When it comes to working out, the rules for building muscle are a bit different from the rules for losing weight.
For example, most people know exercising on an empty stomach is great for fat loss. According to fitness guru Bill Phillips, performing 20 minutes of intense exercise after an overnight fast has far greater effects on fat loss than an entire hour of cardio after eating.
However, this doesn’t hold true if your fitness goals lie more on the bold and brawny side of things.
According to a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, nitrogen losses from protein breakdown are more than doubled when you exercise without eating. Without that protein, you’ll have a difficult time building muscle mass.
So, to strengthen your performance, you need to eat a solid pre-workout meal. A pre-workout meal is an average-sized meal eaten a couple hours before a workout. While the meal’s calorie count depends on your size and stomach sensitivity, there are a few guidelines to ensure you’re getting the best pre-workout meal possible.
Filling Your Plate: What Should You Eat?
Many bodybuilding newbies find themselves at a loss when they get ready to create pre-workout meals.
You can find specific ideas and even recipes for pre-workout meals online. However, you have a great deal of choice when crafting your meals as long as they are properly balanced and contain the right portions of each of the three following nutrients.
According to Phillips, about 70 percent of the energy in your pre-workout meal should come from carbs. If you’re preparing for an intense athletic event, even more carbs should be added. With the right carbs, you can build up glycogen stores to give you energy for a tough workout and prevent catabolism.
However, make sure you get these carbs from low-sugar sources like vegetables, sweet potatoes, or oatmeal instead of simple sugars and candy. This ensures a more lasting energy source, rather than the “burn and crash” effect of sugars.
The next most important nutrient is protein. Protein decreases muscle breakdown by providing the body with another energy source during high-intensity exercises.
The best protein source is about four to eight ounces of lean, red meat. Meat contains high branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) content, which increases protein synthesis and prevents protein breakdown. However, if you’re limiting fat intake, dairy sources like eggs are another good option.
Fats take the longest time to digest, so they should be in relatively small amounts in your pre-workout meal. Because dietary fats are still necessary to decrease fat and build muscle, however, it’s important to include the right kinds of fats.
Olive oil and monounsaturated fats are the best fats for building muscle because they support traditional fat loss. Foods like avocados, lean fix, eggs, virgin olive oil, and flax oil provide these benefits.
As for meal size, that fluctuates depending on your weight, experience, and stomach sensitivity. The meal’s size should be around 500 to 600 calories for a 180 pound man. Those with sensitive stomachs or smaller sizes should eat less.
It may take some trial-and-error, but eventually you’ll find the right-sized meal for your workout.
Getting the Timing Right: When Should You Eat?
Determining when to eat is a bit more difficult than deciding what to eat.
In general, most athletes eat a pre-workout meal two to three hours before exercising. Those with sensitive stomachs should wait between three and four hours after eating to work out.
However, don’t stick to these guidelines religiously. Experiment with timing to see what best suits your individual needs.
Other Tips for Filling Up and Filling Out
As you begin creating your own pre-workout meals, you’ll find that certain foods are better for certain needs.
For example, if you work out in the mornings, eggs and oatmeal are great options. Eggs have high bioavailable proteins, and oatmeal is great for early-morning stomach sensitivity.
If you’re working on endurance training, bananas are good choice. By contrast, turkey and chicken are good for muscle building and circuit training.
Experiment with your pre-workout meals, find out what works and what doesn’t, and before long, you’ll be crafting the best pre-workout meal every time.
-  Owen, Patrick. 7 November 2012. Top 10 Pre-Workout Foods: What You Should Be Eating Pre-Workout. AskMen.com.
-  Tarnopolsky, M.A., J.D. MacDoughall, and S.A. Atkinson. 1988. Influence of protein intake and training status on nitrogen balance and lean body mass. The Journal of Applied Physiology: Vol. 64, Issue 1.
-  Perry, Marc. 24 January 2012. Pre-Workout Meal: What to Eat Before a Workout?. BuiltLean.com.
-  Planet Muscle. 19 September 2002. Future Fats the Build Muscle Today. BodyBuilding.com.