12 Foods To Eat Pre-Workout For Crazy Pumps, Says Coach

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If you eat these 12 foods before working out, you’ll be well on your way to getting crazy pumps.

A good muscle pump isn’t just for show; it’s been shown to stimulate muscle growth

As it turns out, what you eat (or don’t eat) can play a massive role in the muscle pumps you get. 

Key Takeaways

  • The best foods to eat pre-workout for a better pump include high-carbohydrate foods, such as oatmeal and rice, and foods that boost your nitric oxide levels, such as beets and spinach.
  • Carbs fill your muscles with glycogen, which increases muscle hydration. Nitric oxide boosts blood flow to your muscles, making it easier for them to swell up during training.
  • You also need to avoid high-fat foods before training. These foods take longer to digest, increase the risk of stomach distress, impair your performance, and limit your muscle pump.

Note: At the end of the article, I will give you an example meal plan to follow, or you can click here to skip to that section

Carbohydrate-Rich Foods

When you eat carbohydrates, your body converts them into glucose and then stores that glucose as glycogen in your muscles for later energy.

Carbohydrates allow you to power through more intense workouts and swell your muscles with glycogen.

Bodybuilders eat a ton of carbohydrates before a show because it has been shown to contribute to an increase in muscle volume. The practice is known as peaking.

Every gram of glycogen stored in your muscles is tied to 3-4 grams of water

Without adequate glycogen stores, your muscles will be somewhat dehydrated. And, with low water content in your muscles, they won’t pump maximally. 

Nitric Oxide-Boosting Foods

Nitric oxide (NO)-boosting foods are often hailed as pump-inducing. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels and promotes increased oxygen delivery and blood flow.

Researchers from Brazil and Canada found that the NO-boosting amino acid arginine helps increase muscle blood volume.

Also, foods high in betaine, which also boosts NO, are said to improve your muscle pump by regulating cellular fluid volume.

Betaine has also been shown to allow for a greater training load, which can help you achieve a bigger, better pump.

Here is insight from my colleague Jennifer Vibert, BKin, CSCS, Certified Nutrition Coach:

“Betaine shows promise to improve muscle strength, power output, and body composition. Studies are mixed, but there is promising evidence that betaine can improve body composition by reducing fat mass and increasing lean mass in active adults. ”

Other Factors That Influence the “Pump”


In addition to ensuring your glycogen levels are adequate, proper hydration will help you get a good pump.

You can’t train as hard or as long if you’re dehydrated, nor can you develop a full, lasting pump. 

Drinking sufficient water is key to getting a good pump.

As Amber Sayer, MS, CPT, CNC notes:

“The more hydrated you are, the greater your blood plasma volume will be. This will allow for better circulation because your blood vessels will be filled with a greater volume of blood, and each beat of your heart (stroke volume) will be able to deliver a larger bolus of blood into circulation. This blood will help fill out all of the large and small blood vessels in your muscles, helping augment your muscle pump all that much more.”

The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institutes of Medicine states that: Sedentary men require 3 liters of water each day, while sedentary women need 2.2 liters per day.

As an active individual, especially one looking to maximize their muscle pump, you need to drink more than this.

As sweat rates vary greatly between individuals and activities, it’s nearly impossible to recommend a blanket hydration protocol for active individuals.

This is why the American College of Sports Medicine suggests drinking before, during, and after exercise to ensure proper hydration. If you feel like you aren’t getting big enough pumps, try drinking more water.


Consuming proper electrolytes is another vital piece of the hydration puzzle. 

Electrolytes such as sodium help pull water into your muscle cells, causing them to expand and play a major role in muscular contraction.

Here is extra insight from health writer Kimberly Holland:

“Sodium is necessary for the body to maintain fluid balance and is critical for appropriate body function. It also helps to regulate nerve function and muscle contraction.”

Adding ¼ teaspoon of salt or a packet of electrolytes like LMNT or eating a couple of pickles with your pre-workout meal can help ensure your electrolyte levels are adequate, allowing you to get a good pump.

Meal Timing

Going into a workout “on empty” will make it more challenging to get a muscle pump.

Eating protein and carbohydrates before a training session will load up your glycogen stores and help support increases in strength, leading to a better, longer-lasting pump.

If you work out early in the morning, having a carb and protein-heavy meal the night before can help you achieve a good pump.

However, sipping a protein + carbohydrate drink throughout your workout can also help ensure your glycogen stores are full, helping your pump.

Pre-Workout Foods: The Definitive List For Enhanced Pumps

pre-workout foods: the definitive list for enhanced pumps

1. Oatmeal


With 55 grams of carbohydrates in one cup of oats, a pre-workout meal of oatmeal will help you achieve a solid pump during your workout. 

For a bonus, add a scoop of protein powder to your oatmeal for a boost of protein.

2. Rice


One cup of cooked rice has around 45 grams of carbohydrates (depending on the variety of rice).

Additionally, rice tends to sit well in your stomach, digests easily, and can be enjoyed alongside meat or fish to round out your meal, making it a great pre-workout option for the pump.

3. Bread


Like rice, bread is relatively high in carbohydrates, easily digested, and will help you achieve a great pump.

Bread also has the added benefit of being easily portable. Packing a turkey sandwich, for example, to eat on the go is much easier than bringing a container of rice and beef.

White bread can work great here, as it has the added benefit of being digested much quicker than whole wheat bread.

4. Pasta


Pasta is a high-carb classic but tends to be a little heavier than the other foods listed above.

That’s not to say pasta is a bad food to eat before a workout. But if you want a good workout and get a solid pump, eat your pasta a couple of hours before you start lifting.

Your body will digest a non-whole grain pasta quicker, so regular white pasta is the better pre-workout option to increase your pump.

5. Potatoes


Potatoes are an excellent low-fat carb source and are high in the electrolyte potassium, making them a great choice for a great pump.

Like pasta, potatoes are higher in fiber and do not digest as quickly. Potatoes are a solid pump-inducing option if you can eat a couple of hours before your workout.

6. Beets


Beets are low in calories but high in nitric oxide-boosting betaine.

Beets and supplements derived from beetroot have become quite popular recently due to their nitric oxide-boosting properties.

7. Broccoli


Broccoli is a good source of betaine, which will help give you a good muscle pump.

But because it’s high in fiber, it’s best not to eat broccoli immediately before a workout. 

Having broccoli with your lunch if you’re having an evening workout or with dinner if you’re training the following morning can positively influence your pump.

8. Quinoa


Besides being a good source of carbohydrates (39 grams in one cup), quinoa is also an outstanding source of betaine

It’s similar to rice in that it can be combined with nearly any source of meat for a high-protein, high-carb, pump-inducing pre-workout meal.

9. Fish and Shellfish

Fish and Shellfish

Fish and shellfish – tilapia, salmon, and crab in particular – are excellent sources of betaine. They also have the added benefit of being high in protein.

10. Spinach


Spinach is high in betaine and has been shown to increase nitric oxide levels in the body

Regularly including spinach in your diet will help keep your nitric oxide levels high and your muscles pumped.

11. Turkey

Turkey has been a muscle-building staple for decades due to its high protein content, but many people don’t realize it’s high in the nitric oxide-boosting amino acid arginine, too. 

12. Egg Yolks

Egg Yolks

Assuming eggs don’t make you tired or lethargic, the high arginine content can help you boost your nitric oxide levels and get a good pump.

However, because of their relatively high-fat content, eggs shouldn’t be eaten before your workout. 

But, like some of the higher-fiber foods listed above, eating eggs a few hours before your workout can help your pump.

Examples of Meals For Pre-Workout Pumps

The following are three pre-workout meal ideas for a good muscle pump. You can adjust the exact amounts to adhere to the recommended one gram of carbs per kilo of body weight (0.45 grams per pound).

Also, aim for 500 to 600 ml (17-20 ounces) of fluids two to three hours before a workout.

Our examples will be for a person who weighs 154 lbs (74 kilograms).

Meal 1: Savory Oatmeal (2 Hours Before Training)

  • Raw oats (1 ¼ cup)
  • Raw beets (¼ cup)
  • Fresh spinach (handful)
  • Pinch of salt

Meal 2: Rice With Beets and Broccoli (2-2.5 Hours Before Training)

  • Cooked rice (1.5 cups)
  • Cooked beets (½ cup, mixed with the rice)
  • Steamed broccoli (½ cup, mixed with the rice)
  • Salt to taste

Meal 3: Turkey Sandwich (1-1.5 Hours Before Training)

  • White bread (2 slices)
  • Sliced turkey breast (2 ounces)
  • Fresh spinach (handful)
  • Mustard (a teaspoon)
  • Salt to taste (sprinkle it on top of the turkey)

Note: This has less than a gram of carbs per kilogram because it’s more of a snack you can have around an hour before training. Therefore, it needs to be smaller for you to digest it on time.

Quick Tips to Optimize Your Pre-Workout Nutrition and Pump

  • Add protein to your pre-workout meal to provide your body with essential amino acids and kickstart muscle recovery. Research recommends 0.15-0.25 grams of protein per kilogram.
  • Mix a pinch or two of sodium with 200-300 ml (6.7-10 ounces) of water and drink it around 20 minutes before training. However, be mindful of your overall sodium intake and limit it to 2,300 mg or less per day.
  • Consider an electrolyte beverage (one with sodium and potassium) during training if you work out in a particularly hot or humid environment and tend to sweat a lot. 

Foods To Avoid For Pre-Workout Pumps

High-Fat Foods

Eating high-fat foods before exercising isn’t a great idea. Fat is digested quite slowly and stays in your belly for a while. 

When your body is working to digest a stomach full of fat, your workout – and pump – will suffer.

To achieve a good pump during your workout, avoid high-fat foods such as these beforehand:

  • Fatty cuts of beef
  • Ribs
  • Fatty fish (e.g., salmon)
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Butter
  • Natural oils (e.g., olive or coconut oil)
  • Nuts and seedsAvocado
  • Cheese

Greasy Junk Food

Greasy fried food wreaks havoc on your guts and negatively impacts your workout and muscle pump. 

These foods take a long time to digest and can lead to cramping, bloating, or gastrointestinal issues.

To get a good pump during your workout, avoid these foods:

  • Nachos
  • Deep-fried foods
  • Cheeseburgers
  • Candy bars
  • Cookies
  • Ice cream

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Carbs Give You a Better Pump?

Yes, foods high in carbohydrates give you a better pump. 

Carbohydrates, stored as glycogen in the body, are the main fuel source when lifting weights. If your glycogen stores are low, your workout will suffer, and your muscles will not pump up.

Does Salt Help With Pump?

Salt will help you get a better pump as it helps you retain water in your muscles, allowing you to get a fuller pump when lifting weights.

Do Pickles Give a Good Pump?

Pickles have been known to help lifters get a good pump due to their high electrolyte content. 

Pickles provide your body with sodium and potassium, which help maintain proper hydration levels.

Proper hydration levels let you train hard and ensure your muscles can reach their full pump potential.

Other Foods To Eat Pre-Workout


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About The Author

Riley Nadoroznick

Riley Nadoroznick is a strength, conditioning, and nutrition coach and the owner of Conviction Fitness.

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