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 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 and well-balanced strength training and nutrition plan that's based on actual scientific principles of building muscle mass (not bro science like you'll see practically everywhere you look online).
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 mainstream bodybuilding/fitness magazine, site, or forum (or asking your average run of the mill trainer at a local gym who is highly likely to be just repeating the same old ineffective, incomplete mainstream advice they learned in a classroom).
To truly build that strong, ripped, lean muscular body that you want - and to not just leave it to chance and hope/pray that you'll get results - your training and eating program needs to be solid. Otherwise, you'll be wasting a ton of time in the gym for little return, which is unfortunately what happens to most guys who start hitting the gym as they eventually start spinning their wheels and getting nowhere due to a lack of knowledge and awareness of what actually works most effectively.
So the question remains, how do you ensure you're implementing an effective bulking program that will 100% get you the results you seek? You basically have three paths to take here, so choose whichever fits your situation best.
Path A: Design Your Own Effective Bulking Program (Recommended for Some Beginners & Intermediates)
If you're the patient type who also likes to know how every little detail works, and are willing to spend the time and effort necessary to study the most effective muscle building training and nutrition strategies out there right now to strategically piece together the best information that you find from credible sources to sculpt your own custom bulking program, consider the DIY path of creating your own program from scratch.
However, if you're a beginner, or intermediate lifter who hasn't been getting the results you want, you'll want to make sure that you get your advice from sources and people who understand what it's like to gain muscle starting out as a skinny hardgainer, which is a different beast compared to building muscle as a more naturally bigger guy with more favourable genetics. You also ideally want someone more experienced to look over your program just in case, because there are various things you could miss or do wrong, such as creating an imbalanced program that will lead to posture issues, muscular imbalances, or worse (injuries).
Up for the challenge? To get started planning your own muscle building program from scratch check out our full introduction to building muscle mass as a hardgainer which covers some important basic principles, strategies, and tips.
Path B: Follow A Proven Time-Tested Bulking Program (Recommended for Most Beginners)
If instead of creating your own program from scratch you'd rather follow an already-made complete program that has been proven to work for others in your shoes (ie skinny hardgainers) this is the path for you. Spending the few bucks to get your hands on a well-crafted, respected program that's specifically been designed with hardgainers in mind can really save you time and effort having to design your own program, and it ensures you don't miss out on the various important details that makes a good program.
This is what I'd recommend if you're just starting out or quite inexperienced in the gym, as you'll get off on the right foot to kick-start great results. Although this is also a smart path for intermediates, because if you've been training for a while and not getting great results, getting your hands on a fresh new program created by a natural bodybuilding expert could be the game-changer you need to spark the best results of your life. Sean Nal's Body Transformation Blueprint Program is currently the most comprehensive, polished bulking program for beginners on the market, and is the program that actually helped me the most when I first started out as a newbie so I can't recommend it highly enough if you're new and wanting to all but guarantee great results over the next few months and beyond.
There are other good premade mass gain programs out there that were created specifically (and scientifically) for hardgainers, but there's also a lot of overpriced, overly-marketed and low-quality programs that you should avoid out there so be on your toes when looking for the right program to follow to avoid wasting your money. I've personally used a ton of different programs and I compiled the best, highest-quality ones that I can comfortably recommend in my list of the best comprehensive bulking programs for hardgainers here.
Path C: Find a (Good) In-Person Trainer
This isn't going to be for everyone 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 consider if you have any type of injury or health problem, or obviously if you have the money to burn and want someone to carefully monitor what you're doing in the gym and be able to give you specific feedback.
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)