Pre-Workout Fuel No-Nos and “Yes, Please”

Lee Anna McGuire Article

You’re diligent about carving out time and energy to work out, but are you kicking your workouts or are your workouts kicking you?

Think about it: Who doesn’t want to get the most out of their workouts? No one has time for anything less. Obviously, you want every squat, deadlift and crunch to count. You’re not spending hours in the gym just to see lackluster results.

That’s where proper pre-workout fuel can help because what you consume before your workout can be directly connected to your results after your workout.

But what is pre-workout fuel and why does it matter? In short, they’re nutrients that can give the boost necessary for a more effective workout, and can deliver more energy to push through, better focus to remain lasered in on what you want to accomplish, and boost your performance.

All that said, here are some pre-workout fueling foods, herbs, nutrients, and ingredients to avoid and some to consider:

“No-No” List:

High-glycemic or simple carbs (which turn to sugar): Many foods and pre-workout shakes, bars or drinks lack the fuel the body requires for optimal performance.

Instead of real-food energy, they can be filled with unhealthy carbs and processed white sugar. While the “sugar rush” may give a quick high, the resulting crash is almost inevitable. As blood sugar spikes and then tries to return to normal, both blood sugar and metabolism can get out of whack and muscles can be starved of proper fuel.

In other words, those ingredients are not just nutritionally sub-optimal, but they can also derail the results desired from workouts.

Over-the-top caffeine levels: A common ingredient in pre-workout supplements is caffeine—over-the-top caffeine, that is. Sometimes, there’s 100mg, 200mg or even 300mg of caffeine (or more).

That’s a whopping three times the amount in a typical cup of coffee! While a small amount of caffeine can be helpful, too much can be a problem. It can lead to jitters, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), sleeplessness and more.

A better option is organic coffee, organic coffee berry or green coffee bean extract in reasonable amounts, not out-of-control caffeine levels.

Dimethylamylamine: Dimethylamylamine can be found in some pre-workout options, but it’s a stimulant that can increase the heart rate, and comes along with a host of warnings and red flags, so, obviously, it’s one to avoid.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of some foods or ingredients to look out for, but these are some key ones that should be on your radar.

That being said, here are some foods and nutrients to include for your pre-workout fuel, including foods full of natural energizers such as vitamin B12, greens, electrolytes and more.

“Yes, Please” List:

Vitamin B12: Known as the “memory vitamin,” vitamin B12 is required in the brain for mental clarity. It can help you in the fight against stress and boost overall neurological function and health. Additionally, vitamin B12 helps create the sleep hormone melatonin, the “feel good” hormone serotonin, and is part of proper red blood cell formation. Plus, it’s also water soluble, meaning it should be replenished regularly, if not daily. You’ll also want to look for the methylcobalamin form of B12, which is the highly absorbable, active, natural form of B12—like the B12 in the body. Some foods naturally high in B12 include wild salmon, grass-fed beef, organic chicken, organic turkey and cage-free eggs.

Greens generally have a rich concentration of phytonutrients and chlorophyll, but they can also be energizing and provide healthy sources of amino acids, potassium, magnesium and calcium (electrolyte minerals) as well as vitamins A, D, E and K. Cereal grasses, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, collard greens and other greens are good choices.

Electrolyte-rich goodness:
Electrolytes are minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium in the body that have an electric charge. Electrolytes are in the blood, body fluids and more, and keeping electrolytes balanced in the body help its muscle action, blood chemistry and other functions. For example, potassium is a great electrolyte to have before exercising, especially if you sweat a lot. Some great sources of electrolytes include bone broth, coconut water and, once again, those amazing greens.

Herbs such as Ashwagandha: Herbs can be a great addition to your pre-workout regimen. Take ashwagandha, for instance. Not all ashwagandha is the same, of course, but generally, ashwagandha can help boost muscle strength, endurance, stamina, overall athletic performance, muscle recovery rate, help with maintaining a healthy weight and so much more—all important for a strong workout.

NO Processed Sugar: This is an important one. You don’t need or want processed sugar in your pre-workout protocol. Period. So, choose fueling foods such as low-sugar fruits and veggies, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, bone broth, coconut water, greens and others for natural energy.

Here’s to pre-workout fueling foods and more for energizing, effective workouts!