What to Eat Pre-Workout: Endurance Athletes

November 04 2021

What to Eat Pre-Workout: Endurance

Sports nutrition can be a mystery...what should I eat? How much should I eat? When should I eat it? We've compiled information to help as a guide for pre-workout nutrition with everything you need to know...

There’s a lot of debate within the fitness community about what to eat pre-workout and how it affects athletic performance. With a quick google search, you will see everything from pre-workout protein drinks mixed with Chinese herbs to plates full of spaghetti and meatballs. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of what’s best, especially when many of these claims are backed solely by personal experience rathe than hard science.

Every body is individual, so what works for one person may not work for everyone. It’s important to listen to your body and take note of when you feel especially good or bad during a sports practice or athletic training. Writing down what routine you had that day and how it made your feel can be an important tool towards understanding your own metabolism and how your body responds to different nutrients.

However, while it’s true we are all individual, there is scientific evidence for what pre-workout routine is most likely to give you the best boost in energy, performance, and mentality depending on your type of athletic activity. Different sports put different types of stresses on the body, so eating in a way that maximizes your ability to respond and recover to your chosen exercise can help push your training to the next level.



If you're looking for an excuse to eat pizza, here it is. Just kidding, it's a little more complicated than that...

For endurance athletes, having reliable energy storage during a workout can be the difference between finishing the day strong and cramping up early. Carbohydrates are used as energy stores within the body, and research has found that nutrition geared towards helping to preserve carbohydrate storage until late in the race to “kick it up a notch” is optimal for the best performance. 

Endurance athletes are tasked with the unique goal of maximizing their body’s adaptation to long-duration physical loads. High-carbohydrate meals are going to provide endurance athletes with the glucose needed for sustained energy. Glycogen is a form of glucose within the body, and this energy storage is important for prolonged activity.  If glycogen levels drop too low, energy becomes rapidly depleted and it’ll be difficult to continue training.

In addition to carbohydrates, fat is important for long-duration exercise--but the body utilizes it in a way that is better for slow, long exercising sessions rather than speed or high intensity workouts. Protein is also good for recovery, it is less important for endurance training than other athletic activities

For your pre-workout meal, you’re going to want to focus on consuming complex carbohydrates. These carbohydrates take longer to digest, and the energy is released at a slower pace. This helps to sustain energy during long-races without getting fatigued. 

A meal heavy in complex carbohydrates (3-5g per pound of body weight) the night before an endurance event is beneficial, and should include foods such as whole-grain pasta, rice, sweet potatoes, lentils, or quinoa with lean proteins and veggies.

This will raise the glycogen stores within your body and prepare you for endurance work. You’re then going to want to top off these glycogen stores 2-4 before your workout with whole-grain bread, pasta, sweet potatoes, broccoli, oatmeal, or beans (aim for 0.2-0.4g of carbs per pound of body weight).

What is the evidence?

Looking at performance differences between high-fat and high-carbohydrate diets between cyclists...

In order to test which type of pre-workout meal led to the most optimal performance in endurance athletes, an investigation was performed which gave endurance-cyclists a high-fat or high-carbohydrate meal 12 hours before completing a self-paced cycling training. The study found that those with a high-fat diet had significantly reduced performance than the high-carbohydrate diet the next day, and the body was slower to recover.

In the high carbohydrate diet group, 93% of the glycogen depleted from exercise was resynthesized in the following 24 hours, while only 13% was resynthesized in the high-fat group. Another study was done comparing low-carbohydrate and high-carbohydrate diets for runners, and while low-carbohydrate dieters did adapt to utilizing fat as energy sources, their performance was less than their high-carbohydrate counterparts

Results showing better performance for endurance athletes are consistent among many different study populations and designs, which is a great indicator that this is true for most athletes.

For a boost right before your workout, simple carbohydrates will provide your body with a quick energy source to give you an extra influx of energy. This should be done 30-60 minutes before your workout, and some good go-tos include fruits, such as bananas and mangoes, as well as dairy products. A Greek yogurt with some berries and a banana would be a perfect snack about an hour before a really difficult training set!

Tagged: Nutrition

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