General wisdom holds that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and while that may be true, any fitness buff will tell you that what you eat just before and after your workout comes in as a close second. In this article, I focus on what to eat before a workout where you lift weights (and not just do cardio).
No matter if you are trying to gain muscle or lose fat, I hope that lifting weights is the cornerstone of your workout routine, as it’s by far the quickest way to achieve results. Building a little muscle both looks good and increases your metabolism, making it easier to permanently lose fat.
When you lift weights, you actually damage your muscle fibers slightly. After your workout, your body starts repairing the damaged muscle fibers by fusing them together. This process is what makes your muscles both larger and stronger.
To complete this process, your body needs protein and carbohydrates. This is why you should always have a meal containing both protein and carbs before and after your workouts.
The Perfect Pre-Workout Meal
Before your workout, your focus should be on filling up your body’s energy reserves without eating a big meal that will sit uncomfortably in your stomach all the way through your workout. Ideally, you should eat a small, but nutritionally dense, meal about 45-60 minutes before your workout.
You want your pre-workout meal to contain roughly equal amounts of protein and carbs, but only a little fat. The majority of the carbs should be low-glycemic so your avoid a blood sugar spike just before your workout (and don’t have to take a lot of insulin before your workout if you are diabetic).
You want the protein to be something light so you don’t feel like you swallowed a football before your workout, so skip the beef but reach for protein powder, egg whites or chicken.
For me, the pre-workout meal is often when I get to eat or drink one of the delicious high-protein snacks or shakes we have here on Diabetes Strong. All of these recipes were designed to have around 20-30 grams of protein and carbs per serving, which is the perfect amount for a pre-workout meal.
It may seem counter-intuitive to eat something that looks like cake before your workout if you are trying to lose weight, but as long as your daily calorie intake is where it should be, a calorie dense meal before your workout will actually help you drop the pounds (you can learn how to find your daily calorie need here).
Six delicious pre-workout meals
High Protein Cake Batter Mousse – An easy way to make a healthy pre-workout snack that tastes like chocolate mousse
Strawberry-Banana Shake – A great shake for the hot summer days. Strawberries and bananas are fantastic carb sources and taste delicious too!
Protein Pancakes – These take a little more work, but they are definitely worth it. I usually make enough for two days and store the ones I don’t eat right away in the fridge
Protein Berry Crumble – A freshly baked berry crumble is just about the tastiest snack you can get. You can serve this to anyone and they will think they are eating a high-calorie cake and not a perfect pre-workout snack
Pumpkin Raspberry Muffins – These muffins are actually so low-carb that you can eat a few fresh raspberries on the side to get enough carbs. Best of all, you get to eat two! 😀
Baked Oatmeal Cinnamon Roll – Another delicious recipe that is so clean it works both as a pre-workout snack and as a healthy breakfast
Hopefully, these recipes will give you a little inspiration for your pre-workout meals, and show that healthy fitness food doesn’t have to be boring!
Melissa Jean says
Hi, Christel. Type 1 here. I’m just getting back into working out. I’m getting use to going to the gym again so I’m just doin cardio at the moment. Both times I have been after my workout inexperience a low. I have been doing 45 mins on the treadmill. I check my glucose before workout. Would these be okay for high intensity cardio or just if I’m weight training too?
Christel Oerum says
If you go low you have too much insulin on board for the activity. You can mitigate that by either adjusting your insulin and/or eating a meal (such as the ones included). When doing resistance training or high-intensity training you might see that your blood sugars don’t drop and you actually need more insulin. Here is a good article on how to figure it out: https://diabetesstrong.com/find-formula-insulin-food-around-workouts/
Samantha Cuellar says
Hello, I am 44 and have Diabetes Type 2. I am currently boxing as my form of exercise and have a light breakfast or protein shake before. Many times, I feel nauseous as soon as I start my workout. What would be better suited to eat pre-workout?
Christel Oerum says
I love boxing, that used to be my go-to workout. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to your question, so you probably have to try out a few different things. You could try eating a little earlier, leaving more time between your workout and your breakfast. Or it might be the liquid that’s making you nauseous, so an alternative to the shake could be to eat some eggs or Greek yogurt
Does the amount of time you spend working out change the need for a pre workout and after work out meal? Are you talking about a heavy duty weight lifting workout of an hour or more? What if I were to do a 30 minute workout would this still apply? Please explain how to adjust. Thank you.
Christel Oerum says
I think it comes down to effort. Regardless if you lift heavy for 30 minutes or 60 minutes, I would still suggest fueling the workouts with a pre and post-workout meal. The insulin (if you use that) would have to be adjusted a little differently if the pre and post-workout meals are closer together. You may need less insulin if your workout is short, due to stacking, or have to split your post-workout dose to prevent post-workout lows.
If you are “just” stretching or doing some light abs work, I think you can skip the pre and post-workout snacks.