12 Best Foods For Pre Workout Pump (And, The Worst)

Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means we earn from qualifying purchases. Learn more.

When one of my nutrition coaching clients asks about getting a better pump in the gym, I give them my go-to list of foods to eat to help influence their pump.

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. If you eat these foods and avoid high-fat and greasy junk food before a workout, you’ll be on your way to a better pump.

There are few better feelings than that of a good muscle pump while throwing some iron around. When your muscles are pumped up, you feel big, strong, and invincible. And research suggests that achieving a pump stimulates hypertrophy. So it’s worth trying to get a good pump and make it last as long as possible.

Do Certain Foods Help Increase the “Pump”?

Foods high in carbs are the best to help increase your pump. To have a solid pump during your workout, your glycogen stores need to be full, which requires the consumption of carb-heavy foods. Additionally, foods that boost nitric oxide levels in the body may lead to a better pump by increasing oxygen delivery and blood flow.

Carbohydrate-rich Foods

When you eat carbohydrates, your body converts them into glucose, then stores that glucose as glycogen (to be used as energy later on) in your muscles. Carbohydrates allow you to power through more intense workouts and make your muscles swell with glycogen.

In fact, bodybuilders eat a ton of carbohydrates before a show because it has been shown to contribute to an increase in muscle volume.

Every gram of glycogen stored in your muscles is also 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. 

Simply put, eating more carbohydrates can help you get a better pump.

Nitric Oxide-Boosting Foods

Nitric oxide (NO)-boosting foods are also 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.

As well, 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.

Other Nutritional Factors That Influence the “Pump”

Getting a good pump relies on properly hydrating and ensuring you’re frequently eating. Supplementing with creatine can also help positively influence the pump.

Let’s look at these factors more closely.

Hydration

In addition to ensuring your glycogen levels are adequate, ensuring you’re properly hydrated 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.

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 near 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 important 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.

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 Frequency

Going into a workout “on empty” will make it more difficult to achieve 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.

Supplementation

The best supplement for increasing your pump is creatine monohydrate. Creatine will allow you to lift more weight and complete more sets and reps while giving you a bigger, better muscle pump. When it comes to science-backed supplements that help increase your muscle pump, creatine is the top dog.

Other muscle-pump supplements (such as arginine or betaine) meant to increase blood flow to the muscles and build a bigger, better pump have little scientific evidence supporting them and likely aren’t worth your investment.

Want to learn more about creatine? Check out the 10 different types of creatine.

12 Foods To Eat for Pre-Workout Pumps

The best foods to eat before a workout to help you achieve a great pump are those high in carbohydrates and the nitric oxide boosters arginine and betaine.

Best High-Carb Foods for Pre-Workout Pumps

High-Carb Foods

1. Oatmeal

With 51 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 an added 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). Rice Krispies (25g of carbohydrates/cup) make for a good early-morning option.

Additionally, rice tends to sit well in your stomach, digests easily, and can be enjoyed alongside almost any meat 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 a lot 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

Pasta is a high-carb classic, but it tends to be a little heavier than the other foods listed above. A bowl of rice, for example, tends to sit easier and digest quicker than a plate of pasta.

That’s not to say pasta is a bad food to eat before a workout. But if you want to have 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 when looking 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, though, potatoes are higher in fiber and do not digest as quickly. If you can eat a couple of hours before your workout, potatoes are a solid pump-inducing option.

Best Nitric Oxide-Boosting Foods for Pre-Workout Pumps

1. Beets

beets

Beets are low in calories but high in nitric oxide-boosting betaine. In fact, betaine was first discovered in beets.

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

2. 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 broccoli with dinner if you’re training the next morning can positively influence your pump.

3. Quinoa

Quinoa

Besides being a good source of carbohydrates (21 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.

4. Fish and Shellfish

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

Your coworkers may not love you warming up fish in the office microwave, but if you can include fish or shellfish in your pre-workout meal, the pump will be worth it.

5. Spinach

spinach

Spinach is high in betaine and has been proven 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.

6. 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. If you want a great pump, not much beats a pre-workout turkey sandwich.

4. 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 right 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.

7 Foods To Avoid For Pre-Workout Pumps

If you want a good pump during your workout, you should avoid eating foods high in fat and greasy junk food before lifting.

High-Fat Foods

Eating high-fat foods before exercising isn’t a great idea. Fat is digested quite slowly and sticks around 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
  • Nachos
  • 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

Frequently Asked Questions

What Foods Give You the Biggest Pump?

Foods high in carbs, such as rice, pasta, and oatmeal, give you the best pump. These foods help you power through tough workouts and make your muscles swell with glycogen and fluid. Nitric-oxide-boosting foods like beets, turkey, and quinoa are also great as they promote increased oxygen delivery and blood flow.

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.

Does Rice Krispies Give a Good Pump?

Rice Krispies is a simple carbohydrate that will digest quickly and help you get a better pump in the gym. If you need to eat within an hour of your workout, Rice Krispies will enter your bloodstream quicker than more complex carbohydrates like oatmeal or pasta, helping you train with fuller glycogen stores.

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 helps 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


About The Author

Riley Nadoroznick

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