The bodybuilding journey requires a lot of discipline. Apart from the strenuous hours spent at the gym, one must also plan their diet effectively. The point where many people lack is devising a carefully structured meal plan for the entire day.
Simply intaking a specific number of calories won’t do. Some meals, like a pre-workout meal, can serve as the foundation of effective muscle gain.
Contrary to popular belief, a nutritious pre-workout meal for muscle gain isn’t just an instrument to help you power through a long training session. Instead, it also serves as a way to optimize your protein turnover (the rate at which your body breaks down and rebuilds muscle proteins).
But to achieve proper results, you need to eat the right kind of food at the right time before your workouts. A nutritious meal before hitting the gym can help you go a long way in terms of muscle recovery and exercising effectively.
Let’s find out how.
Does a Pre-Workout Meal Help Build Muscle?
Long story short, yes. While many people have grossly exaggerated the importance of pre-workout meals for bulking, the practice has scientific backing as well.
That being said, it’s not a crime if you cannot find time to push in a nutritious meal before hitting the gym. It will just decrease the effectiveness of your workout a little if you choose to skip it.
So why do you need to eat before your exercise sessions? The first reason is to help your body optimize its muscle recovery rate.
Every day, even when you are not exercising, your body undergoes the repetitive process of tearing down and rebuilding muscle proteins. On an idle day, the rate at which your body breaks down these tissues and rebuilds them back up is the same.
Thus, you won’t effectively bulk up if you are not exercising properly. The turnover rate changes once you start working out.
Since working out is a type of catabolic activity, the rate at which your body breaks down and synthesizes protein declines while you train. Alternatively, the synthesis and breakdown rates increase rapidly once you finish your workout session.
The body, therefore, starts building muscle outside of the gym, in the periods between workouts. Your exercises will have one goal – to break down the tissues and pave way for the muscle recovery process to start.
For efficient muscle gain, you need to synthesize more muscle than you break down. In other words, you need to keep your body in an anabolic state to increase your chances of having a better protein synthesis rate than a protein breakdown rate.
One way to achieve this is to sneak in a nutritious pre-workout snack for muscle gain.
Calories and nutrition are important to help you maintain your body and muscle mass. The same is downright crucial before you hit the gym if you want to maximize your gains.
Most importantly, a healthy pre-workout meal for weight gain and bulking should contain an ample amount of protein. It should have a two-fold reaction:
- A protein-filled pre-workout meal will help increase your body’s muscle synthesis rates and bring down breakdown rates.
- Proteins contain amino acids, an essential ingredient for building muscle tissue.
Now, can’t we just have a proper protein intake after our workouts; what difference does it make if I eat it before or after my gym training session? It makes a world of difference.
If you don’t eat any protein-containing food for multiple hours before a workout, your muscle-building machinery will be dormant. Your breakdown rates might exceed the synthesis rates, even resulting in muscle loss.
If you have a proper pre-workout meal for weight gain before your training, you’ll have amino acids supporting your muscle growth as well as insulin, an anabolic hormone, which is crucial in supporting the muscle-building machinery.
The whole point of pre-workout food for muscle gain is to keep your body working productively at all times and enhance the performance of your muscle recovery rate.
How Important is the Pre-Workout Meal?
Even the most beginner gym bros are religiously advocating for the importance of a pre-workout meal. The truth is that having a nutritious snack before training can do wonders for your muscle gains.
We’ve already talked about the effect of a proper pre-workout meal when it comes to optimizing the protein turnover rate, thereby increasing the efficiency of your body’s muscle-building machinery.
But there are some other important reasons why you need to eat before hitting the gym. Let’s talk about some of them.
Firstly, eating before your workout can increase your performance. A balanced, nutritious meal before hitting the gym will help your body get whatever it needs for a long and difficult session at the gym.
Eating carbs, for instance, will decrease the rates at which the body burns glycogen during workouts while also regulating blood glucose levels.
Secondly, getting those extra calories before hitting the gym will help prevent fatigue. Muscle contractions during strenuous exercises release tons of energy in the form of heat. Thus, an extra calorific boost will prepare your body for a longer workout session.
It’s glaringly obvious that pre-workout meals are essential for muscle gain. But not having anything to eat before exercising won’t usually have any negative impacts on your body and health. It will simply compromise the effectiveness of the workout.
How to Structure the Pre-Workout Meal?
A well-balanced pre-workout meal is the only good one there is. You have to properly structure different nutrients to help your body prepare for a brutal gym session. Here’s the ideal distribution for pre-workout meals:
Your pre-workout meal should ideally include 20-30 grams of protein. More protein will enhance your protein turnover rates, thereby giving the body more able to synthesize muscle tissues faster.
Animal proteins are the best source of amino acids. But they’re also harder to digest. If you are going for them, it’s better you have your meal at least 2-3 hours before your training session.
If you simply want a quick supply of protein before your workout, go for faster-digesting protein sources like light, flakey fish, eggs, milk, tofu, and so on. You can have them 30-60 minutes before hitting the gym.
Ideally, the carbohydrate composition in your pre-workout meal should be anywhere between 25%-40% of your total carb intake for the day. It can also be twice or thrice the amount of protein that you include in your pre-workout foods.
The actual percentage will depend on your age, the intensity of the workout, body weight, and other similar factors.
It’s important to note that carbohydrates, unlike protein, don’t play any direct role in muscle-building. Instead, their consumption allows people to get the energy that they require for sustained workout sessions over longer durations.
You should only consume fats sparingly before a workout. While they are generally essential for muscle-building, their consumption also slows down the gastric emptying process. This will negatively affect the body’s ability to absorb and utilize the available nutrients.
Fats should be present in other meals throughout the day. But pre-workout meals should primarily be composed of proteins and carbohydrates.
10 Best Pre-Workout Meals for Muscle Gain
Planning your pre-workout meal can be cumbersome and boring. It’s more fun to hit the gym and work with the weights, honestly.
We understand that, and so we’ve done your homework. Here are the most effective meals that you can have before you hit the gym.
Oats and Whey Protein
A simple, delicious, and effective meal containing all the macronutrients that you need for a healthy and smooth workout session. The two ingredients that you need are easily accessible in any supermarket – oats and protein powder.
While you can choose the kind of oats you want to go for, we recommend getting plain or rolled oats as they are the healthier alternatives.
You can also spice up the meal by adding more ingredients of your choice, including blueberries, strawberries, and other fresh fruits.
One cup of plain oats with a scoop of whey protein
Blueberry Banana Smoothie
It cannot get any simpler than making a healthy smoothie for yourself. Blueberry is known to have a positive impact on muscle recovery rate.
Moreover, you can have a smoothie as a quick meal if you don’t have a lot of time at your disposal to experiment with different dishes. The nutritional value of this option is quite decent as well.
One glass of blueberry banana smoothie
Egg Whites with Toast
Another great pre-workout food for muscle gain is the white portion of eggs. Like whey protein, egg whites also have all the characteristics required for faster digestion and absorption by the body. Therefore, it is a perfect option for consuming before a strenuous exercise session.
To increase the nutritional and calorific value of the meal, you can pair up egg whites with healthy variants of toasts.
4 Egg Whites and 2 Slices of Brown Bread
Homemade Protein Pancakes
If you have some time at your disposal, you can consider putting on the chef’s hat and making some protein pancakes for your recovering muscles.
There are tons of delicious recipes that you can find on the internet. Experiment with healthy ingredients and get the best nutritional value while enjoying an almost gourmet dish. That sounds like a good deal!
The dish is also a very good option for people with digestive issues, who cannot have a lot of carbs and fats before a workout session.
A 120-gram serving of protein pancake
Peanut Butter Sandwich
If you’re a fan of peanut butter, you’re in luck. It’s mostly a healthy food item, especially if you want to bulk up and pursue a weight gain journey.
Unfortunately, it’s also slightly heavier when it comes to fat composition. So it’s best if you consume it at least an hour before you hit the gym.
The nutritional and calorific value of a peanut butter sandwich is excellent. But you might want to try some other avenues if you are looking to lose some weight in the process.
Peanut Butter Sandwich
Rice and Chicken
If you want to have a lavish pre-workout meal for weight gain and bulking up, it does not get any better than the complimentary rice and chicken duo.
Of course, since chicken is an animal-sourced protein, it’ll take some time for your body to digest it. Therefore, it’s recommended that you have this dish at least 2 to 3 hours before you start your workout session.
Eating it too soon before hitting the gym can lead to some bad situations that you might want to avoid.
1 cup (183 grams) of rice and boneless chicken
You can turn to protein bars if you don’t have time to whip one dish for yourself. They can also prove to be an efficient option if you have an aversion to consuming liquids before working out.
Protein bars have high nutritional value. But they are also high on added sugar and some other unhealthy artificial sweeteners. Therefore, habitual consumption of protein bars should be avoided.
Beetroot Juice and Whole Eggs
Beetroot juice is a readymade solution available for your pre-workout confusion. While there are different elements that you can pair it up with, consuming whole eggs alongside the dish is effective as they neutralize the low protein content of beets.
Overall, beetroot contains tons of health benefits apart from good nutritional assistance needed for a proper workout.
1 glass of beet juice and 2 whole eggs
Believe it or not, there’s a fun and healthy way to consume eggs – by cooking omelets! That’s right, a good pre-workout meal option is to simply cook an omelet for yourself.
While it may not be as wholesome as some of the other mentioned options, it definitely provides the nutritional aid required for maintaining your body’s muscle-building machinery.
If you want more carbohydrates, you can pair it up with something else like dried fruits or nuts.
Omelet (100 grams)
Fruit-Based Protein Shakes
Finally, if you want to keep it simple, just have some protein shake infused with fruitful flavors and benefits.
For instance, a vanilla protein shake mixed with pomegranate juice, chopped walnuts, peeled beets, and cherries can be deliciously healthy.
Vanilla Protein Shake with Cherries and Walnuts
2 to 3 Hours Before Workout
Ideally, your pre-workout meal for muscle gain should be consumed 2-3 hours before you hit the gym.
The time window will allow your body to digest and absorb the nutrients required for an effective workout session.
Here are the food items that you can eat if your pre-workout meal window is 2-3 hours before you start exercising:
- Animal protein with mixed vegetables
- Boiled chicken with rice
- Peanut butter sandwich
- Egg omelet served with a slice of toast and a cup of fruit
30 Minutes to 1 Hour Before Workout
Didn’t get the time to push in a healthy meal before working out? Don’t worry, you can try out these food items if you still have half an hour or an hour to spare before you start exercising:
- Greek yogurt
- Fruits like bananas, apples, and so on.
- Protein bar
- Dried fruits
- Egg White
If you are really ambitious, you can pair up your pre-workout meal with effective supplements that can aid your muscle gain.
Here are a few options that you could explore:
- 1 scoop of whey protein
- 5 to 5 grams of creatine monohydrate
- Coffee, tea, and energy drinks (caffeine)
- 5 grams of branched-chain-amino-acids
- 5 grams of beta-alanine
Proper hydration is necessary to sustain your body throughout the day. It is even more essential before you start engaging in a strenuous activity like working out.
Water is essential for keeping your body temperature regulated. Moreover, it also serves as a lubricant for your joints, reducing the risk of sustaining chronic injuries while working out.
Most importantly, water is the most effective means of transportation for vital nutrients that you consume throughout the day. A good pre-workout meal for muscle gain without proper hydration is almost useless.
Ideally, one should drink around 2 glasses of water before hitting the gym.
You should also finish up a glass of water 30 or 20 minutes before you start exercising.
Proper hydration during exercise is essential as well. Keep your body satisfied by drinking half a glass of water every 15-20 minutes while working out.
The Bottom Line
Pre-workout meals are fundamental for effective muscle gain. They not only increase the body’s capability to deal with longer workout sessions but also aid in muscle recovery.
Choosing a well-balanced, nutritional pre-workout meal, therefore, is a highly important task in the fitness journey.