Unless you’ve pencilled in some fasted cardio, there’s nothing worse than getting to the gym and realising the tank’s empty. You haven’t eaten for hours, energy levels are nonexistent and your motivation – which moments before threatened to break through the ceiling – is suddenly at an all-time low. We’ve all been there, but left with no alternative, most of us soldier on and log an uninspired workout, all the while making a mental note to fuel up next time. But what type of fuel’s best? Which foods give us the necessary energy boost to power on and complete a high-octane workout? Read on to discover the 5 best preworkout foods.
Should I Eat Before a Workout?
Some people may be questioning why it’s necessary to eat before a workout. Doesn’t that just result in bloating and discomfort on the gym floor?
Yes and no. You certainly don’t want to load up on calories ten minutes before you hit the treadmill. But by the same token, you should avoid working out while hungry. The body, demanding machine that it is, needs energy to perform at high intensity and without it, it’s liable to convert your muscle tissue into energy – not ideal if your goal is to maintain lean muscle mass.
As a rule of thumb, you should aim to eat a snack around one hour before you hit the gym. A snack is preferable to a meal – your body shouldn’t be expending energy on digestion when you’re in the midst of a routine – but what constitutes a useful snack?
Incidentally, many choose to drink a good-quality preworkout supplement a little closer to go-time: maybe 20 or 30 minutes prior to exercise. Eschewing both snack and supplement can presage low blood sugar, leading to lightheadedness and lethargy – two states you certainly don’t want to be in when straining under a barbell.
Without further ado then, here are the 5 best preworkout foods to maximise your workout.
Oats are the perfect preworkout fuel. Dense with fibre, this complex carb is broken down slowly by your body, giving you a prolonged spell of balanced energy. "But doesn’t fibre cause gas?" you might reasonably wonder. It certainly can, but you’d have to eat a whole bunch of oats to provoke that effect – and remember, your preworkout meal should be light rather than large.
Oats are also a rich source of B vitamins, whose functions include converting carbohydrates into – you guessed it – energy. Choose rolled or steel-cut oats rather than the instant variety, which are pre-cooked and generally contain added sugar. If you want an extra boost, you can blend your oats with a scoop of protein or preworkout formula (see #5) 45-60 minutes before hitting the gym.
2. Greek yogurt
Greek yogurts are beloved by health-conscious foodies throughout the world, but what makes them a great preworkout food? Well, compared to regular yogurt, the Greek kind boasts almost double the protein (and high-quality protein at that), fewer carbs and around half the sodium. Going Greek also means you avoid the added sugar that typifies flavoured yogurts. Too plain for your taste? Again, you can mix through a little preworkout or a scoop of protein to spice things up. Alternatively, throw in a handful of blueberries or some sliced banana. Doing so ensures your preworkout has a nice balance of carbs (energy) and protein (recovery).
3. Apple and peanut/almond butter
A peanut butter sandwich is delicious and satisfying, but you don’t want to bag yourself up with bread before exercising. In moderation, peanut (or almond) butter is certainly good for you though. A great source of monounsaturated fats, potassium, vitamin E and protein, it’s a favourite of gym-goers looking to add a little muscle without sacrificing flavour. Our advice would be to go organic/natural, of course.
Smearing some peanut butter on slices of apple will give you a welcome boost ahead of your session. Apples are easy to digest and quickly replenish your glycogen stores thanks to their natural sugars, supplying a ready source of energy. Just what you need ahead of a taxing leg day or high-intensity intervals!
Champion sprinter Yohan Blake eats 16 ripe bananas every day. “Naturally I tend to lose potassium so I have to build it all back. For me it works – more energy,” he explains.
While we wouldn’t advocate chomping your way through 16 bananas a day, there’s no doubt that bananas are among the best preworkout foods. Not only are they chock-full of digestible carbohydrates but the potassium to which Blake alludes helps maintain both nerve and muscle function. Bananas’ natural sugars are also identical to those found in expensive sports drinks touted for their energy-boosting properties.
The merits of bananas for preworkout fuel were brought to the fore in a 2015 study published in the Journal of Proteome Research. 20 male cyclists were divided into groups before cycling 75 kilometres at high intensity. While one group drank only water prior to the race, the other consumed water with bananas or pears. When the results were analysed, the latter group were found to have enjoyed 50% quicker recovery than their peers; they were also faster on the bike and had more focus and energy.
That focus, incidentally, is a result of the dopamine produced in the brain when you eat a banana. Of the 5 best preworkout foods, banana might be the best of all.
5. A Natural Preworkout Formula
There are literally hundreds of preworkout formulas to choose from, but the truth is, 90% of them are best avoided. Most contain synthetic stimulants, junk ingredients and a ton of caffeine, which taken over time will desensitise you to caffeine and cause you to up the dose (NOT a good idea).
There are other drawbacks, too: preworkouts tend to be bundled as package deals with side effects like insomnia, headaches, cramps, jitters and even high blood pressure. The best bet, quite logically, is to use a preworkout that’s natural and safe, with a blend of performance-enhancing, non-artificial ingredients.
GB X-Treme might sound like many of the wilder, stimulant-laden supplements out there, but in fact it’s one of the healthiest. For starters, it’s been formulated by doctors to enhance energy, intensify mental focus and increase strength and endurance. A blend of organic vegetables and fruit extracts, it also contains important amino acids like L-Lysine, L-Carnitine and L-Taurine, as well as Coenzyme Q10, to help take your workout to the next level.
What’s more, GB X-Treme contains several enzymes to aid absorption and digestion, plus 8g of protein (from flaxseed) per scoop – much more than the majority of preworkout formulas. Throw a serving in water and drink 30 minutes prior to the gym. One serving is 60 calories, and of course, the all-natural powder’s suitable for vegans.
Follow these tips and your workout will be one to remember: intense, energetic and rewarding.