Back to the Gym: Pre-Workout Edition by Tiffany Ma, R.D.N.

When it comes to improving your overall health– people start with fitness first; signing up for a gym membership, sticking to cardio, getting more physical activity are all examples. What happens concurrently to these new changes, is that eating healthier will often become a part of the picture as well. It’s a no-brainer that eating the right foods will improve your overall health, so what about eating the right foods before exercise?

Today, we’ll be discussing nutrient timing, or, just another fancy way to describe the ingestion and timing of certain nutrients in relation to training. 

Most research states that nutrient timing itself plays a 10% role in the overall diet. Since the name of the game is to ensure you are performing at optimal capacity in the gym– this 10% difference can definitely be significant, especially the more advanced you become with your training.

There are many components to nutrient timing, more specifically, six, which includes: 

  1. Meal Number: The number of meals you consumed in one given day.
  2. Meal Spacing: The timing of meals in relation to one another.
  3. Meal Size: The amount of food or calories consumed per meal.
  4. Meal Macros: The macronutrient(s) present in each meal.
  5. Meal Composition: The type of foods consumed at each meal.
  6. Timing Around Activity: The timing of meals in relation to physical activity.

For today’s post, I’ll be focusing on nutrient timing in relation to timing around activity.

Athlete Sarah Prochazka (@sarahpro21) sips on her pre-workout before training.


Time frame: Four hours to 30 minutes before training

Pre-training refers to the window of time before a training session begins, more specifically 30 minutes to four hours before you touch the barbell. You may have heard a thing or two about paying attention to carbs during this time, which is a good place to start because emphasizing carb intake before our training is certainly important.

Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is then converted into ATP. ATP is our body’s preferred source of energy. Adequate levels of ATP ensure we are sparing protein and fat from being utilized for energy. If our glycogen stores are adequate, our bodies become more capable of supporting high-intensity muscular activity.

Complex vs Simple Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates will then break down further into two categories: simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates are fast-digesting and are broken down more easily into the bloodstream, causing a rapid spike in insulin levels, which improves blood flow and the effects of nitric oxide; which contribute to overall peak performance. These include sugary, low-fiber cereals, gummies, white breads and white rice.

The further you are out from training, the more you’ll want to pay attention to complex carbohydrates. The closer you are to training, the more you’ll want to emphasize simple carbohydrates.

For the majority of you reading this, I think it is safe to assume that your training sessions may fall anywhere between 1.5 to 2 hours, at minimum. Since most resistance sports are lower impact with longer breaks, it’s important to understand complex carbohydrates certainly have a place in our pre-training window to ensure we are able to achieve a steady flow of energy throughout our workout.

I am a huge proponent of emphasizing a well-balanced meal, if possible, four hours before training. An ideal well-balanced meal would include an adequate protein source, a complex carbohydrate, a vegetable source; with minimal fat. 

To K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, silly!), complex carbs eaten during this time period will increase our satiety, provide a steady wave of energy, and provide us with some important B-vitamins; simple carbs eaten during this time period will make glucose readily available in our bodies, keep our stomachs light and fuel our long training sessions.

Some other nutrition considerations to pay attention to prior to training include:

  • Not eating foods that you are unfamiliar with digesting
  • Keeping fiber intake of foods relatively low to decrease gastrointestinal distress such as bloating and cramping
  • Limiting the consumption of high-fat foods, as it will delay the rate at which you are able to readily utilize glucose for training due to digestion rate 
  • Ensuring you are well hydrated prior to training to maintain a healthy electrolyte profile 

Now that we have the nutrition component down, let’s talk about the extra edge that we can bring to our pre-workout training by paying attention to key nutrients.


L-citrulline is a non-essential amino acid, meaning it can be made from other amino acids present in the body. However, unlike some of the more popular amino acids we are familiar with that are related to muscle growth and recovery, L-citrulline has an important role in the urea cycle. The urea cycle is the metabolic process that manages ammonia, along with a handful of other important nutrients.

L-citrulline increases nitric oxide synthesis by indirectly increasing l-arginine synthesis. Now, what exactly makes nitric oxide important? Nitric oxide’s role is associated with a few physiological processes; with one of them being vascular relaxation. Vascular relaxation allows for blood to flow more easily… aka increased pumps in the gym!

RD recommendation: Aim for about 6,000 to 8,000 mg of citrulline about an hour prior to training. Supplementation can be broken down into smaller doses during non-training days.

Measuring a scoop of Citrulline Malate


You know that tingly feeling in some pre-workout formulas that you either love or hate? More likely than not, I can bet that you most likely can contribute that familiar feeling to Beta-alanine, which is just a modified version of the amino acid alanine. Once consumed, Beta-alanine turns into the molecule carnosine. Carnosine plays a role in offsetting lactic-acid production, which ultimately improves overall performance by delaying fatigue. 

source: CarnoSyn®

RD recommendation: Beta-alanine can actually be consumed at any point of the day to improve performance! Aim for about 2,000 to 5,000 grams daily. Many individuals enjoy supplementation prior to exercise for the tingling feeling, also known as paresthesia (which has no negative impacts contrary to what many may think when they supplement for the first time)!


Your body is either at an aerobic or anaerobic state. In cases where your body is in an anaerobic state, ATP (adenosine triphosphate) will break down by removing a phosphate group, ultimately turning into ADP (adenosine triphosphate).

This is where the magic of creatine occurs. When creatine stores are topped off from consistent supplementation, creatine will have the ability to donate its phosphate group to ADP, which will… you guessed it–allow it to turn back into ATP, making it capable of producing energy efficiently during your last bouts of exercise.

Creatine is one of the most well-researched nutritional supplements out there, and for good reason! Research supports that creatine supplementation can improve performance, lean body mass, and even cognitive function. 

RD recommendation: Aim for 3 – 5 grams per day. Loading is not necessary, but if you are looking to juice the strength benefits from creatine, you can aim for 20 grams per day for 5 – 7 days and then lower your dosage to the standard daily dosage recommendation of 3 – 5 grams per day. A handful of studies have shown that supplementation surrounding training may support the increase of fat-free mass in the body.

Beet Root Powder

Beet root powder, shop here.

Beet powder has been well researched to support optimal performance, especially those who participate in endurance-based sports, such as running, swimming, and cycling. Similar to L-citrulline, this mechanism is primarily attributed to increasing nitric oxide production in the body. The mechanism is simple– beetroot, which is high in nitrate, will convert to nitric oxide in the body.

RD recommendation: There are limited studies that recommend an exact dosage of beetroot powder. The majority of studies will recommend an intake of around 140 mL to even 500 mL on a daily basis.

If you find yourself searching for a powerful pre-workout supplement that contains all four of these ingredients (and more), look no further than True Pre-Workout.

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