Pre-workout Nutrition: Macros & Meal Timing

Pre-workout Nutrition: Macros & Meal Timing

There’s so much conflicting information and mixed opinions on this topic out there these days. Fasted workouts, bulletproof coffee, protein shakes, avocado toast… what haven’t you heard? I am sure you have probably tried it all, and learned that some things (ahem.. pizza pizza) really don’t work well for you. In today’s post, I will cover the why and how of pre-workout nutrition to help ease your confusion.


Why does pre-workout nutrition matter?

Following the basics of how to do it right, and also finding out what works best for you, can help you feel fuelled and energized, rather than bogged down by your food. When we feel good during exercise, we are SO much more likely to go back for more. Eating beforehand also helps prevent the chance of injury by reducing the risk of hunger and low blood sugar during your session (which can negatively impact your focus and concentration).

Further, your pre-workout fuel helps to support the activity of your muscles and brain, giving you the energy to push harder and go for longer. This will help support training adaptations (aka stronger, faster, leaner), enabling you to get the most out of your sessions.


The Basics: What to eat and When

Simply put, a combination of carbs and protein is recommended prior to a workout, sporting event or other physical activity. However, the length of time between when you eat and when you train may slightly affect the composition of your meal or snack. The time that you choose to eat before will likely depend on your schedule and what is convenient for you.


If you eat: 2-3 Hours Before

 This is the ideal time frame for most individuals; providing enough of a window for your body to digest food and supply your muscles and organs with macronutrients, vitamins and minerals. Having a meal with carbs and protein, and some healthy fats is best at this time to carry you through your training.


Which macros and why?

  • Carbs: Carbs provide you with energy and fuel to support your muscles during the activity. Include complex carbohydrates like starchy vegetables and whole grains to provide longer lasting energy. However, avoid having too much fibre, like dried fruits and raw vegetables which are slower to digest and may cause discomfort during your workout.

  • Protein: Protein will supply you with amino acids to promote muscle protein synthesis during your training, and help to keep your blood sugar stable in order to maintain stable energy levels.

  • Fat: Fat slows the digestion of food so eat some healthy fats, but keep it low (under 10 g). This will ensure that the protein and carbs you’re eating are more effectively utilized. Stick to a thumb-size serving of fat for this time frame (eg. 1 tbsp of peanut butter).


What to eat:

  • Chicken with sweet potato and cooked vegetables

  • Oatmeal with berries, banana, 1 tbsp nut butter, & Greek yogurt

  • 2 whole eggs on whole grain toast with a piece of fruit


If you eat: 1 hour before

 You may not have time to eat 2-3 hours before your workout and that’s okay! Personally, I find having a coffee and protein bar or greek yogurt and banana an hour before my weight training sessions works best for me.  

When eating closer to your workout, choose a smaller sized meal / snack to prevent you from feeling too full during your activity, but still give you the fuel you need.


Which macros and why?

  • Carbs: Lower fibre carb sources like bananas, grapes, starchy vegetables (sweet potato, potato, plantain, squash) and crackers/ breads/ cereals are quicker digesting and ideal for this time period; don’t skip the carbs, we need them for the energy boost.

  • Protein: Don’t skip protein either, include a source of lean protein in your meal or snack.

  • Fats: Keep it low (under 5 g total).


What to eat:

  •  Smoothie with banana, spinach, blueberries, and milk

  • Scrambled egg whites and whole grain toast

  • “Proatmeal” (Plain oatmeal + scoop protein powder)

  • Greek yogurt and banana


If you eat: 30 Minutes Before

Eating earlier is optimal to allow enough time to digest your food. However, if you’re not able to (for example, if you’re working out early in the morning), eating right before is better than not eating at all.


Which macros and why?

  • Carbs: With less time for digestion, stick with simpler carbs like white rice, bananas, rice cakes, pumpkin or squash purees, energy gels, and baby food. 

  • Protein: Protein is important to keep your muscles fuelled during exercise. Due to limited time to digest, now is a good time to opt for a protein supplement (like a whey protein powder), because they are faster digesting than whole food sources of protein.

  • Fat: Like the other meal timings, fat should mostly be avoided in this meal. It slows digestion and you want those nutrients utilized as quickly as possible.


What to eat:

  • Protein shake + piece fruit

  • White rice + 2 oz chicken

  • Greek yogurt + honey

A Note on Activity Type…

You might find that depending on the type of sport and activity you engage in, different volumes and combinations of food might work better than others. For example, if you are doing powerlifting, you may get away with having a larger sized snack or meal closer to your workout as your training tends to be more stationary. If you primarily do HIIT/ interval style workouts, then your workouts involve a lot more moving around so you would likely benefit from feeling lighter and having more time to digest prior to your training.

Final Notes

So there you have it – the basics of pre-workout nutrition. As mentioned, you may need to take some time to play around with the basics to find the sweet spot. This could mean reflecting on your digestion, energy, work output and recovery and trying to follow the patterns to see what works best.

But remember, having some form of fuel prior to your workout can help you to perform better, and choosing the right combo of macronutrients can help to take this a step further.

What about post-workout nutrition? Check out my previous article for guidance on what to eat after a workout.

Hope you enjoyed today’s post!

Until next time,


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