Nutrition—what you consume on a daily basis—is the most important influencer of your health, fitness and general wellbeing. Therefore, what you consume immediately before (pre) and after (post) training has the greatest potential to influence your training results. And the goals you aim to achieve through training determine what you should consume pre and post training.
It is essential to fix your macronutrient consumption before considering which supplements are best for pre-training. For the purpose of this article, pre-training refers to the 60 minutes leading up to the beginning of the workout.
Fat is slow to digest and also lowers the glycaemic index (GI) of any co-ingested carbohydrates (CHO). It should therefore be omitted from your pre-training snack. However, ensure that you have consumed a relevant amount of fat at least 90 minutes before training.
Whether or not you consume pre-training CHO is dependent on your goals. If you are looking to decrease body fat and/or weight, omit CHO from this snack. The body will always opt for the most readily available energy source. When you eat CHO, blood sugar rises. At the onset of exercise your body will use that glucose for energy first because it is ready to be transported and is easily burnt by working muscles.
When working towards losing body fat you need to train the body to rely on fat as its primary source of fuel, but as long as you have elevated levels of blood sugar, that will not happen.
If, however, you need to maintain or increase your current bodyweight and lean body mass (LBM), consuming CHO pre-training is beneficial. CHO that are low in fibre and with a moderate to high GI are best.
Pre-training protein consumption has been well documented to support fat loss, and enhance the recovery and results from training. The source of protein is dependent on how long before training the snack is consumed.
If your pre-training snack is 50-60 minutes before the workout begins, protein from whole food is okay. You still want to limit the intake of fats here, so opt for lean sources of meat. If consuming fruit for your CHO, choose fruit that have a moderate GI to ensure that blood glucose rises at the correct time.
If your pre-training snack is 15-30 minutes before the workout, a liquid snack is best. In this instance a fast digesting protein powder is both convenient and proven to provide an array of benefits. Avoid fruit in this snack because of the high fibre content, and because fructose is converted to glucose on the liver. It is therefore not as readily available as glucose.
Research has shown that individuals who train on an empty stomach have higher levels of stress markers in the blood compared to those who consume a protein and CHO mixture pre-training. This suggests that a protein and CHO snack pre-training may reduce the amount of training-related muscle damage.
Greater gains in strength and LBM have also been shown to occur when a protein shake is consumed before training. In fact, some research suggests that pre-training protein consumption is more effective for recovery than post-training protein. Consuming protein pre-training also increases resting caloric expenditure at least 24 hours after the workout.
Consuming a good pre-workout meal that is relative to your goals may help to increase your strength, enhance your recovery, and elevate your caloric expenditure at rest for at least a day which may facilitate body fat loss.
I’ve already alluded to one supplement that is beneficial pre-training – a protein powder. Simply avoid casein protein. In general, protein before training is good. BCAAs and glutamine are proteins too, and in combination they may reduce muscle breakdown, improve muscle recovery and growth, and improve general recovery. If you’re in for a long, strength-based workout, consuming BCAAs during the session is also beneficial.
Caffeine isn’t necessarily a supplement, but consumption pre-training could enhance endurance performance and mental focus, and also reduce perceived exertion. It may also mobilise fat stores for energy. If you’re consuming a caffeine-based pre-training supplement, choose one that has little to no added stimulants and sugar. A shot of espresso in your pre-training protein shake is the way to go!
Just as there are good supplements, there are ones to avoid. Steer clear of fat burners and pre-workout energy supplements. They are loaded with artificial stimulants that are unhealthy.