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Pre-Workout Nutrition - Part Two


In this short series we have are looking at what to eat before workouts and competitions to make sure that you get your best after every session. In the last blog we talked about what supplements to consider before a workout/competition. This blog is going to look at what (if anything) you should eat before exercise, in particularly relating to carbohydrates.

It depends (again)

One of the things a lot of our blogs have talked about is how subjects are not black and white. It is exactly the same for pre-workout nutrition. There is no blanket recommendation that can be made for everyone or for every situation. A rugby player will have different pre-workout/game requirements to a marathon runner and they’ll both have different requirements to someone looking to lose weight. In the same way, the person looking to lose weight might need different advice depending on whether they are doing resistance or endurance training (or both), if they are training first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon etc. So, with all this in mind, the guidelines below are general and will not apply to everyone all of the time.

Food to fuel?

For a long time it has been recommended that you have adequate levels of carbohydrate in the body in order to fuel the exercise. However, over the last few years this view has begun to change. For example, more and more research is emerging which shows that performing endurance exercise with lower carbohydrate stores during training may result in greater adaptations from that training1. It is important here though to distinguish between training and competition. In training we want to cause adaptation (we want to change for the better). In competition, we want to perform to our highest standard. For example, going for a run in the morning before breakfast might result in better training adaptations but the session will feel a lot harder. If you have ever tried a session like this before then you will quickly realise why this may not be the best way to go into a competition.


For the majority of sports, the major fuel source is carbohydrate, therefore when you are competing, it is important to ensure that adequate carbohydrate stores are available. An International Olympic Committee recommendation states that, “A high carbohydrate diet in the days before competition will help enhance performance, particularly when exercise lasts longer than about 60 min”. Instead of a high carbohydrate diet, it may be more appropriate to recommend an adequate carbohydrate diet. Emerging research from Liverpool John Moores University has suggested that the carbohydrate demands of a rugby game may not be as high as previously thought and so rugby players may not have to load up on as much on carbohydrates the day before and on the day of competition as previously thought.

Food for fat loss

Morning cardio before breakfast has been a method used by various athletes for decades to help them lose weight. The theory is that morning cardio burns more fat when done in a fasted state compared to after eating.  However, a recent study put this myth to bed when it showed that when everything else is equal, groups of people lost the same amount of weight and body fat whether they performed the cardio in a fasted or non-fasted state 2. Does this mean you’d be wasting your time doing the exercise in a fasted state? Maybe not, it is important to remember that this study made everything else equal, including how much food each participant ate during the whole day. In real life this is not always the case. For some people, eating before a morning workout adds an extra meal to their daily intake. So, if these people then began exercising in a fasted state, without replacing that meal later on, they are eating less over a 24 hour period. So, while it may not be because you are burning more fat during the session, for some people, morning cardio in a fasted state may lead to more weight loss.


When it comes to carbohydrates, the simplest advice is to make sure you have adequate amounts before taking part in exercise or competition. The amount will vary from person to person and for each specific situation. However, if you have got an early morning training session, it is not the end of the world if you don’t have time to eat before (and it might even be more beneficial for endurance athletes). If you do opt for morning sessions before breakfast but are finding them too tough then try a small black coffee before.



1)    Bartlett, J. D., Hawley, J. A., & Morton, J. P. (2014). Carbohydrate availability and exercise training adaptation: Too much of a good thing?. European journal of sport science, (ahead-of-print), 1-10.

2)    Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A. A., Wilborn, C. D., Krieger, J. W., & Sonmez, G. T. (2014). Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 54.