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[How To] Pre-workout nutrition


Have you ever bonked out during a workout? Meaning you felt super tired, super weak, super suddenly? Yeah, we've all experienced that at least once in our lives! If you feel like you bonk out often or just feel tired, lethargic, and disinterested in your workout, you may need to up that pre-workout nutrition game!

A lot of us go from work or school to gym to home, without much down time in between. That's okay - that's simply a part of our busy, everyday lives. This can become an issue though when we fail to prepare to fuel ourselves correctly for our workouts.

Even though you may have just been sitting at work or school all day doesn't mean you have tons of energy stored for your workout. And by energy, I mean glycogen. Glycogen is the glucose AKA carbs stored in our muscles and liver for when we need it. Our bodies will pull from glycogen stores when our activity level increases in order to turn glycogen into glucose (a cool process called glucogenesis) so we have enough energy/ATP to move!

Glycogen is stored when we eat carbohydrates! This is why a lot of athletes "carb-load" before a hard training session or a competition; so they have enough fuel for their activity. Even though you may not be a world-class athlete, you still operate on the same fuel source as athletes; glucose!

So what is the point of all this? The point is that when we don't have enough fuel in the form of glycogen stored in the muscles/liver or glucose available in our bloodstream, that's when we "bonk out" during a workout. Ever felt super dead in your workout suddenly? Faint? Felt like passing out? Felt cold and clammy? Felt pukey? That's called bonking out y'all and that means you need FUEL.

How to Fuel Ahead of Time to Avoid Bonking Out!

If you've eaten a full meal comprised of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins less than 2 hours before you start your workout, you may be completely fine during your workout. The important question to ask if "did I eat enough prior to this so that I still have fuel stored?" and "Did I eat enough carbs?" Why carbs? Again, our bodies like to use glucose for fuel and carbs are your only source of glucose, so don't cut those carbs if you want to have a solid workout!

Let's say you haven't eaten for 2 or more hours and you might be feeling a little hungry. Okay, you probably want to eat some food, but not so much that it all comes up during your warm-up (hehe). Not eating a solid meal less than two hours ahead of your workout is a recipe to bonk out or feel low energy during your workout. But you're going to the gym in 30 minutes and definitely can't eat a full sub sandwich! What do you do?

This is where quick sources of carbs are going to be key. "Quick" sources are basically your simple carbohydrates AKA carbs in their most basic form - which is glucose FYI. This is where I ask "Do you have some Swedish fish on hand?" Oh yeah, if you're feeling low energy/winded in the middle of your workout, candy is an awesome way to get some quick carbs. Candy is simply an example - Gatorade, fruit juice, low fiber fruit... all of those will work as well!

 Pre-workout nutrition guide - the basics broken down for you

1-2 hours prior to exercise:

If you have more than 60 minutes before you start your workout, you can afford to eat a good-sized meal. Not so much that you feel stuffed, but enough to feel satisfied. Eat a combination of carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Why? Carbs = quick energy/ATP for high-intensity activites (lifting, HIIT/intervals). Fats = energy for lower intensity activities (warm-up, mobility, low-intensity cardio). And protein to help reduce protein breakdown and promote synthesis more quickly (muscle building!). You want to begin recovering from your workout as soon as you finish, so having some protein in your system helps with this!

Less than 60 minutes prior to exercise:

Here's where I would not eat a full-blown meal, unless you know you're only hitting upper body or something that you know won't aggravate your GI. If you're feeling particularly hungry, I'd eat a very small meal, with a combination of carbs and protein (2:1 ratio of carbs to protein) and avoid the fats if you're doing anything more high intensity (lifting, sprinting, etc.) If you're going on a long run or bike ride, fats are fine. Bring a snack along with you that you can eat mid-workout if you know your training session will last longer than 75-90 minutes! Mid-workout snacks should be high in simple carbs (glucose), be palatable, and easy to digest. This is why Gatorade and other sports drinks are so popular amongst endurance athletes!

So in summary, if you're on the go, bring a small pre-workout snack! One of my personal favorites right before exercise is apple sauce! If your training session is long (> 75-90 minutes), bring a mid-workout snack that's a simple carbohydrates (again, apple sauce is great here too!). If you're not working for another 60-90 minutes, you can probably eat a normal-sized meal!

About the Author

Laura Su, BS Exercise Science, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Powerlifter, Entreprenuer

I'm just a girl who fell in love with movement in high school and now wants to bring the freedom that exercise brings to everyone else.

I started working out with the desire to look a certain way but eventually found the sense of accomplishment and clarity that training for performance brought. Now I want to help everyone, especially women, to learn how to train and eat for their health and performance and realize that when you do that, the looks you desire are simply a positive side effect.

In my spare time, I enjoy powerlifting, horseback riding, sleeping, and hanging out with my boyfriend. I hope you enjoy my posts and keep reading along!

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