The Best pre-workout meal for muscle gain

So much is said about the importance of a post-workout meal that it’s easy to neglect how IMPORTANT the pre-workout meal actually is. Why is it important? How does it affect your overall performance and results?The Best pre-workout meal for muscle gain

Let’s discuss why the pre-workout meal is vital if you want to continue making gains and how to formulate the best pre-workout meal for muscle gain.

What is a Pre-Workout Meal?

A pre-workout meal is a meal you consume within 1-3 hours of your workout.

If you eat 45-60 minutes before your workout, go with foods that are simple and are easier to digest. It’s important to note that the sooner you eat your meal the smaller and more simple it should be, as this will help prevent stomach discomfort during your workout (more on this point below).

The Main Purpose of a Pre-Workout Meal

The main purpose of a pre-workout meal is:

  1. Provides you with ENERGY to strengthen and BOOST your performance. A pre-workout meal will boosts your glycogen stores, these stores are your body’s energy tank.
  2. Provides amino acids that prevent muscle breakdown and speed up repair and recovery during and after your workout, in other words, it helps protect your hard earned muscle.

In order to attain these benefits, you will need to consume a specific mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

Macronutrient: Role & Rate of Digestion

To better construct the ideal pre-workout meal(s) we need to understand the rate of digestion for certain foods in order to determine the best time of consumption.


The purpose of protein in a pre-workout meal is to elevate amino acid levels in the bloodstream, stimulating muscle protein synthesis and activating various metabolic processes. Specifically leucine, a branch amino acid that plays a crucial role in stimulating protein synthesis.

The nutritional value of protein varies on the amino acid profile and digestibility. Leucine content also varies depending on the type of food.

Proteins digest at three different rates fast, medium, and slow.  Fast digesting proteins typically digest within 1-2 hours while medium and slow digesting proteins digest within 3-4+ hours.

Recent studies suggest a combination of High Biological Value (HBV) proteins high in leucine. These type of proteins are rapidly digested making it more favorable for muscle hypertrophy.

Some examples of HBV protein-rich foods include: eggs and whey

Aim to consume 2-3 grams of leucine, these numbers maximally stimulate protein synthesis. This equates to 20-30 grams of HBV protein-rich foods high in leucine.

So the goal is to consume 20-30 grams of fast-digesting protein and 2-3 grams of leucine.

To help give you a better idea, the table below contains a couple of foods that are high in leucine.

Food Source Protein (g) Leucine (g)
Cottage Cheese 2% (1/2 cup) 14 1.2
Eggs 6 0.5
Egg Whites 5 0.3
Greek Yogurt 2% (1 cup) 23 1.3
Whey Protein 25  2-2.5
Vegan Sources
Black Beans (1 cup, cooked) 15 1.2
Lentils (1 cup, cooked) 18 2.3
Quinoa (1/3 cup, dry) 8 0.5
Oats (1/2 cup, dry) 5 0.4

*Amounts based on the USDA food database


The main function of carbohydrates in a pre-workout meal is to boost muscle glycogen levels. This results in providing you with more energy to help you power through your workout.

The combination of carbs and proteins help create a more anabolic effect.

In general carbs usually take around 2-3 to fully digest, but it also depends on the source. Whether to consume high or low GI foods all depends on you, but recent research recommends consuming low GI to high GI carbs for endurance workouts (depending how LONG you plan to train) and high GI foods for weight training.

If you have a sensitive stomach I recommend for you to minimize fiber for your pre-workout meal. Foods high in fiber will help keep you feeling fuller longer, thus can negatively affect your performance.

Fast digesting carbs ideal for weight training include bananas, white rice, rice cakes, bagels or saltine crackers.

Slow digesting carbs ideal for endurance include: oatmeal, yams or brown rice

As for how much? This number varies and it is based on your calorie needs as well as the amount of food you can tolerate before a workout. Adjust your carbohydrate intake according to your goals and energy level. Consider whether you are mass building or fat burning.


In general, fat takes around 6-8 hours to fully digest, so because it takes the longest to digest your pre-workout meal should be relatively low in fat.

Best preworkout foods

Pre-Workout Meal Ideas

What to Eat?

Remember you want to focus on consuming a FAST DIGESTING protein and carb but relatively low in fat.

Think EGG WHITES with a BAGEL, or some RICE CAKES topped with some banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon, a toast, or even with a white potato.

If you have a SENSITIVE stomach or are in a RUSH go with Whey Protein Isolate for your protein and a banana for your carb intake or you can even consider drinking a sports drink rich in carbohydrates and electrolytes.

How Much Should You Consume?


Remember to eat according to YOUR GOALS!

Is your goal to burn fat? Gain muscle? Maintain? What’s your body type? How is your metabolism? Do you work out early morning?

These are all factors to help you determine the exact number of nutrients you may need from your pre-workout meal.


I will use myself as an example, but please do not use these numbers for yourself as your needs may be completely different than mine.

Currently, my goal is to burn body fat and drop my body fat percentage. So in order, this accomplish this I need to be in a caloric deficient.

My current calorie intake is 1,700 Kcals based on my caloric needs my macronutrients are as follows:

CARBS: 160g                       FATS: 56g                             PROTEIN: 135g

*I am currently consuming 4-5 meals throughout the day, but I lean more on 4 meals on most days.

This equates to CARBS 160/4= 40g          FATS 56/4= 14g PROTEIN: 135/4= 34g, per meal

These macros fit perfectly as a pre-workout meal because I am able to eat a sufficient amount of carbs and protein. The only thing I would do is cut my fats in half (7g) and fit them into another meal.

An example of what I will eat to meet my macros and create an ideal pre-workout meal:

1 whole egg=                     0C           5F           6P           *.5g of Leucine per whole egg

5 egg whites=                    0C           0F           25P         *.3g of Leucine per egg white

2 Rice Cakes=                     16C         0F           2P

1 banana=                           27C         0F           0P

Total=                                   43C         5F           33P

And here is the ideal pre-workout meal for my goals. I don’t have a sensitive stomach so it works perfectly for me.

What if I am a Vegetarian?

If you are vegetarian consider sticking to lentils or beans for a pre-workout meal. Both of these sources are high in leucine containing a good amount of protein and carbs.

For example, 1 cup of lentils contains 2.6g of leucine, 18g of protein, 1g fat, and 40g of carbs. This makes a good pre-workout meal.

Although it is important to note that lentils are HIGH in fiber, 1 cup contains 16g of dietary fiber. This just means you will feel fuller for a longer period of time.

Infographic: create the perfect pre-workout mealà Best protein sources, Best Carb sources


The pre-workout meal has the ability to supply you with energy, initiate protein synthesis, and reduce the likelihood of losing muscle tissue. It has the ability to determine your overall training effectiveness. Think about it, more energy levels help you become more capable both physically and mentally thus helping you outperform each week.

With the correct balance of macronutrients, you can maximize the overall benefits of consuming a pre-workout meal. Of course, with the right nutrition plan and following these recommendations to create the best pre-workout meal, you are bound to make noticeable changes in both size and strength.





Hi, I'm Rosie and I am a wife, mother of 2, and a part-time employee. I am here to help inspire and encourage other women that also run on a busy schedule and share my personal fitness development and knowledge. Helping busy Mama's achieve their fitness goals even on a crazy busy schedule is my purpose.

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