If you’ve been paying attention, you already know to avoid training on an empty stomach. However, you might be left wondering what to eat in place of that three-course meal before hitting the gym. Fact is, the closer you get to your workout, the fewer calories you should consume, and what you take in can make or break your workout. Here, we give you seven key nutrients to keep you from running on empty and get you better results in the gym.
Why It’s a Tank Topper: Arginine boosts nitric-oxide production, and NO increases blood flow to muscles. Taking it before workouts maximizes blood flow to muscles during exercise, thus increasing the delivery of oxygen, muscle-building hormones and the nutrients you’re about to consume.
Get Your Fill: Take 5 grams 30 to 60 minutes before your workouts.
Why It’s a Tank Topper: During hard training, your muscle glutamine levels drop sharply. Supplementing with glutamine beforehand not only stimulates immune function, but it has also been shown to stave off inflammation and protect muscle cells from the damage caused by a tough workout.
Get Your Fill: Take 5 grams of glutamine with your arginine 30 to 60 minutes before your workouts.
Why It’s a Tank Topper: Tyrosine functions as a stimulant because it boosts hormones and neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine and thyroid hormones. Taking it before you hit the weights boosts energy levels, elevates mood, enhances muscle strength and reduces fatigue.
Get Your Fill: Take 1 to 3 grams with arginine and glutamine 30 to 60 minutes before training.
Why It’s a Tank Topper: Muscles use amino acids — the building blocks of protein — to mend tissue damaged during tough training sessions. Whey isolate is a fast-digesting source of aminos, and muscles quickly absorb it. Drinking it before workouts ensures that the aminos are there when your muscles need them.
Get Your Fill: Choose a whey powder that contains whey protein hydrolysates (whey protein broken down into smaller fragments for even faster digestion) or whey protein isolate. Mix 20 grams with water and consume 30 minutes before training.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids
Why It’s a Tank Topper: Aside from spurring protein synthesis (muscle growth) and stocking muscles with more energy, BCAAs blunt the muscle-wasting hormone cortisol.
Get Your Fill: Look for BCAA products that provide leucine at a ratio of 2:1 per dose of isoleucine and valine. Add 5 to 10 grams to your whey shake.
Why It’s a Tank Topper: Creatine loads muscles with glycogen, providing them with a quick source of energy to help you train harder for longer. Some evidence also suggests it may act to buffer lactic acid and help improve recovery time.
Get Your Fill: Take 3 to 5 grams of some form of creatine such as creatine monohydrate, creatine malate, creatine ethyl ester or creatine alpha-ketoglutarate with your whey shake up to 30 minutes before your workouts.
Why It’s a Tank Topper: Yes, you can eat fruit, and we happen to love apples. Besides being an excellent source for slow-digesting carbs, apples are also chock-full of antioxidants and polyphenols. Polyphenols have been found to boost muscle strength and endurance and can help whittle your waist by promoting fat loss.
Get Your Fill: Chow down on one large apple along with your protein shake.