Pre-Workout Nutrition With Meal Ninja Head Coach Janis Isaman: AM Edition

Doing high intensity workouts first thing in the morning is hard.. What’s even more challenging is knowing the right thing to eat before your workout. Janis Isaman, expert nutritionist is here to help…

What are the benefits of having the right pre-workout meal before high intensity workouts first thing in the AM in terms of performance?

If you are going to work out like an athlete, you need to eat like an athlete.  Proper nutrition will not only ensure the best workout today, but it will also ensure that you minimize stress loads on your body in order to get the best results long term.

Will working out on an empty stomach lead to a dead end/lack of energy for high intensity workouts?

That’s a loaded question!  While a Google search can make a case for the benefits of working out after a lengthy fast (Paleo diet proponents, in particular, focus on the results that you can achieve through this kind of approach), I would specifically recommend against it.  Why?  Because high intensity workouts on an empty stomach will trigger a hormonal cascade of changes in the body, which need to be carefully weighed against other lifestyle factors.  A highly driven, career ambitious New Yorker (that’s you!) with a high intensity lifestyle and high intensity workout will definitely achieve short term gains but likely will see a plateau terms of gains thanks to that same hormonal cascade.  Aka, a dead end.

What’s the ideal meal before a high intensity workout workout first thing in the morning for an athlete looking to perform at a high level, burn fat and get toned?

A nutrition plan for someone doing high intensity workouts 5 days a week would be similar to an in-season sprinter.  So we would look for about 55% of calories from carbs, 25% protein and 20% fat.  It’s terribly complicated to chart out a diet in terms of macros, so basically you want to include a serving (1/2 cup – 1 cup) of vegetables or fruit, a serving of protein and some healthy fat.  For example, ½ banana with some peanut butter and a glass of organic 3.5% milk.

How long prior to the workout should this meal be consumed?

1-2 hours.  Long enough to digest it (no puking) but short enough that you haven’t burned through the fuel.

There are numerous athletes on the Paleo diet. What pre-workout meal would you suggest for them?

The recommendations are exactly the same – follow the formula of a serving of vegetables/fruit plus a serving of protein plus a serving of healthy fat.  For example, try a grassfed sausage link, some sautéed greens and ½ an avocado.

Coffee, is it good or bad to have before high intensity workouts?

I would be a complete hypocrite to say no to coffee!  Caffeine raises cortisol levels in the body (aka, stress), so keep it in your diet if it’s already there but don’t add it if it’s not.  Cortisol is going to amp you up in the short term, but long term, too much of it leads to burnout and belly fat – probably the opposite of what you are going for!

For a number of reasons, I am a proponent of Bulletproof coffee, although you do need to remember that it does count as a fat.

Which foods below are best to have pre-workout?

  • Banana
  • Oatmeal
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanut Butter
  • Gatorade
  • Yogurt
  • Leafy Greens

I’m not going to do very well at this game, because I prescribe to a model of “there are no bad foods”.

The only thing I don’t like on that list is Gatorade (sorry, Pepsi), because there is no reason to have a high-sugar food before working out instead of a real food.  If you need an easy portable drink that contains some sugar, I would direct you to chocolate milk instead of Gatorade.

Everything else on the list is great.

What’s your morning nutrition ritual?

I follow my own rules, and I consume a protein (I use Vega Sport powder), a healthy fat (hemp seeds or nuts), plus ½ cup to 1 cup of fruits or vegetables (cherries, spinach or another combination) in a smoothie.  In the winter, I also have a small serving of oatmeal.  And of course, coffee.  On days where I am dragging, I use Vega Energizer instead of a second cup of coffee.

What’s your favorite nutrition book?

That’s a tough question, I have a zillion!  In terms of reference books, I have dog-eared both my Precision Nutrition textbook (and I recommend their blog) and Prescriptions for Nutritional Healing.

I’m seeing and hearing consistent reference to hormones in the industry, and I see this as the next great “fitness trend” – we can be getting optimal results from workouts with better hormonal balance.  I don’t yet think there is a seminal book on the topic, but I predict someone will write it in short order.  In the meantime,  I toted a Natasha Turner, MD, book to Mexico on vacation a few years ago, and it was the start of a life-changing process for me.

If you could put up a billboard that every athlete doing high intensity workouts could see, what would it say?

That totally circles back to the first line of this interview!  “If you are going to work out like an athlete, you need to eat like an athlete. ”




-Janis, Meal Ninja blackbelt certified nutritionist and Head Coach

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