What should you eat before a workout? Today we’re discussing the best pre-workout meal for weight gain: what they need, some great examples, and why you should focus on them.
The main lesson will be to take your workout nutrition seriously, but we’ll also cover the practical stuff you need to get started.
Let’s start by asking why – why does your pre-workout meal matter?
Why Should You Eat A Pre Workout Meal?
You should eat a pre-workout meal because it provides the energy and nutrients your body needs for a good workout.
The right food choices can improve your workout, support your recovery, and drive up better muscle and fat responses to your exercise.
Energy from food is essential to fuel your muscles for workouts. Carbs, in particular, are absorbed quickly to turn into energy in muscles for workouts.
They also provide the “back-up” store of glycogen in the liver, which is key for pushing harder for longer.
This energy is measured in calories – and the more you eat, the more weight you can gain. This makes a pre-workout meal a good way to build a conscious, deliberate, planned meal for more calories and other nutrients.
Weight gain diets need plenty of calories – especially to provide energy for intense and prolonged exercise.
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1. Carbohydrates Support Workout Energy and Performance
Carbs from foods like white rice, potato, and fruits are great for pre workout meals. They drive up energy levels and your body’s internal “energy counter”, helping you fight off fatigue and keep performance high during your workouts.
This also helps support muscles during weight training and endurance, preventing muscle breakdown. This is key to protecting your important tissues and ensuring that they’re protected – but also shifts the burning of tissues towards fats and the carbs you just ate.
By maintaining heightened energy levels, you even provide the muscles and other tissues with basic growth-support. This energy is key to building more tissues after workouts and a good pre-workout meal keeps you energized into your post-workout meal, supporting better recovery and growth.
2. Protein Protects And Repairs Muscles
Protein from meat, dairy, or even protein powder can offer the building blocks of muscle. These are great for supporting energy (as they also boost insulin function) and support muscles during – and after – workouts.
This means less muscle damage and loss, better recovery, and access to the amino acids your body needs to build muscle.
Protein in the pre-workout meal isn’t as important as post-workout protein. It’s secondary to carbs before a workout, but more important afterwards. Protein and carb co-ingestion is just the best way to take both, boosting total effect and giving your body tons of energy and resources.
Proteins that are high in the branched chain amino acids Leucine and Isoleucine are even more useful – as they support growth and muscle-protection, respectively. This means even less muscle damage and even more potential for growth.
If you take your pre-workout meal with caffeine – like a black coffee – you’ll find even better results. Amino acids in protein like theanine and tryptophan have interactions with caffeine that help you get the most from it (perfect for combining with carbs, too!).
3. Salts Prevent Cramp And Muscle Damage
Electrolytes are the most important minerals for your body’s basic functions in exercise – making them a key part of a pre-workout meal. They maintain hydration and control the health and damage of muscles during and after exercise.
The most obvious is sodium, which you sweat out in large quantities and need to replace. This is paired with potassium and, together, they control the hydration of cells and organs. This makes them key to preventing dehydration-stress and damage to cells (and maybe even muscle growth).
Less-popular salts like magnesium and calcium are also key. These are important for controlling muscle contraction, which is obviously important for workouts!
These salts also modulate the amount of muscle damage and soreness you experience – so supplementing magnesium is a great choice.
Wholegrains are high in all of these electrolytes, while other sources like dairy and meats are also suitable. These are great for maintaining workout performance and supporting your recovery and muscle gains before you even start exercising!
What Should You Have In A Pre-Workout Meal?
A good pre-workout meal only needs 3 things: carbohydrates, protein, and electrolytes. These are the most important workout-supporting compounds for better overall. You can combine carb and protein sources to get all 3 of these essential nutrients for your workout.
- Carbs: simple starches and sugars from foods like bananas, bread, and wholegrains
- Protein: digestively comfortable protein sources like yogurt, protein powder, and others (roughly 1/3 of carbs)
- Electrolytes: a high-salt source from meat or carbs, or a specific addition like nuts, seeds, or veg
You should focus on filling these 3 categories when designing a pre-workout meal. This is also the best time of day for high-sugar, simple starch foods – making it one of the most enjoyable meals of the day, if you’ve got a sweet tooth!
Focus on fast-absorbing foods that you know are going to be comfortable in your stomach. The last thing you want is a heavy food that sits there and won’t digest.
You should match the digestion time of a food to the time before workouts – and use heavier, slower foods earlier in the day, away from workouts.
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The Best Pre Workout Meals For Weight Gain
The best pre-workout meals for weight gain offer carbs and protein, but are also simple and time-tested. We’re using examples with yogurt and fruit, breads, and other staple foods so you can start experimenting with your own ingredient choices!
All of these meals will be effective and we’re ranking them in two groups: rapid and medium digesting foods.
These are great for anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes before a workout, and provide just about everything your body needs to perform at its best and gain muscle mass.
1. Yogurt and Fruit / Honey / Granola
Yogurt is one of the most comfortable and digestible sources of protein on the market. A low-fat Greek yogurt will provide carbs and protein, making it the best pre-workout meal for weight gain.
Typically, you want to combine yogurt with fruit, honey, and/or granola.
Any of these choices – or all of them – provide fantastic carb sources for a fast-absorbing pre-workout meal. You can also add protein powder if you have a flavor you like, and want to build a high-protein meal.
2. Acai Bowl
Acai bowls are high in sugar, starch, vitamins, and minerals. They’re amazing for basic pre-workout carbs and will be super-fast absorbing while still sitting comfortably in the stomach.
They’re perfect for morning workouts where you need to fuel up and leave in a short space of time.
You can add granola and other carbs here, or a little protein powder for a better carb:protein ratio. It’s a simple carb option for great workouts.
3. Bread Products And Toppings
Almost every bread product is a simple carbohydrate, especially if you avoid wholegrain or nut-and-seed loaves. Other options are even better – like bagels, which pack a perfect ratio of carbs and protein for pre-workout meals.
You can add scrambled eggs with spinach for a perfect pre-workout nutrient profile. These take a little longer to digest and absorb, so give yourself 2 loaded bagels 60-90 minutes before a workout for the best results.
Other options like pitas and tortilla wraps with meat, veg, cheeses, or other simple ingredients also work well.
4. Beef And Rice
If you’ve got 60-90 minutes before a workout, the combination of seasoned beef mince and white rice is a classic pre-workout meal for weight gain.
It’s a simple combination but packed with important carbs, proteins, and electrolytes for exercise.
You can throw in your favorite veg in a pan – add a little soy sauce and edamame, perhaps – and you’re good to go. It’s not revolutionary, but it does work well.
5. Chicken and Carbs: A Template Meal
Chicken and carbs is a basic meal template that you can use. A small chicken pasta, wrap, chicken and couscous, whatever. It’s a template that works and always has – with variations based on personal preferences.
Again, this is a 60-90 minute absorption so don’t rush yourself. These will provide a simple but effective meal if you have a little time before training.
Remember that this is a carb-focused meal, too, and you want protein from chicken to provide around ⅓ to ¼ of your total intake.
6. Beans, Lentils, And Other Pulses
Beans and legumes of all types are perfect for pre-training meals. The only problem is they can sit heavily in the digestive system, so you want 60-90 minutes (ideally towards the upper end) before workout.
That said, lentils, beans, pulses, and legumes all offer great combinations of proteins, carbs, and electrolytes. Even the humble baked bean is a contender for one of the best pre-workout foods of all time, if you combine it with a bread or potato.
Dal might be a bit fancy for a pre-workout meal, but if you have the time or have prepped, it’s the perfect vegetarian pre-workout meal. You can adjust your calorie, carb, and protein ratios with a little extra bread.
Checkout some natural pre workout alternatives here.
Conclusion: Our Final Thoughts
Pre workout meals are a perfect way to improve weight gain. They improve your actual calorie intake, as well as carbs and protein, and can support better workouts to drive up muscle growth – key to weight gain quality.
We’ve outlined some of the most important considerations that will help you build the best pre-workout meals for weight gain.
They’re only templates, and you can expand on them in your own ways with a wide range of ingredients and combinations.
The important thing is to start planning and thinking about your pre-workout meal.
Don’t forget to checkout the Transparent Labs Bulk pre workout review.
Whatever time of day you work out, the key for all of us is to take these meals more seriously and use them to contribute to better weight gain and muscle growth.
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Rohan Arora is a Certified Personal Trainer and Sports Nutritionist and has been actively involved in sports and fitness for over 8 years. He now leads the team of fitness specialists and personal trainers who help people around the world with personalized workout and nutrition plans, along with providing the right information on sports supplements.