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17 Best Pre-Workout Meals for Fast Muscle Gain and Energy

weight management expert
Last updated on December 5, 2022
Best pre-workout meals for muscle gain - featured.

People who don’t eat the right pre-workout meals are likely to suffer from many negative effects, such as lack of energy during training sessions, less muscle growth, increased recovery time, feelings of hunger throughout workouts, and even potential muscle loss.

Not many things are worse than feeling drained of energy before an intense workout.

To optimize your pre-exercise diet for muscle gain, you need to eat the best kinds of pre-workout meals for muscle gain, which are made of foods and drinks that will maximize energy, performance, and muscle growth while eliminating hunger and enhancing recovery.

Contents

List of pre-workout meals for muscle gain

Generally, to build muscle in the most efficient way, you should eat pre-workout meals of a small or medium size that contain mostly carbs and proteins while not having too many stomach-filling fats and fibers.

Before putting together a list of pre-workout meals for muscle gain, we researched tens of scientific papers that studied what kind of food you should have before training.

Below are 17 of the best meals you can eat before working out ordered by the time you should eat them to maximize muscle gain.

Meals to eat 30 minutes before workouts

Below are 11 pre-workout meals that will improve your ability to gain muscle if eaten 30 minutes before working out.

List of pre-workout meals for muscle gain to eat 30 minutes before workouts.

1. Nonfat Greek yogurt with fruits

Nonfat Greek yogurt with fruits (pineapple, bananas, dried goji berries), one of the best pre-workout meals.

When to eat: 30 minutes before workout

Protein: 31-36 g

Carbs: 42-46 g

A pre-workout meal made of nonfat Greek yogurt and fruits will help you gain muscle because it has plenty of proteins, contains many energizing carbs, is not filling, and carries almost zero fats.

The main protein source of the meal is nonfat Greek yogurt.

The main carbohydrate sources of the meal are fruits. Some fruits with a lot of carbs that go well with yogurt are bananas, pineapple, and dried goji berries.

Go for bananas or pineapple if your upcoming workout is short but intense because these two fruits have a higher glycemic index, which means they’ll release energy faster.

Otherwise, goji berries, because they have a low glycemic index, are better for endurance workouts.

Furthermore, this fruity meal is not going to fill you up because it’s low in fiber. Also, this meal is easily digestible because it’s low in fats.

Ingredients
  • 300 g (3/4 cup) nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1 large (136 g) banana, or 8.8 oz (250 g) pineapple, or 7 tbsp (40 g) dried goji berries
Nutrition facts for nonfat Greek yogurt with bananas
  • Weight: 436 g (15.4 oz)
  • Calories: 298
  • Proteins: 32 g
  • Carbs: 42 g
  • Fibers: 4 g
  • Fats: 1.5 g
Nonfat Greek yogurt with bananas - pre-workout meal.
Nutrition facts for nonfat Greek yogurt with pineapple
  • Weight: 550 g (19.4 oz)
  • Calories: 327
  • Proteins: 31 g
  • Carbs: 46 g
  • Fibers: 2.25 g
  • Fats: 1.5 g
Nonfat Greek yogurt with pineapple - pre-workout meal.
Nutrition facts for nonfat Greek yogurt with dried goji berries
  • Weight: 340 g (12 oz)
  • Calories: 317
  • Proteins: 36 g
  • Carbs: 42 g
  • Fibers: 5.2 g
  • Fats: 1 g
Nonfat Greek yogurt with dried goji berries - pre-workout meal.

2. Canned tuna with mixed rice

Canned tuna mixed with white and brown rice, one of the best pre-workout meals.

When to eat: 30 minutes before workout

Protein: 28 g

Carbs: 54 g

A pre-workout meal made of tuna (canned in water) and two types of rice, white and brown, will help you build muscle because it is rich in proteins, has many energy-filled carbohydrates, harbors extremely low amounts of fat, and is not going to make you feel full during training.

The main protein source of the meal is canned tuna, which is essentially a high-protein food.

The main carbohydrate source of the meal is the mix of white and brown rice. This blend of rice types with different glycemic indexes will help you stay filled with energy from the start to the end of your workout.

Besides, this meal is not going to be heavy on your stomach because it’s low in fiber and fats.

Tip: don’t forget to add lemon juice and some veggies to the meal to bring juiciness and a better overall taste.

Ingredients
  • 120 g (4.2 oz) canned tuna (in water)
  • 100 g (2/3 cup) cooked white rice
  • 100 g (2/3 cup) cooked brown rice
  • 15 ml (1 tbsp or 0.5 fl oz) lemon juice
  • Some vegetables (optional)
Nutrition facts
  • Weight: 320 g (11.3 oz)
  • Calories: 355
  • Proteins: 28 g
  • Carbs: 54 g
  • Fibers: 2 g
  • Fats: 2 g

3. Chicken breast with white rice and vegetables

Broiled chicken breast with white rice and mixed vegetables, one of the best pre-workout meals.

When to eat: 30 minutes before workout

Protein: 38 g

Carbs: 50 g

Since chicken is an excellent food to include in muscle-building pre-workout meals, it combines wonderfully with some energizing but easily digestible white rice and some vitamin-filled mixed vegetables.

The main protein source of the meal is broiled chicken breast.

The main carbohydrate source of the meal is white rice.

Because in this meal you eat white rice, which has a high glycemic index, you should use this meal to fuel yourself for short workouts rather than long, endurance-based ones.

Also, this staple bodybuilding meal made of chicken, rice, and veggies won’t make you feel full because it’s low in fiber and fats.

Ingredients
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) broiled chicken breast
  • 150 g (1 cup) cooked white rice
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) mixed vegetables
Nutrition facts
  • Weight: 350 g (12.3 oz)
  • Calories: 455
  • Proteins: 38 g
  • Carbs: 50 g
  • Fibers: 4 g
  • Fats: 4 g

4. Pork tenderloin with sweet potatoes and beans

Roasted pork tenderloin with sweet potatoes and beans, one of the best pre-workout meals for muscle gain.

When to eat: 30 minutes before workout

Protein: 38 g

Carbs: 50 g

A pre-workout meal made of roasted pork tenderloin and two carb sources, sweet potatoes and beans, will help you gain muscle because it has many proteins, plenty of carbohydrates, and only small amounts of fat and fibers, which means you won't feel full during training.

The main protein source of the meal is the roasted pork tenderloin but beans bring a fair share as well.

The main carbohydrate sources of the meal are boiled sweet potatoes and boiled white beans.

Since boiled sweet potatoes have low-to-medium glycemic index (GI) values, and boiled white beans have a low GI value, they will release a slow stream of energy into your body over a prolonged time.

Therefore, this pre-workout meal is especially good for workouts extended over a longer period of time.

Ingredients
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) roasted pork tenderloin
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) boiled sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 cup (100 g or 3.5 oz) boiled white beans
Nutrition facts
  • Weight: 300 g (10.6 oz)
  • Calories: 358
  • Proteins: 37 g
  • Carbs: 43 g
  • Fibers: 6 g
  • Fats: 4 g

5. Cottage cheese omelette with whole grain bread

Cottage cheese omelette with whole grain bread, one of the best pre-workout meals for muscle gain.

When to eat: 30 minutes before workout

Protein: 41 g

Carbs: 43 g

Although it’s fattier than other pre-workout meals, the cottage cheese omelette served with whole grain bread is still a meal that helps you gain muscle because it has 2 different protein sources and plenty of energizing carbohydrates while being low in fiber.  

The main protein sources of the meal are cottage cheese and the omelette.

The main carbohydrate source of the meal is whole-grain bread.

Moreover, since whole grain bread has a medium glycemic index value, it makes this pre-workout meal good for both short and endurance workouts.

Regarding fats, most of the fat content of the meal comes from the omelette. The meal, however, is not a high-fat one since it has only 6 g of fat per 100 g.

High-fat meals, according to the UK National Health Service’s facts about fat, have over 17.5 g of fat per 100 g.[1]

Ingredients
  • 150 g (5.3 oz) low-fat cottage cheese
  • Omelette from 2 large (122 g) eggs
  • 2 large slices (82 g or 2.9 oz) of whole-grain bread
Nutrition facts
  • Weight: 354 g (12.5 oz)
  • Calories: 529
  • Proteins: 40 g
  • Carbs: 43 g
  • Fibers: 6 g
  • Fats: 21 g

6. High-calorie nutrition bar with nonfat Greek yogurt

High-calorie nutrition bar with nonfat Greek yogurt, one of the best pre-workout meals for muscle gain.

When to eat: 30 minutes before workout

Protein: 44 g

Carbs: 47 g

A high-calorie nutrition bar and a nonfat Greek yogurt make for a fast snack-like pre-workout meal that will boost your muscle-gaining efforts because it’s filled with proteins and carbs while not having too many fibers and fats.

Pick healthy nutritional bars from our list of high-calorie bars. Try to choose the ones with lower amounts of fat and a higher quantity of protein, like the Cashew Cookie Dough Shanti Bar.

Both of the ingredients in this pre-workout meal, respectively the high-calorie protein bar and lean Greek yogurt, are good sources of protein.

The main carbohydrate source of the meal is the high-calorie bar.

Most of the fat content of the meal comes from the high-calorie bar.

Ingredients
  • 100 g (1 2/3 bars) Cashew Cookie Dough Shanti Bar
  • 150 g (5.3 oz) nonfat Greek yogurt
Nutrition facts
  • Weight: 250 g (8.8 oz)
  • Calories: 503
  • Proteins: 44 g
  • Carbs: 47 g
  • Fibers: 12 g
  • Fats: 18 g

7. Chickpeas, avocado, spinach salad with Greek yogurt

Chickpeas, avocado, spinach salad with Greek yogurt, one of the best pre-workout meals for muscle gain.

When to eat: 30 minutes before workout

Protein: 41 g

Carbs: 45 g

If you’re looking for a green pre-workout meal to support your muscle growth, you won’t regret combining chickpeas, avocado, and spinach into a salad covered by a dressing based on nonfat Greek yogurt.

Chickpeas, avocado, and spinach, given their contents full of carbohydrates and micronutrients, will energize and vitaminize your body, getting it ready for your workout.

Also, don’t neglect the importance of the nonfat Greek yogurt dressing, which will ensure your meal has the necessary number of proteins for building muscle.

Most of the fat content in the meal is represented by the healthy fats coming from avocado.

Ingredients
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) boiled chickpeas
  • 50 g (1.8 oz) avocado
  • 30 g (1.1 oz) spinach
  • 300 g (3/4 cup) nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 15 ml (1 tbsp or 0.5 fl oz) lemon juice
Nutrition facts
  • Weight: 495 g (17.5 oz)
  • Calories: 433
  • Proteins: 41 g
  • Carbs: 45 g
  • Fibers: 11 g
  • Fats: 11 g

8. Ground turkey with baked potatoes and green peppers

Broiled ground turkey with baked potatoes and green peppers, one of the best pre-workout meals for muscle gain.

When to eat: 30 minutes before workout

Protein: 34 g

Carbs: 48 g

A lean pre-workout meal made of ground turkey patties and baked potatoes is going to create the right environment for your muscles to perform at their best during training because the meal is rich in proteins and carbohydrates.

The main protein source of the meal is ground turkey, which is itself a high-protein food.

The main carbohydrate sources of the meal are baked potatoes. Since baked potatoes have a high glycemic index value, they will release energy faster into your muscles. Therefore, this pre-workout meal is especially good for short, intense workouts.

Regarding digestibility, this meal won't make you feel full during training because it’s low in fiber and fats.

Ingredients
  • 100 g (1 patty or 3.5 oz) broiled ground turkey patties
  • 200 g (7.1 oz) baked potatoes
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) green peppers
Nutrition facts
  • Weight: 400 g (14.1 oz)
  • Calories: 347
  • Proteins: 34 g
  • Carbs: 48 g
  • Fibers: 4 g
  • Fats: 3 g

9. Veggie omelette

Veggie omelette, one of the best pre-workout meals for muscle gain.

When to eat: 30 minutes before workout

Protein: 27 g

Carbs: 47 g

Eating a veggie omelette as a pre-workout meal is especially useful if you’re looking for a meatless dish to properly fuel your muscles with the necessary proteins and carbohydrates.

The main protein sources of the meal are chickpeas and omelette.

The main carbohydrate sources of the meal are chickpeas. Because chickpeas are a low glycemic food, they make this meal especially good for endurance workouts.

Now, even though it’s a high-fiber meal, the veggie omelette doesn’t have enough fiber to make you feel overly satiated during training. If, however, you do feel uncomfortable with this pre-workout meal, you can always switch to another one.

Concerning fats, the 18 g of fats contained in this pre-workout meal is too low to make this meal a high-fat one, so it won’t slow down your digestion significantly.

Besides, given the mix of mushrooms, chickpeas, and green peppers, this pre-workout meal will load your body with plenty of micronutrients.

Ingredients
  • 122 g (2 large eggs) omelette
  • 150 g (12.3 oz) chickpeas
  • 40 g (1.4 oz) canned mushrooms
  • 46 g (1.6 oz) green pepper
Nutrition facts
  • Weight: 358 g (12.6 oz)
  • Calories: 456
  • Proteins: 27 g
  • Carbs: 47 g
  • Fibers: 13 g
  • Fats: 18 g

10. Cottage cheese with honey

Cottage cheese with honey, one of the best pre-workout meals for muscle gain.

When to eat: 30 minutes before workout

Protein: 33 g

Carbs: 48 g

Low-fat cottage cheese sweetened with honey is one of the simplest pre-workout meals you can feed your muscles with so you maximize muscle growth. The mix of cottage cheese and honey is rich in both proteins and carbohydrates.

The main protein source of the meal is cottage cheese.

The main carbohydrate source of the meal is honey. Because honey is a high-glycemic food, it’s especially beneficial for short, more intense workouts.

Moreover, this honey cottage cheese meal is easily digestible because it has no fibers and just 7 grams of fat.

Ingredients
  • 300 g (10.6 oz) low-fat cottage cheese
  • 42 g (2 tbsp) of honey
Nutrition facts
  • Weight: 342 g (12.1 oz)
  • Calories: 374
  • Proteins: 33 g
  • Carbs: 48 g
  • Fibers: 0 g
  • Fats: 7 g

11. Poached cod with egg whites and bread

Cod with egg whites and bread, one of the best pre-workout meals for muscle gain.

When to eat: 30 minutes before workout

Protein: 37-39 g

Carbs: 45-51 g

If you’re looking for a pre-workout meal with two sources of protein to boost your muscle gain efforts, you will find that a combination of a type of cooked low-fat fish like cod with egg whites and bread, white or whole grain, it’s a lean but energizing idea.

The main protein sources of the meal are the poached cod and the egg whites. Both cod and egg whites are high-protein foods.

If you don't know how to poach cod, check out fish expert Bart Van Olphen showing you how to poach a fresh cod in the video below.

The main carbohydrate source of the meal is bread.

Go for white bread if your upcoming workout is short but intense because this type of bread has a higher glycemic index.

On the other hand, whole grain bread, because it has a medium glycemic index, is better for endurance workouts.

Another benefit you’ll get from eating this meal pre-workout is that it’s not going to fill you up because it’s low in fiber and fats.

Ingredients
  • 2 (66 g) egg whites
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) poached cod fillet
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) white bread or whole grain bread
Nutrition facts for poached cod with egg whites and white bread
  • Weight: 266 g (9.4 oz)
  • Calories: 385
  • Proteins: 37 g
  • Carbs: 51 g
  • Fibers: 2 g
  • Fats: 4 g
Nutrition facts for poached cod with egg whites and whole wheat bread
  • Weight: 266 g (9.4 oz)
  • Calories: 372
  • Proteins: 39 g
  • Carbs: 45 g
  • Fibers: 6 g
  • Fats: 4 g

Meals to eat 1 hour before workouts

Find below 4 pre-workout meals that will help you build muscle if you eat them 1 hour before working out.

List of 4 pre-workout meals for muscle gain to eat 1 hour before working out.

12. Oats, whey protein, and low-fat milk

Oats with whey protein and low-fat milk, one of the best pre-workout meals for muscle gain.

When to eat: 1 hour before workout

Protein: 46 g

Carbs: 83 g

Since it’s filled with proteins and carbs, a bowl of oats bathed in low-fat milk mixed with whey protein is an easy-to-make pre-workout meal that will get your muscles ready to perform at a high level during training.

The main protein source of the meal is whey protein, but oats and low-fat milk also contribute to the total protein found in the meal.

The main carbohydrate sources of the meal are oats. Since oats have a low glycemic index value, they release energy into your body for a prolonged time. Therefore, you will have energy even if your workout is 1 hour apart from eating oats.

Besides, this pre-workout meal will not satiate you to uncomfortable levels since it doesn’t have too many fibers or fats.

Ingredients
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) oats
  • 32 g (1 scoop) of whey protein
  • 246 g (1 cup) low-fat milk
Nutrition facts
  • Weight: 378 g (13.3 oz)
  • Calories: 598
  • Proteins: 46 g
  • Carbs: 83 g
  • Fibers: 11 g
  • Fats: 9 g

13. Apple peanut butter sandwich

Apple peanut butter sandwich, one of the best pre-workout meals for muscle gain.

When to eat: 1 hour before workout

Protein: 32 g

Carbs: 100 g

Despite it having more fats than your average pre-workout meal, the classic peanut butter sandwich made with whole wheat bread, and accompanied by a large apple still makes for a proper muscle-building choice because the meal is rich in proteins, carbs, and healthy fats.

The main protein sources of the meal are peanut butter and whole wheat bread.

The main carbohydrate sources of the meal are whole wheat bread and the apple.

Because apples have a low glycemic index (GI) value and whole wheat bread has a medium GI value, these two types of carbohydrates fuel your muscles for a prolonged time, even if your training time is 1 hour away from eating them.

Yet, the meal is not a high-fat one because it has only 5.48 g of fat per 100 g. To contextualize, a meal that has 17.5 g of fat per 100 g is considered high-fat.

Ingredients
  • 223 g (1 large) apple
  • 128 g (4 slices) whole wheat bread
  • 32 g (2 tbsp) of peanut butter
Nutrition facts
  • Weight: 383 g (13.5 oz)
  • Calories: 631
  • Proteins: 24 g
  • Carbs: 93 g
  • Fibers: 15 g
  • Fats: 21 g

14. Homemade protein pancakes

Homemade protein pancakes, one of the best pre-workout meals for muscle gain.

When to eat: 1 hour before workout

Protein: 42 g

Carbs: 112 g

If you’re looking for a breakfast meal to fuel up your morning workouts, you will love a serving of homemade protein pancakes because they are rich in carbs, and proteins, while not being too satiating.

The main protein sources of the meal are whey protein powder, eggs, and wheat flour.

The main carbohydrate sources of the meal are wheat flour and bananas. Wheat flour releases energy faster into your body while bananas do it slower. Therefore, the meal will have your muscles fueled both at the beginning and throughout your upcoming workout.

Moreover, since homemade protein pancakes are not high in fats or contain too many fibers, they are not going to make you feel full during your training sessions.

Ingredients
  • 16 g (0.5 scoop) whey protein powder
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) oats
  • 136 g (1 large) banana
  • 100 g (2 large) eggs
  • 60 ml (¼ cup) low-fat milk
  • 5 g (1 tsp) baking powder
Nutrition facts
  • Weight: 419 g (14.8 oz)
  • Calories: 731
  • Proteins: 42 g
  • Carbs: 108 g
  • Fibers: 16 g
  • Fats: 28 g

15. Popcorn with part-skim ricotta cheese

Popcorn with part-skim ricotta cheese, one of the best pre-workout meals for muscle gain.

When to eat: 1 hour before workout

Protein: 22-24 g

Carbs: 81-83 g

Maybe you’ll be surprised to hear that popcorn can also help you maximize muscle growth other than serving as a snack during movie nights.

A snacky pre-workout meal made of air-popped, or fat-free microwaved popcorn, covered in part-skim ricotta cheese can help you gain muscle because of the high quantities of proteins and carbs found in this combination.

The main protein source of the meal is the part-skim ricotta cheese, which is a high-protein food.

The main carbohydrate source of the meal is popcorn, a low-glycemic food that will slowly release energy into your body, so your muscles are fueled up when it’s training time.

As an additional benefit, this meal won’t bring heaviness to your moves during your workout because it doesn’t have too many fibers and fats.

Ingredients
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) air-popped popcorn, or fat-free microwave popcorn
Nutrition facts for air-popped popcorn with part-skim ricotta
  • Weight: 200 g (7 oz)
  • Calories: 525
  • Proteins: 24 g
  • Carbs: 83 g
  • Fibers: 15 g
  • Fats: 12 g
Nutrition facts for fat-free microwave popcorn with part-skim ricotta
  • Weight: 200 g (7 oz)
  • Calories: 540
  • Proteins: 22 g
  • Carbs: 81 g
  • Fibers: 14 g
  • Fats: 14 g

Meals to eat 2 hours before workouts

Below are a couple of pre-workout meals that will help you build muscle if you eat them 2 hours before working out.

16. Fruity protein oats

Bowl of fruity protein oats, one of the best pre-workout meals for muscle gain.

When to eat: 2 hours before workout

Protein: 46 g

Carbs: 163 g

Because it has plenty of proteins and is full of carbs, a bowl of fruity protein oats made by combining oats with raisins, bananas, whey protein powder, and orange juice is a simple but flavorful pre-workout meal that improves workout performance and helps you gain muscle.

Even though the main protein source of the meal is whey protein, oats also bring some protein to the table.

The main carbohydrate sources of the meal are the fruits in the meal (raisins, bananas, and orange juice) but oats also bring a significant number of carbs.

Since most of the carbs in this pre-workout meal have a low-to-medium glycemic index value, these carbs, and respectively this meal, have the ability to load you with energy for a prolonged time, even if your training session is 2 hours apart from eating the meal.

Furthermore, because it doesn’t have too much fiber and fats, this pre-workout won’t trigger feelings of fullness come workout time.

Ingredients
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) oats
  • 40 g (1.4 oz) raisins
  • 136 g (1 large) banana
  • 32 g (1 scoop) whey protein
  • 300 ml (10.1 fl oz) orange juice
Nutrition facts
  • Weight: 608 g (21.4 oz)
  • Calories: 888
  • Proteins: 46 g
  • Carbs: 163 g
  • Fibers: 20 g
  • Fats: 8 g

17. Peanut butter and honey bagels

Whole wheat bagels with peanut butter and honey, one of the best pre-workout meals for muscle gain.

When to eat: 2 hours before workout

Protein: 33 g

Carbs: 161 g

It doesn’t get much tastier than a pre-workout meal made of delicious wheat bagels spread with peanut butter and honey.

This pre-workout meal is loaded with carbohydrates and has the right amount of protein to create the proper environment for your muscles to grow.

The main protein sources of the meal are whole wheat bagels and peanut butter.

Although the main carbohydrate sources of the meal are wheat bagels, honey also brings a significant amount of carbs. The fact that wheat bagels release energy for a prolonged time in your body makes this meal proper for energizing you even if you eat it 2 hours before your workouts.

These PB and honey bagels are the pre-workout meal with the most calories on this list, but the meal won’t be impeding your training because it doesn’t have too many fibers and fats.

Ingredients
  • 244 g (2.5 pieces) whole wheat bagels
  • 32 g (2 tbsp) peanut butter
  • 42 g (2 tbsp) of honey
Nutrition facts
  • Weight: 318 g (11.2 oz)
  • Calories: 926
  • Proteins: 33 g
  • Carbs: 161 g
  • Fibers: 12 g
  • Fats: 20 g

Pre-workout breakfast meals

People who work out in the morning, like many bodybuilders, don't have a lot of time to spend cooking.

Therefore, early exercisers need to eat pre-workout meals, or breakfasts, that are fast to prepare, that can be eaten 30 minutes before working out without provoking fullness, and that contain the right ratio of proteins and carbs for maximizing muscle gain.

Find below the best pre-workout meals you can eat in the morning as muscle-building breakfasts:

  • Nonfat Greek yogurt with fruits
  • Cottage cheese omelette with whole grain bread
  • High-calorie nutrition bar with nonfat Greek yogurt
  • Chickpeas, avocado, spinach salad with Greek yogurt dressing
  • Veggie omelette
  • Cottage cheese and honey

You can also eat pre-workout meals that contain meat if you have them already prepared when you wake up. You can achieve this by doing meal-prepping.

Pre-workout dinner meals

People who work out in the evening after eating dinner need pre-workout meals that can please other family members as well. In comparison with breakfast meals, people usually have more time to cook dinner.

Find below some of the best pre-workout meals you can eat in the evening for optimizing muscle gain:

  • Poached cod with egg whites and bread
  • Canned tuna with mixed rice
  • Chicken breast with white rice and vegetables
  • Roasted pork tenderloin with sweet potatoes and beans
  • Ground turkey and baked potatoes

Pre-workout foods for muscle gain

Best pre-workout foods to make meals for muscle gain.

To prepare the optimal pre-workout meals for muscle gain, you need to have the necessary foods for fueling your muscles in the kitchen.

Generally, the best foods you should use in pre-workout meals are rich in carbs and proteins but don't contain too many fibers and fats.

Find below a list of the best pre-workout foods for muscle gain.

Fruits

Below are some of the best fruits you can add to your pre-workout meals for muscle gain:

  • Bananas
  • Avocado
  • Apples
  • Dates
  • Raisins

To get more ideas for fresh and dried fruits that you can add to your pre-workout meals, check the list of high-calorie fruits for weight gain.

Dairy

Below are some of the best dairy foods you can add to your pre-workout meals for muscle gain:

  • Nonfat Greek yogurt
  • Low-fat Cottage cheese
  • Low-fat Swiss cheese
  • Reduced-fat cheddar cheese

Nuts and nut butters

Below are some of the best nuts and nut butters you can add to your pre-workout meals for muscle gain:

  • Peanuts
  • Almonds
  • Pistachios
  • Peanut butter

Find more ideas in our list of high-calorie nuts and nut butters.

Important note: add only small quantities of nuts and nut butters to your pre-workout meals because otherwise, they can slow down digestion since nuts are richer in fiber and fats than other protein foods.

Nutrition bars

Below are some of the best nutrition bars you can add to your pre-workout meals for muscle gain:

  • Cashew Cookie Dough Shanti Bar
  • Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip ALOHA Bar
  • Cherry Almond Honey Stinger Bar

Find more ideas in our list of high-calorie bars.

Be careful that the nutrition bars that are higher in fat are a worse fit for a pre-workout meal. Pick the bars that are lower in fat and higher in protein.

Grains

Below are some of the best grains and cereal products you can add to your pre-workout meals:

  • Oats
  • White rice
  • Brown rice
  • Rice cakes
  • Whole grain bread
  • White bread
  • Bagels
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Popcorn

Sugary snacks

Below are some of the best sugary snacks you can add to your muscle-building pre-workout meals:

  • Honey
  • Jam

Since honey and jam are abundant in carbs, they also count among the snacks with the highest number of calories.

Meat

Below are some of the best meats you can add to your pre-workout meals for muscle gain:

  • Chicken meat, especially breast
  • Duck meat, especially breast
  • Turkey meat, especially breast
  • Lean pork cuts, like tenderloin
  • Lean types of fish, like cod, tilapia, and tuna

Eggs

Whether you like to eat both the egg yolks and the egg whites, or not, eggs are high-protein foods that go well in pre-workout meals.

Nevertheless, if you want to keep your fat intake down, choose egg whites. Egg whites are also digested faster than if you were to eat the yolks too.

Vegetables

Below are some of the best vegetables you can add to your pre-workout meals for muscle gain:

  • White potato
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Mushrooms
  • Peppers
  • Yautia
  • Broccoli

Find more ideas in our list of high-calorie vegetables.

Syrups

Below are some syrups that you can add to your pre-workout meals for muscle gain:

  • Maple syrup
  • Chocolate syrup
  • Blueberry syrup

Find more ideas in our list of weight gain syrups.

Pre-workout foods by main macronutrient

When you want to come up with your own pre-workout meals, you should know what type of macronutrients (proteins, carbs, or fats) will different foods bring to your meals.

Protein sources

Below are the best protein sources you can use to make pre-workout meals for muscle gain:

  • Low-fat dairy products, like nonfat Greek yogurt and low-fat cottage cheese
  • Low-fat meat, like poultry and fish meats
  • Eggs

The best types of proteins for pre-workout meals tailored for muscle gain are fast-digesting proteins.

Fast-digesting proteins, according to a Clermont Auvergne University study about the digestion rate of proteins, provoke a stronger and faster increase in the proteins found in the blood.[2]

Another study from the same French university, this time comparing the effects of slow and fast dietary proteins, suggests whey protein is one of the fast-digesting proteins.[3]

Generally, fast-digesting protein sources are low in fat and fiber.

Carb sources

Below are the best slow-digesting and fast-digesting carbs you can use to make pre-workout meals for muscle gain.

Slow-digesting carbs (with a low glycemic index):

  • Brown rice
  • Whole grain bread
  • Whole wheat bagels
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Avocado
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Other vegetables, like peppers and mushrooms

 

Fast-digesting carbs (with a moderate-to-high glycemic index):

  • White rice
  • White bread
  • Oats
  • White bagels
  • White pasta
  • Dates
  • Raisins
  • Honey
  • Jam
  • Potatoes
  • Syrups

Fat sources

Below are the best fat sources you can use to make pre-workout meals for muscle gain:

  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Avocado

Pre-workout drinks for muscle gain

If you are looking for drinks to help you gain muscle, know some drinks make for a great addition to pre-workout meals tailored for bulking while other drinks can replace such meals altogether.

Best drinks to include in pre-workout meals for muscle gain.

Drinks that can go well as part of pre-workout meals for muscle gain:

  • Coffee
  • Fruit juice
  • Water
  • Hot chocolate
  • Rice milk
  • Oat milk
  • Low-fat cow milk
  • Nut milk

The best coffees you can add to your pre-workout meals are low in calories, fats, and sugar. If you don’t have time to make your coffee at home, check out the healthiest Starbucks drinks.

 

Drinks that can replace pre-workout meals tailored for muscle gain:

  • Pre-workout smoothies
  • Pre-workout shakes

Find recipe ideas for shakes and smoothies in our lists of weight gain shakes and high-calorie smoothies.

As extra information, high-calorie smoothies and shakes count among the best drinks for gaining weight.

Keep in mind that smoothies, especially fruit smoothies, according to the smoothie vs shake comparison, make for better pre-workout meal replacements than shakes.

Pre-workout supplements for muscle gain

Supplements can be added to pre-workout meals to add more protein or bring important micronutrients to your body.

Below are a couple of pre-workout supplements that can help you boost muscle gain if eaten pre-workout:

  • Protein powder, like whey protein
  • Creatine

How can pre-workout meals help you gain muscle

Pre-workout meals are important for the muscle-building process, also known as bulking, because they give you energy during training sessions, deliver the proper nutrients to your muscles for growth and recovery, and, not the least, keep hunger away.

Let’s find out how exactly do pre-workout meals bring all of the above benefits.

Effects of pre-workout carbs on muscle gain

If you include carbohydrates in your pre-workout meals, you will improve workout performance and postpone fatigue.

Effects of pre-workout carbs on muscle gain - illustration.

Improve workout performance

Carbs, according to a Nature study about carbohydrates' effects on exercise, improve workout performance, especially when the training is executed at high intensity.[4]

Furthermore, a clinical trial about the effects of carb ingestion on muscle showed that drinking a carb solution 10 minutes before exercise, specifically running, improves muscle activity, bringing additional fuel for workouts.[5]

Combine different carb sources for more energy

When it comes to the best types of pre-workout carbohydrates, a combination of carbs from different sources, for example fruits and starches, will give you more energy, especially when it comes to endurance training, because they use different intestinal transporters.

A combination of carbs using different transporters, according to a study made at the Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory, is digested easier and improves cycling performance when the cycling lasts longer than two and a half hours.[6]

Mike Matthews, certified personal trainer and bestselling fitness author, claims that having carbs in pre-workout meals is also a good idea if you want to perform well in sports.

Yet, keep in mind that not all carbs will give your muscles the proper fuel. You have to select the best ones for the type of exercise you are doing.

Impact of different carbs on workout performance

According to a study comparing different carbohydrate servings before exercise, low-glycemic carbs, which release energy slower over a prolonged period of time, are better for endurance workouts, like running 10 km, while moderate-to-high carbs are better for medium to high-intensity workouts, like weightlifting, sprinting, or HIIT training sessions.[7]

A few examples of low-glycemic carbohydrates:

  • Beans
  • Pasta
  • Oat porridge

A few examples of moderate glycemic carbs:

  • White rice
  • Honey
  • White potatoes

A few examples of high-glycemic carbs:

  • Donuts
  • White bread
  • Croissants

Postpone fatigue

Athletes who eat carbs, according to a University of Texas study about carbohydrate effects on exercise, use less of their muscle glycogen reserves in the last part of their training sessions, and so, they postpone fatigue.[8]

Less immediate fatigue helps your muscles work harder during training.

Summary of the effects of pre-workout carbs on muscle gain:

Including the right type of carbohydrates (low, moderate, or high glycemic) from different sources (e.g., fruits and cereals) in pre-workout meals helps you gain muscle easier because it improves performance, specifically by increasing muscle activity and energy levels, and delays fatigue.

Effects of pre-workout protein on muscle gain

If you include proteins, which are by definition chains of amino acids, in pre-workout meals, you will gain muscle and recover at faster rates.

Effects of pre-workout protein on muscle gain - illustration.

Gain more muscle

Eating protein before workouts, according to an Australian study on the post-exercise effects of pre-workout protein intake on muscle, enhances muscle protein synthesis, which means muscle growth is accelerated.[9]

Similarly, a study about the timing of a pre-workout solution made of carbs and protein found that taking the carb-protein combo before training has a greater impact on muscle gain than if you were to take it post-exercise.[10]

And if that wasn’t enough…

To maximize muscle gain, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition's timing advice, you should eat protein and optionally carbs before performing any type of resistance exercise, like lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises.[11]

On the other hand, a New Jersey study about the importance of timing protein supplements claims that the time of the day when protein is taken has no added benefits on strength, power, or body-composition changes.[12]

Does pre-workout protein actually help you build muscle

According to bestselling author Mike Matthews, CPT, some studies are skewed because they don’t take into account how long before their pre-workout serving the participants had their last meals.

“If you had eaten a sizable amount of protein an hour or two prior to working out, your plasma (blood) amino acid levels would be quite high come workout time, and protein synthesis rates would be maximally elevated. In this case, it’s unlikely that more protein before training would make much of a difference in terms of helping you build more muscle because your body is already in an anabolic state (state when muscle building happens, Ed.).”

- Mike Matthews, CPT and author, in his bestselling book Bigger Leaner Stronger

The takeaway?

When you haven’t ingested at least 20 g of protein 2 hours before workout time, you should ingest a portion of pre-workout protein because it, as suggested in a study on the muscle stimulation of whey protein before and after exercise, will likely help you build muscle.[13]

Protein is the most important part of pre-workout meals

Now, if you are in a hurry and you don’t have time to eat a pre-workout meal consisting of both protein and carbs, you may be wondering which is more important.

Protein may be more important than carbs because proteins, as stated in a study comparing the effects of high-carb and high-protein meals on metabolism and endurance performance, trigger greater lipolysis (transformation of fat into energy).[14]

Prevent muscle loss

Besides helping you build muscle, consuming protein before working out can also reduce the risk of muscle loss.

Mike Matthews, CPT, recommends having some protein before cardio workouts “to counteract any potential muscle loss.”

Summary of the effects of pre-workout protein on muscle gain:

Consuming at least 20 g of proteins as part of pre-workout meals in the last 3 hours before training helps you gain muscle because proteins maximize muscle protein synthesis and offset eventual muscle loss.

Effects of pre-workout fat on muscle gain

Consuming many fats in pre-workout meals will negatively affect your muscle-building efforts because fatty acids don’t improve exercise performance and decrease your overall energy.

No benefits on workout performance

Although consuming fat before your workouts, according to a study about the effects of pre-workout fat ingestion on performance, can reduce the number of carbohydrates consumed by your body, it won’t bring any benefits regarding exercise performance.[15]

Moreover, a study comparing the effects of high-fat and high-carbohydrate meals concluded there are no performance benefits for consuming high-fat meals pre-workout.[16]

Less energy

If you eat fat pre-workout, you will have less energy during workouts.

Consuming many fats, according to a University of Adelaide study about the impact of high-fat diets on energy intake, is going to reduce your energy levels.[17]

Yet, you may eat a high-fat meal before your workouts if you take it at least a few hours before your workout.

Summary of the effects of pre-workout fat on muscle gain:

Adding fats to your pre-workout meals is not an optimal way to power up muscle-building because fats don’t boost workout performance, and reduce energy because they are harder to digest.

Remove hunger

Feeling hungry before your workouts can make you train on low energy levels or skip training sessions altogether.

Therefore, having a pre-workout meal has the added benefit of removing feelings of hunger.

Yet, make sure you don’t get filled up with food. Otherwise, you will feel heavy and slow during your workouts.

One way to prevent fullness is to keep the fiber intake in pre-workout meals low.

Summary of how can pre-workout meals help you build muscle:

Low-fat pre-workout meals that contain mainly carbs and proteins help with muscle gain because they improve workout performance, delay fatigue, maximize muscle protein synthesis, prevent muscle loss, and tone down hunger.

What you should not eat or drink before a workout

Just as preparing the right pre-workout meals can help you gain muscle, having the wrong nutritional habits before training can keep you from getting the body you want.

Let’s see exactly what you should avoid eating and drinking before your workouts to gain muscle.

What you should not eat or drink before workouts to maximize muscle gain.

Large meals

If you eat big meals close to your workouts, you will likely feel bloated and perform worse during your training sessions.

Your body uses energy to digest food. Therefore, if your body still needs to digest a large chunk of food while it has to deal with the stress of a workout, it won’t be able to perform at its best.

High-fat meals

Another habit that you need to avoid to maximize muscle gain is to stay away from high-fat pre-workout meals.

High-fat meals, as stated in a scientific review about high-fat meals’ impact on energy intake, take longer to digest, and reduce energy.[17]

Too much water

If you drink too much water before a workout, you will fill up your stomach, which will make you bloated during training.

So, don’t chug down a liter of water right before working out. Drink just enough to hydrate yourself and bring a bottle with you to sip from during your workouts in case you get thirsty.

Alcohol

Another habit you should obviously avoid if you want to gain muscle is drinking alcohol before workouts.

Alcohol, according to a study about alcohol’s effects on exercise, can have a negative impact on performance.[18]

Too much fiber

A pre-workout meal that is abundant in fiber will fill you up and make you feel heavy during training.

A quick and easy solution is to not include too many high-fiber foods or a large quantity of them in your pre-workout meals.

Fiber, as stated in a Journal of Nutrition study about fiber’s effects on energy intake, increases satiation.[19]

Summary of what you shouldn’t eat or drink before workouts:

To not sabotage your muscle gain process, your pre-workout meals should not contain a large quantity of food, too much fat, or too much fiber. In terms of liquid consumption, you shouldn’t bloat your stomach with water, and you shouldn’t drink alcohol.

Pre-workout meal timing

Although not everyone digests in the same way, there are some timing guidelines you can follow to maximize the effects of your pre-workout meals on muscle growth.

Protein timing

Find below the best time to have your pre-workout serving of protein.

30-120 minutes before training

To ensure you have the optimum number of proteins available to build muscle, you should have a portion of at least 20-40 g of protein between 30 and 120 minutes (2 hours) before the start of your workouts.

A portion of pre-workout protein having at least 20 g of protein, as stated in a University of Birmingham study on protein ingestion, is enough to help with building muscle.[13]

A protein serving of 20-40 g, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition’s position on protein and exercise, will stimulate muscle protein synthesis.[20]

Note that the International Society of Sports Nutrition hasn’t recommended an exact time to take pre-workout protein because of the lack of scientific evidence about it.

In the bestselling book Bigger Leaner Stronger, Mike Matthews, CPT, suggests, after reviewing scientific evidence, that 30-40 grams of protein between 30 minutes and 2 hours before training will probably help you build muscle.[21]

3-6 hours between pre-workout and post-workout protein

Another thing you should keep in mind when scheduling your pre-workout protein servings is the timing of your post-workout protein portion.

The distance between the pre-workout and post-workout protein servings, according to a University of Illinois study about optimal protein intake, should be 4-6 hours.[22]

Also, as stated in the International Society of Sports Nutrition’s stand on protein intake, you should leave 3-4 hours between protein servings.[20]

Protein timing summary:

To maximize muscle gain, you should have a portion of 20-40 g of proteins between 30 and 120 minutes before your workouts while making sure your post-workout protein serving is scheduled between 3-6 hours away from your pre-workout protein serving.

Carb timing

30-240 minutes before workout

Pre-workout carbs that are consumed 30 minutes before working out, according to a University of Melbourne study about pre-exercise glucose, increase muscle glucose right before exercise.[23]

But you don’t necessarily need to have carbs half an hour before exercising.

If you take a pre-workout meal that includes carbohydrates 1 to 4 hours before exercising, you will maximize carbohydrate availability, according to a study on the effects of meal timing on performance.[24]

How many carbs pre-workout for bodybuilding

If you’re into bodybuilding and wondering how many carbs you should consume pre-workout, you are in the right place.

It’s recommended, as Marie Dunford, Ph.D., and J. Andrew Doyle, Ph.D., write in their book Nutrition for Sport and Exercise, to consume the following amounts of carbs before working out:

  • If you eat 1 hour before working out: 1 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight;
  • 2 hours before working out: 2 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight;
  • 3 hours before working out: 3 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight;
  • 4 hours before working out: 4 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight.[25]

On the other hand, fitness author Mike Matthews, CPT, recommends eating 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrates 30 minutes ahead of working out to experience an obvious boost in performance.

Carb timing summary:

To maximize muscle gain, people should eat at least 40-50 g of carbs 30 minutes before working out. If the carb serving is eaten earlier, the average 80 kg (180 pounds) person should eat 80-100 g of carbs multiplied by the number of hours left until workout time. Yet, pre-workout carb servings shouldn’t be eaten more than 4 hours ahead of exercise because they’ll lose effectiveness.

Pre-workout meal timing summary:

To optimize for muscle gain, people should have pre-workout meals between 30 minutes and 2 hours before training.

Pre-workout meal size

People oftentimes describe pre-workout meals as pre-workout snacks because the meals people eat before working out are not very large in size.

In the end, whether you call them meals or snacks, the food combinations you eat before your workouts should have a specific number of macronutrients, as resumed below.

30 minutes before workout

If scheduled 30 minutes before exercising, your muscle-building pre-workout meal should have the following macronutrients:

  • 20-40 g of proteins
  • 40-50 g of carbs

1 hour before workout

If scheduled 1 hour before exercising, your muscle-building pre-workout meal should have the following macronutrients:

  • 20-40 g of proteins
  • 80-100 g of carbs (for the average 80 kg or 180 lb person)

2 hour before workout

If scheduled 2 hours before exercising, your muscle-building pre-workout meal should have the following macronutrients:

  • 20-40 g of proteins
  • 160-200 g of carbs (for the average 80 kg or 180 lb person)

If you prefer, in case you take your meal 2 hours before working out, you can add more fats to your pre-workout meal because your body will have time to digest most of it.

Pre-workout meal size summary:

Pre-workout meals should contain 20-40 g of proteins and 40-200 g of carbohydrates, the carb amount depending on the time of eating and individual weight.

Pre-workout meals for other goals

Best pre-workout meals for pump

Since bodybuilders achieve “the pump” (that visible growth in the size of their muscles) by using their muscles at full capacity, they don’t need to tweak anything in their pre-workout meals to achieve that, besides getting the right ratio of proteins and carbs, depending on the timing of their pre-workout meal.

Best pre-workout meal for weight loss

The best pre-workout meals for weight loss are generally similar to the ones used for muscle gain because they help you to not lose muscle along with the fat you burn.

The key difference between muscle gain and weight loss is that if you want to lose weight, you need to make sure you are on a daily caloric deficit (eat fewer calories than you consume), and not on a caloric surplus.

When preparing pre-workout meals for weight loss, however, it’s a good idea to use low-calorie foods that are high in proteins and carbs while being low in fats.

Muscle gain fundamentals

What should you eat to gain muscle

When you’re trying to gain muscle (bulking), you should focus on eating foods that contain proteins, which build new muscular tissue, and carb-filled foods that load you with the energy required to give your best during workouts.

Moreover, don’t forget to stay on a daily caloric surplus, a fundamental condition for gaining serious muscle mass.

To get into a daily caloric surplus easier, you should consider adding high-calorie foods to your meals.

If you're a woman, you can also get ideas from the list of the best weight-gain foods for skinny females. Also, you can organize your diet with a healthy weight gain meal plan tailored for females.

Yet, no matter your gender, when you prepare pre-workout meals, use mainly high-calorie low-fat foods because these are all lean and rich in carbs and protein.

How should you eat to gain muscle

To gain muscle, you should maximize the number of proteins available in your bloodstream across the day, especially before and after your workouts. Therefore, your pre-workout and post-workout meals are quite important.

Can you build muscle on empty stomach

While it’s possible to gain muscle even if you work out on an empty stomach, you won’t get the most out of your training sessions.

Is it ok to work out on an empty stomach

People who do intermittent fasting and train in the morning, like extremely fit actor Mark Wahlberg, often work out on an empty stomach.

Yet, since scientific evidence shows that pre-workout meals maximize your muscles’ ability to grow, you should think seriously about having a meal before training.

Conclusion

To sum up, there is a large variety of pre-workout meals you can choose from to improve workout performance, reduce fatigue, prevent muscle loss, remove hunger, and ultimately boost muscle gain.

You can either choose from one of the meals you already saw or create muscle-building meals that fit your taste by using the lists of pre-workout foods, drinks, and supplements.

Before you pick or create a meal, however, you should know how much time before your workout you’ll eat it, whether that’s 30 minutes, 1 hour, or 2 hours ahead, and adjust your meal size and nutrients accordingly.

In a few words, the best pre-workout meals are small-to-medium in size and focus on proteins and carbs while having low amounts of fat and fiber.

Keep in mind that you need to stay on a daily caloric surplus to gain significant amounts of muscle.

In the end, well-prepared pre-workout meals can help you gain muscle easier and feel great during your workouts.

Sources

Unfold Today has rigorous sourcing principles adhering to the top journalistic standards, so our writers always look for official, experienced, and first-hand sources. Read more about how we keep our content trustworthy and updated by reading our editorial process.

Ideas for high-calorie meals
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