You’ve probably heard the saying “Abs are made in the kitchen”, and it’s true—the key to a washboard stomach is a diet geared toward fat loss.

However, the reality is that ALL areas of fitness are built on a foundation of solid nutrition. And while your overall intake throughout the day needs to be on point for optimal progress, there are few meals as critical as the one you get before your workout.

Pre-Workout Nutrition is Essential

Regardless of whether you’re training for fat loss, muscle gain, or both, research shows that, for the vast majority of people, pre-workout nutrition is critical to maximizing results. By fueling performance and providing the body with nutrients before taxing it with a workout, you’ll see better gains in strength, size, and even fat loss.

Pre-Workout Macronutrient Breakdown

As for what type of fuel to give your body pre-workout, here’s an overview of the key nutrients you need and approximately how much of each is optimal:


The basic mechanism behind exercise and its effects and benefits is intentional, controlled damage that results in adaptation by the body. This is particularly true with resistance-training, where the tolls of repeated heavy lifting on muscle tissue lead to breakdown and repair that leads to muscle growth.

While many consider the post-workout meal and its protein content to be enough to fuel these repair processes, providing the body with ample protein and amino acids prior to your workout can be just as important. That’s because muscle protein synthesis begins during the workout itself, and a readily available supply of protein already circulating through the body can facilitate the process that much sooner.

By ingesting 30-40 grams of protein an hour prior to your workout, you can start the process even sooner, priming the body for an optimal muscular response. This will also give you an added source of energy, particularly during the rapid, high-intensity output required to perform heavy lifts.

Any number of protein sources are effective before workouts, including: protein powder, chicken breast, turkey, and lean beef.


Contrary to what many common diets out there may tell you, adequate fat intake is critical to your overall health and the pursuit of your goals. In the context of this discussion, your pre-workout meal is one instance in which going low fat is ideal.

Obviously, one of the reasons you train is to reduce the amount of fat stored in your body. Exercise boosts metabolism, forcing the body to free up some of this stored fat so that it can be broken down and used for fuel.

If your pre-workout meal is high in fat content, the body has less of a need to free up its stores, effectively blunting your metabolism.


Last, but certainly not least, are carbohydrates. Numerous studies have shown that adequate pre-workout carb intake promotes greater strength, better endurance, and improved overall results.

When you exercise – particularly activities that involve fast, powerful movements such as when lifting weights – your muscles rely on their stores of glycogen to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is their primary energy molecule. As glycogen stores are depleted, energy production naturally declines. Glycogen is made from either the breakdown of freed fatty acids or blood sugar. Giving your body ample carbohydrates (about 25-30 grams) prior to a workout contributes to glycogen stores, meaning greater endurance and stamina.

While some studies suggest that the glycemic index—a measure of the rate at which carbohydrates are broken down by the body and subsequently their impact on insulin levels—isn’t particularly important where pre-workout nutrition is concerned, a good rule of thumb is to focus on complex carbohydrate sources. This is because the slower digestion rate leads to a steady and prolonged boost in energy, which can help sustain you through the entirety of your training session.

Ideal pre-workout carbohydrate sources include apples, oranges, wheat germ, and unflavored oats.

Tailor Your Pre-Workout Nutrition to Your Needs

While these core recommendations of 30-40 grams of protein and 25-30 grams of carbs are fairly universal, they’re by no means set in stone. If your goal is fat loss, for example, your carb target may be on the low side, leaving less room in your dietary “budget” for pre-loading your workouts with carbs. In other words, between protein and carbs, your pre-workout carb source is the more expendable of the two.

If, on the other hand, you’re focusing on powerlifting or muscle growth, you’ll want as much fuel as possible for the intensity of your workouts, and you’d likely benefit from an even higher amount of pre-workout carbs.

Lastly, while this advice applies to nearly everyone to some extent, you need to listen to your body. For some, no matter how much you may want the performance-boosting benefits of a proper pre-workout meal, exercising on a full stomach just won’t do. Experiment with different foods, and different amounts of food, to see what’s most tolerable to you.

If you can stomach it, however, adequate pre-workout nutrition as laid out above will go a long way toward optimizing your results.

February 16, 2022