Why You Shouldn't Eat Protein Before a Workout

ice, coffee, flour, chocolate
Malia Budd

If you've ever found yourself getting cramped up or feeling bloated during a workout, it is likely because you're not eating the proper pre-workout snack or meal.  The first source of energy your body burns is carbohydrates, thus you should ensure this macronutrient is available prior to getting in the gym. Conversely, consuming solely high protein foods prior to exercising will make you feel less prepared for a kick-butt workout and make you want to tap out sooner than you would with proper nourishment.  This article isn't just going to tell you why you shouldn't eat too much protein before a workout;  It will give you the nutrient information you need in order for you to have a worthwhile workout.

The Ratios

beer, wine
Jessica Peyton

When trying to maximize strength and endurance in the gym, It is vital to pay attention to the fuel you're putting in your body.  It's important to pay attention to the ratios of macronutrients you're putting into your body.  Macronutrients are the nutrients that people need in larger quantities: fats, protein, carbohydrates and dietary fiber along with vitamins and minerals.

These ratios will shift depending on your activities for the day, your specific dietary needs, and your overall fitness.  Reading the nutrition label on your food is an important habit to form, especially if you're very active or concerned about your physical and mental health. 

Carbs are important for a quick source of sustainable energy, and are therefor great before a workout because you'll burn them off quickly.  On the other hand, people today often believe that fats are the enemy. However, fats are necessary for protecting your organs and for feeding the most important muscle in your body: your brain.

Finally, protein is designed for rebuilding muscle tissue and giving you those gains that you have been working for.  Although studies have linked protein consumption prior to workouts with positive results, such as increased strength, improved muscle recovery, and muscle growth, protein consumption post-work has proven more beneficial.   Additionally, consuming this macronutrient prior to a workout has been proven to cause discomfort . 

Pain Doesn't Always = Gains

Pain is your body's way of telling you, "please stop, I don't like this." When you're feeling any pain other than that nice burning sensation of your muscles getting stronger, that means your body is not appreciating your efforts. The core reason why you shouldn't eat protein before a workout is that it's too heavy and complicated of a nutrient for your body to break down while you're being active. If there is no easy energy (carbs) available for your body while you're working out, your body will resort to breaking down fats or proteins. Since protein takes longer to break down due to their higher complexity, the energy won't be ready in sufficient time for your body to keep up with your intense workout.  

What Should I Eat?

strawberry, quinoa, banana
Walker Foehl

You're finally an adult and can eat whatever you want! Well, sort of... Like mentioned above, ratios are imperative to pay close attention to when you're conscientious about your health.  Some examples of good high carb with lower calories include things like sweet potatoes, oatmeal with brown sugar or agave, bananas, rice, dried fruit, low-fat yogurt, apples, quinoa, and blueberries. 

Just because your pre-workout meal should have easily broken down carbs does not mean you should eat a giant bowl of sugary cereal. Get creative and make a pre-workout energy bowl with quinoa, diced sweet potatoes, slices apples, raisins, and blueberries, or add fruit to your oatmeal. 

Disclaimer- Don't take this as encouragement to go eat any processed carbs that you want.  It's always wise to stay away from processed foods, as they offer your body little to no nutrients.  Also be sure to limit your fiber intake if you plan on getting exercise later on in the day which can cause discomfort as well.

The Bottom Line

wine, beer, Lifting, Weights, gym, Biceps
Carolyne Su

Including all of the macronutrients in your diet is important for a healthy lifestyle.  Paying attention to your activity level and energy consumption is imperative for an overall healthy lifestyle. Protein is most efficiently used by your body as a post workout reward- be proud of yourself for being active!  Carbs are better to eat before getting exercise at a gym, hiking or biking around the neighborhood. 

Why you shouldn't eat protein before a workout is that it's overall effect is more positive if you save it for post workout.  As for healthy fats, they should also be avoided pre workout due to their complexity.  It's not as necessary to consume fats right after your workout as it is to consume protein.  Just because something is titled a "fat" or a "carb" does not always mean that they should be avoided like the plague. All essential nutrients have their place of when to consume them in order to get the most out of them.