohydrates are your friend. One of the big three macronutrients, carbs are your body’s main source of energy, and can prompt the release of the hormone insulin, which in turn helps encourage the muscle-building process; you’ll find many of the foods on this list are a rich source of carbohydrates.
Bananas, are a great, healthy source of carbs, but are also rich in potassium and magnesium. This is handy as having low levels of both can impact performance, with the latter helping move blood sugar into your muscles and dispose of lactate, which can build up during exercise and cause fatigue, while the former supports muscle health and contractions. A 2019 study on 230 women found that those who experienced muscle cramps generally consumed lower amounts of potassium.
A Cup Of Coffee, Or One Of Our Boost Capsules
Arguably the most well-researched performance enhancer out there, caffeine is a certified pre-workout winner. Just look to the science, with a study from the University of Guelph, Ontario finding that around 400mg of caffeine profoundly increased exercise endurance in those tested, while a separate study from Christ Church College, Canterbury, tested runners over 1500 metres and found that those who were regular coffee drinkers were 4.2 seconds faster than those who drank decaf.
And it’s not just your endurance that will feel the boost, your overall strength will too. A systematic review found caffeine to have some success during resistance training, especially in those bench pressing, although the research isn’t as conclusive as it is when testing endurance.
If you’re overly sensitive to the effects of caffeine though, the modest banana is your best bet.
As they take longer to digest, and thus create potential digestive issues and feelings of sluggishness as your body uses energy to support digestion rather than getting you through that final set, anything very high in fat or fibre is somewhat of a pre-workout no-no. However, a little bit of fibre can be a good thing, helping slow the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream and as such providing your cells with a steady stream of glucose to help you through your workout.
It’s best then to consume something like porridge or proats, which is high in energy-boosting carbs and fibre, a couple of hours before a workout as opposed to right before you hit the bench.
Chocolate before hitting the gym? Sign us up. Cacao, the raw version of the cocoa which makes up our favourite confection, is one of the best pre-workout foods thanks to containing not one, but two, natural stimulants: caffeine, of course, and also theobromine, a naturally occurring compound that is also found in some tea plants.
Similar in structure to caffeine, theobromine has less of an effect on the central nervous system, and is a longer-lasting, more relaxed stimulant as a result. Choose cacao powder for the low fat option, while there also tends to be higher levels of theobromine in dark, vegan chocolate over that which contains milk. We recommend a sprinkle of raw cacao powder in your pre-workout smoothie then, so you can also take advantage of all those magical antioxidants.
Another food high in antioxidants, a 2018 study from the University Of Reading found that eating blueberries can improve reaction times, stabilise mood and keep us focused, as well as sustaining cognitive function for hours after consumption, making berries the perfect pre-workout snack.
And thanks to those antioxidants and anti-inflammatories they’re also pretty handy after you’ve hit the gym too, with a 2012 study finding that those athletes tested experienced reduced muscle soreness and faster strength recovery after drinking blueberry smoothies when compared to those who just drank regular ones.
Remember not to skimp on the H2O before, during, and after your workout. To store each gram of glycogen, the byproduct of carbohydrates, the body also has to store around two grams of water. A seminal 1985 study found that a dehydrated athlete with a 2.5 percent loss of body weight in the form of water can experience up to a 45 percent loss in their capacity to perform high-intensity exercise.
You need a good level of water circulating your body then to help make sure those glycogen stores are full and ready to push you through a tough session. Aim to drink around 12 to 16 cups a day to keep you running through the day, and into your next set.