This is a period from about 2 hours before and up to the exercise. And it is time for the first of many “it depends”. There are mainly 3 variables that define this “it depends”, namely type of exercise, training period and the aim of exercise.
My morning workouts are mainly recovery runs, 6-10 km easy pace, starting at around 5:30 AM and are all done in fasting state when in base period. Occasionally, I would couple them with strides, plyometrics or weights (lounges, squats, box step-ups), but no longer duration high intensity. There is no need for carb intake for added performance, so the aim of such fasting sessions is also increasing the reliance on fat for fuel.
About once a week in the morning I do run speed work (short intervals on track or short hill repeats) and once a week I do a morning swim with some intensity. In these occasions I might usually eat a banana with sour cream or full fat Greek yoghurt, about half an hour or even less before training. One banana provides approx. 30 g of carbs for a little spark needed for higher intensity and fat from cream or yoghurt “delays” this spark until exercise. Ingested fat also signals body to also use fat, as the fuel use partitioning in exercise in largely influenced by composition of pre-exercise meal. Relatively small volume of such pre-workout snack also doesn’t influence my performance, so I can eat it just before the run or swim.
I also perform longer duration aerobic sessions in base period with no added intensity between or at the end in fasted state or with a very light snack before. This means 20-30 km runs at easy pace or 3-5 hour endurance bike rides. Later in training periods, where I add tempo run at the end or when I do some race pace efforts in the latter stages of bike rides, I eat in the range of 50 – 100 g of carbs around 2 hours before the exercise. It is usually some combination of fruit and full fat milk products with coconut flour and crushed nuts as I found this combination more tolerable as meals based on eggs. One such typical meal would be as follows.
As you can see, I do not limit fat intake in such meals, as fat is important for energy and to signal the body to rely on fat for fuel use.
For all that 1 – 1,5 hour medium duration training sessions that I usually perform after the job in the middle of the day (starting after 3:00 PM), I do not eat anything before them. I found that my midday “snack” at work around 11:00 AM is sufficient energy wise even for some intensity work.
Once or twice before my A race I also try my race nutrition, as this is very important to lower the risks of nutritional problems when it matters the most. This is usually done in combination with key workout brick, a 4-5 h long tempo bike ride and 10 km race pace tempo run. As I use “train low race high” strategy, I carbo-load day before with ingesting around 200-300 g of carbs. Also approx. 2 hours before this key workout I consume around 100 – 150 g of carbs in a meal similar to that described above. In this manner I can assess the volume and the carb quantity for race needs and make specific changes in composition / volume / timing of meals to avoid any race-day complications.
So to summarize these “it depends”, I vary the composition of meals before the exercise according to:
- exercise intensity / duration,
- time until the exercise,
- type of exercise (i.e. swim, bike, run or strength),
- training period and,
- the aim of the exercise.