Wanting to maximize your performance? Fueling properly for your workouts is essential to athletic performance. What you put in your body before a workout can influence not only that workout, but your next workout as well. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all “nutrition prescription,” but there are general fueling strategies that athletes of all levels can benefit from.

If your goal is performance:

Gearing up for a rigorous training session? Be sure to have some readily available carbohydrates in your system. Regardless of the type or duration of your workout, carbohydrates are likely the initial and main source of energy your body requires for your muscles to perform optimally. Carbohydrates are also a key fuel source for the brain and central nervous system. Carbohydrate needs are highly individualized based off of gender, weight, duration of training, age, and digestion. However, in general, 30 grams of carbohydrates one hour before your workout will likely benefit most athletes.

Including 10-15 grams of protein with your pre-workout carbohydrates can reduce muscle damage and set the stage for increased muscle synthesis. 10-15 grams of protein is as simple as ½ cup cottage cheese, 2 string cheese, 6 oz. Greek yogurt, or ½ scoop whey protein.

Many athletes ask us about the effects of high fat/low carbohydrate fueling in the pre-workout period. Based on the limited evidenced available, training with low carbohydrate availability has shown to decrease training intensities and actually inhibit performance. Also, the time it takes to digest high fat meals is too long to provide you with the quick energy you need during a workout. Consuming a large amount of fat before a workout can also cause gastrointestinal problems, (abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhea) as your blood flow is trying to facilitate digestion and keep up with your working muscles at the same time. A small amount of fat, (1 tbsp nut butter,1 string cheese, or 1 tbsp hummus) will likely not hurt as long as it is consumed one hour prior to your workout.

If your goal is weight loss or you are exercising for general fitness:

Even if you are not tracking your progress on the whiteboard or preparing for a competition, carbohydrates before a workout will help you get the most out of your workouts. It does not have to be a large amount of carbohydrates. Half a banana, a small piece of fruit or a piece of whole wheat toast in the hour or two before a workout is perfect. The added energy (compared to an empty stomach) will allow you to work harder and you are likely to see more results.

Regardless of your goals, consume a portion of your carbohydrate needs in the hours before your workout. This not only ensures you have readily available energy to optimize performance, but also to facilitate recovery.

Wondering what you need to eat during a workout to get the most out of your training session? We will cover that next week in Part 2 of our nutrient timing blog series.

Pictured: 30 grams of carbohydrates – (from right to left) 1 tbsp peanut butter + 2 pieces Dave’s Killer Bread (thin slice), 1 small banana, 22 wheat thins, ¾ cup shredded wheat, ¾ cup Quinoa, 1 whole wheat Kodiak Cake pancake, and 4 cups popped low-fat popcorn.