Here we take a look at the importance of the pre workout meal in your efforts to gain weight and build muscle.
I'll explain exactly what you should be eating, what you shouldn't be eating, and when to actually eat it.
Before hitting the gym you need to provide your body with the right nutrients to maximize energy, strength, mental focus, and to prevent any potential muscle loss.
First things first, you need to be properly hydrated. Even though you should be drinking water steadily throughout the day, make sure that you drink some in the few hours leading up to your workout. If your workout is early in the morning, soon after waking up, just drink some water just after rising.
Now, with your pre workout meal, you should eat it at least 45 minutes before starting your workout so your food has time to settle.
The first component of the meal is protein. Eating enough protein will keep your body in an anabolic state during your workout to reduce muscle breakdown. I recommend consuming 30-40 grams of quality protein in your pre workout meal. If you can, try to get your protein from whey protein and casein. You can achieve this easily by mixing 25-30 grams of whey protein in 300-400ml of skim milk.
Whey protein makes for a great pre-workout choice because it is naturally high in BCAA's, which help to prevent muscle catabolism during your workout. Mixing your whey with milk is a good idea because this will slow down the release of the protein and provide your body with a steady stream of amino acids throughout your workout.
The reason whey protein is a great choice for pre-workout is because it's naturally high in Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's). BCAA's will help to prevent muscle breakdown during your workout. Also, mixing the whey protein with skim milk is a sound idea because this will slow down the release of the protein to give a steady stream of energy to your body throughout the workout.
The other part of effective pre workout nutrition is eating the right types of carbohydrates. Low glycemic carbohydrates are what you need as they provide a steady stream of energy to the body.
High glycemic carbohydrates are what you need to avoid before an intense workout. They are rapidly released in your bloodstream and your body will release a surge of insulin to try and level out your bloody sugar levels. This results in a quick rise of energy, then followed by a quick fall. This will leave you tired and weak, which is the last thing you want to happen during an intense workout.
So avoid high glycemic carbs and make sure to eat low glycemic carbs for your pre workout meal. Some good choices are apples, oatmeal, low fat yoghurt, low fat milk and wheat bread. These low glycemic carbohydrates will give you a solid stream of energy.
Summing it Up
Your pre-workout meal shouldn't be too large or take too close to your workout that you feel sick during your session. On the other hand, you shouldn't ever skip this meal as working out on an empty stomach is bad news for your strength and energy, and it could even break down your muscle mass.
So to sum it all up, an effective pre-training meal could look like this:
Don't Forget Your Creatine
Also, if you are supplementing with creatine, which I recommend to many guy's to maximize your strength in the gym and therefore your overall gains, you'll want to take it a little after your pre-workout meal (when you're less full) and roughly 15-30 minutes before hitting your first training set.
Hopefully this article has helped, but always remember to never get stuck in research land. Information is great, but what's infinitely more important and the only thing that actually matters to get results and change your life is to be hitting the gym week in week out, with a properly-structured, intelligently-crafted (based on science-backed principles) and overall well-balanced strength training and nutrition plan to effetcively build muscle as a skinny guy (AKA a lifting hardgainer). When you have a great program used by other successful hardgainers that have gone before you, you can't go wrong if you simply stick with it.
But here's the thing:
You don't just randomly stumble upon a highly-effective program that's designed specifically for hardgainers by simply browsing a popular fitness magazine, site, or forum (or asking your average run of the mill personal trainer at a local gym who is highly likely to be just repeating the same old ineffective, incomplete mainstream advice they learned in the classroom). No, instead, to create the best weight training and nutrition program for maximum results, you must be a little more selective in the program you choose to follow.
So, here are the 3 different paths you can take to guarantee you follow a finely-tuned, effective program that will leave nothing to chance and give you the best muscle building and strength gains of your life (again, if you simply execute and don't quit after a mere week 'cause you don't notice a change...).
See our flagship 7-step introductory guide to building muscle for beginners which covers all the basics you need to know, and guides you through designing and creating an effective program for muscle gain without getting fat. If you don't want to spend any money buying a pre-made program or finding a (good) personal trainer, and/or you're the DIY type who enjoys researching every little detail and knowing about how everything works and fits together, this is probably the path for you if you have the patience.
If you don't want to take the time to plan your own natural bodybuilding plan from scratch, following an already made, high-quality, credible program from a true expert in this field can save you a ton of time.
It can give you a great head start on your transformation journey and makes things a whole lot simpler as it's simply a matter of understanding what the program involves, how to do perform all the exercises, how to execute on the included meal plans (taking into account your own perferences as you'll want to tweak any pre-made diet plan for your own needs), and then simply executing week in and week out.
Sean Nal's popular hardgainer program is the one I currently recommend most, as it's the most complete, easy to follow program for beginners that I've seen (and I've experimented with many over the years). It's also the exact program that initially changed everything for me and I owe a fair part of my overall hardgainer success (going from 132lbs/60kg to 220lbs/100kg - mostly muscle) to being fortunate enough to having stumbled upon this program when I was struggling with gaining weight and building muscle. See my full review of Sean Nal's program here.
Path C: Find a (Good) In-Person Trainer
This isn't for everyone though as a quality trainer who knows what they're doing, and most importantly has got great results themselves (ideally starting out in similar shoes to you) can be quite costly. This is the path you should probably really consider if you have any type of serious injury though.
Whichever path you choose, never forget the single most important thing: never give up, and your success in transforming your body, strength, health, posture, and self-confidence will simply be a matter of when, not if. I'd say good luck, but if you really understand that last sentence, you're not gonna need it, friend. I wish you nothing but success.
Mad-Scientist of Hardgainer-to-Hero Transformations for 12+ Years
Last and Definitely Least: Certified Fitness Instructor (real-world experience > school)