Pre-Workout Nutrition – 4 Signs You’re Not Eating Enough

Ever gone to the gym, ready to put in a killer session in the squat rack, but your body just ain’t on the same page? Girl, it might be time to perfect your pre-workout nutrition.

Just like a car, your body needs fuel in the tank to keep you powering forward, through every workout. That fuel comes from the food you eat, and if you’re eating the wrong foods or not enough, you’ll start to feel the consequences in your performance.

The thing is, many of us are so focused on losing weight and restricting calories, we’re not eating enough before we head to the gym. Without even realizing it, we’re limiting how much we lift and how far we can push ourselves, because our pre-workout nutrition doesn’t give our body enough energy to go further.

The fact is, by eating the optimal amount before you head to the weights floor, you can maximize your performance and boost gains. To help you reach your full potential, we’ve identified all the key signs that you’re not eating enough before you work out.

Sign #1 You’ve performed better, but can’t seem to catch up

Woman about to do a deadlift with a weighted bar

One day you come in and smash out five sets of five bodyweight squats no problem. You leave the gym feeling like a bar-slayin’ girl-boss and you’re ready to take the weights up a notch next week. But when it comes to the next session, you just can’t seem to handle it any more.

What’s going on girl? Have you lost all your hard-earned gains?! Or is something wrong with your legs?! No girl, probably not.

The difference is likely to be the food you’ve eaten. Whether you’ve had an earlier lunch or smaller portions, without enough food in your system, your body won’t have the energy to hit your usual weights.

Aim to eat a good pre-workout meal or snack before you hit every session to keep your upwards trajectory on the rise.

Discover how much you should be eating with this guide to IIFYM flexible dieting.

Sign #2 You see stars and feel dizzy

Woman touching her head in the gym to indicate dizziness because of lack of pre-workout nutrition

If you tackle a high intensity workout without enough food in your body, your blood sugar levels can drop dramatically, which may leave you feeling dizzy. This is bad news because, if you reach this situation, you’re at risk of fainting. We don’t need to tell you how dangerous that is if you’re lifting weights.

If you start to feel dizzy, stop working out immediately. To get your blood sugar levels back up, eat a simple carbohydrate that will boost your levels quickly. Go for a banana or a fruit juice or smoothie. Wait until you feel energized again and try to eat another, more substantial snack before you get back to work.

Sign #3 You let your form slip or even become injured

Woman in the gym clutching her injured calf

If you’re working extra hard just to complete a lift you’d normally slay, something has to give. This can mean your form starts to slip just to make the weight, and that can put you on the fast track to injury.

If your blood sugar levels are very low you could even pass out. On top of this you’ll also be disorientated and confused, which could lead to simple mistakes, trips or even dropping weights. All of this could result in injury.

If you feel like you’ve made some of these mistakes or you don’t quite feel yourself when you’re at the gym, it’s time to take a look at your pre-workout nutrition.

Sign #4 Results are nowhere to be seen

Woman in the gym looking tired and frustrated at lack of results after a workout

If you’re going to the gym and putting your all into every workout, you expect to see the results to reflect that. To grow stronger and perform better, you need to give your body every chance to kill a workout. If you’re not eating enough, you’ll find your progress slows down dramatically.

This happens for two reasons. The first is, if your body doesn’t have enough food, it turns to other means to make energy and fuel your workout. It may start breaking down muscle to do this, which is the opposite of what you’re aiming for if you want to boost your strength.

The other reason you won’t be getting stronger is because your body is simply too tired and depleted to perform the reps you need to make gains. If there’s no fuel in the tank you ain’t going anywhere, girl.

On top of all that, if weight loss is your end goal, then you might notice you’re not seeing the results you’re hoping for. By not eating enough before a workout, it can mess up your metabolism, actually making it harder for you to lose weight.

Key Point: So, by eating more food and planning meals around your workout, you’ll have more energy, you’ll maintain muscle mass and give your metabolism a boost to burn more fat. Result, ladies.

Get more protein in your diet and check out our five favorite high protein snack recipes.

What should I be eating? – Pre-workout nutrition guidelines

Everyone is different and finding the right option for your pre-workout nutrition may take a little trial and error. But if you’re looking for ways to keep yourself energized and powered up, check out these pre-workout nutrition guidelines:

What to eat before a workout

Nailing your pre-workout nutrition is about more than just having a snack before you head to the gym. You need to know what foods you should be eating and how they affect your body as you work out.

We recommend basing your pre-workout snack around complex carbs and a healthy portion of protein. Complex carbs will give your body a slow release of energy that will power you through the toughest workouts. The protein will help to promote protein synthesis, so your body is primed to build muscle from the word go.

If you go for simple carbs, like sugary snacks you’ll get a spike of blood pressure and end up crashing pretty quickly. Not ideal if you’re planning to put in a couple of hours in the weights room.

Look out for these complex carbs when you’re planning your pre-workout nutrition:

  • Steel cut or rolled oats
  • Wholemeal bread or pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Sweet potato

When to eat your pre-workout food

A food clock indicating the times when a person will need to eat

Timing is key to pre-workout nutrition. You need to ensure you’re going in to a session with plenty of energy to get the most out of it.

If you’re eating a full meal, aim to eat it two to three hours before you plan to hit the weights. That way you should still be energized, without being overly full. Ever tried to strap on your lifting belt with a full stomach? Girl, it’s hard.

Plan your pre-workout nutrition like a pro, with this guide to the best pre-workout meals for muscle gains.

If you’re having a smaller snack, you should aim to eat it between 60-30 minutes before your session. This will give your body time to process the food, so you benefit from the energy boost in time for your workout.

How much should you eat?

It’s great having a pre-workout meal, but you need to ensure you’re eating enough overall. Both before you hit the gym and throughout the rest of the day. If you’re not taking on enough food you will struggle to grow stronger, your recovery periods will be longer and you’ll lack energy. Even if weight loss is your goal, you still need to eat enough to lose fat healthily and support your active lifestyle.

A very low calorie diet can actually force your body to break down muscle for energy. This means you may actually find it a lot harder to lose fat, as your metabolism will be significantly slower.

The best way to find out how much you should be eating is to find your Basal Metabolic Rate. You can determine this by your sex, height, age and weight. It’s essentially how many calories your body needs just to keep you alive. That means fueling your basic bodily functions like breathing and keeping your heart pumping.

After that, you need to adjust those calories to reflect how active you are. This finds your total daily energy expenditure. Someone who is more active will have a higher daily energy expenditure, so you need to think about that as you work out your calorie intake.

If you want to lose weight, lower your TDEE by around 15-20%. This should help you drop pounds at a healthy rate, so you can still hit the gym, feel energized and maintain a healthy lifestyle at the same time. Aim to hit that and time your workouts well and you should give your body enough energy to slay every workout and get the best results.

Final word

Eating before you hit a super intense workout is pretty essential girl. Not only will it help you work harder and get the most of your workout, it will put you on the fast track to seeing the results you’re after. From weight loss to muscle gain, nailing your pre-workout nutrition is key.

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