Expert Nutrition

Pre Workout Meal

The pre workout meal is an essential ingredient to obtain optimal muscle growth. This article reviews what and when you should be eating to maximise your training efforts.

Intense training on an empty stomach can lead to early onset of fatigue, reducing the quality of the training session. More importantly however, it can also lead to muscle breakdown as your body searches for an energy source to fuel the workout. Therefore the goal of any pre workout meal should be to provide a readily available energy source to fuel the workout, as well as limit muscle breakdown, accelerate post workout recovery and encourage growth.

If your training goal is muscle growth then arguably your pre and post workout meals are the most important meals of the day. To maximise results you need to ensure that you're consuming the right combination of foods but also at times that will assist performance. This concept is reinforce and explained in more detail in the article on nutrient timing.

The objective of the pre training meal is to provide your body with a stable flow of energy to your muscles and brain throughout your entire training session. Research also indicates that having protein in your blood stream before weight lifting aids in muscle growth. Essentially by applying a little bit of knowledge you can optimise your training results through good nutrient timing and by drinking adequate amounts of water throughout the day to assist nutrient absorption and to keep you well hydrated.

The pre workout meal is usually consumed 90-120 minutes prior to training. Additionally for intense workouts and optimal muscle growth, a smaller liquid snack and/or supplement about 15-30 minutes prior to your training session may be beneficial, particularly for those with a high metabolism.

Pre Workout Meal

The pre workout meal consumed 90 to 120 minutes prior to training should be your typical well balanced meal containing low GI complex carbohydrates (e.g. whole meal bread, pasta, rice etc), about 15-20 grams of protein and a combination of good fats (monounsaturated fats and omega 3's). This combination of foods will break down slowly, keeping your energy levels consistent and provide the necessary nutrients to aid muscle growth.

Example pre workout meal:
  • Tuna and salad sandwich (wholemeal) and an apple,
  • Bowl of oatmeal with 200grams of low fat yogurt and 50g almonds
  • Chicken and vegetable stir fry with rice
  • 30g of whey protein powder with 250–300ml of skim milk or water and a piece of fruit

Note: The main goal of pre workout meal is to keep you blood sugar levels consistent throughout your training session to prevent muscle catabolism (breakdown of muscle for fuel). Therefore low GI carbohydrates should form the basis of this meal in combination with lean sources of protein.

Pre Workout Snack

Many athletes have very fast metabolisms and require a top up of blood sugar levels and an added energy boost just prior to exercise. A pre workout snack is hence recommended prior to engaging in competitive sporting events and intense training sessions. Timing however is important, if eaten too early a pre workout snack could cause blood sugar levels to spike, over load and then crash, if left until the last minute, any undigested food could cause an upset stomach throughout the workout. Practice makes perfect, you should feel energetic, but not bloated.

Depending on the chosen snack, the ideal time to consume it can vary, but generally there is a window of 15-30mins prior to exercise for optimal performance. The ideal pre-workout snack is one that is quickly digested and predominately consists of water and carbohydrates. Examples include solid foods like an orange, banana or grapes. Liquid snacks might include fruit juice, a pre workout shake or a sports drink.

Given that nutrient timing and in particular the pre and post workout meals are important for muscle growth if you haven't already we suggest you read these articles next.

Related Bodybuilding Articles


Resistance Training 101

Muscle Building Nutrition Advice

Protein Powder and Gym Supplement Advice

Muscle Building Training Advice

Fit Body Photos and Images

These articles will provide you with the necessary tools to start a successful gym training or bodybuilding program. These principles are only the beginning. Remember that discipline, knowledge and consistency are the keys to achieving your goals. Good luck!

Over the coming months we will be developing this chapter. Please visit our blog and subscribe to our rss feed such that when new articles are added to this chapter you will be notified.

If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact us for advice.

Burke, L.M., Claassen, A., Hawley, J.A., Noakes, T.D. (1998). No effect of glycemic index of pre-exercise meals with carbohydrate intake during exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 30, S82 (Abstract 471).

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