It’s 5 o’clock on a weekday. You want to hit the gym, but you’re hungry and not sure if eating before you exercise will help or hinder your workout. What are the best foods to eat pre-workout? How much of them? How close to your workout time should you eat? Staying fit plays a big role in keeping our joints, muscles and bones healthy, and proper nutrition helps our bodies perform at their optimal level. Check out these tips on when, what and how much to eat to maximize your results while not counteracting the calories burned during your physical activity.
When should you snack? Grabbing a snack just a few minutes before you work out isn’t recommended because your body needs time to digest and absorb the food before its energy can reach your muscles. In Tufts University’s Health and Nutrition Letter, Jennifer Sacheck, PhD, an associate professor who specializes in physical activity research, explains that if you eat immediately before exercise, blood flow will be diverted to your gut instead of to your muscles to energize movement. Additionally, most of us have first-hand experience of discomfort and/or cramps from undigested food sitting in our stomach while we are trying to exercise.
By contrast, a well-timed, moderate snack can enhance your workout. It will replenish glycogen – the storage form of carbohydrate, which is the main fuel for working muscles. This will give the body something to prime the metabolism and provide a direct energy source for the workout. It can also help keep blood sugar levels stable, keeping your mind alert during exercise.
What types of food? Focus on carbohydrate-rich foods for your pre-exercise snacks. Include a little protein and fat to help with satiety and keep your blood sugar levels stable. These are good nutrients to add if before longer, endurance-based workouts, for strength training to aid in muscle recovery and if you have more than an hour before exercise. For quick sources of protein and healthy fat, Tufts’ Health and Nutrition Letter suggests low-fat yogurt, cheese sticks, nuts, seeds and canned seafood. Smart carbohydrate choices include whole grains and whole fruit.
How much? It’s easy to overeat when you are hungry since it takes about twenty minutes for your stomach to let your brain know that you’re satiated. If you end up eating a big snack, you’ll have to wait a significant chunk of time before you can exercise at your best. Try to have small, carbohydrate-rich snacks at the ready to avoid overeating before your workout. In general, the closer it is to your workout, the less you should eat. Limit protein, fat and fiber, as those take longer to digest and absorb. Sacheck recommends eating a snack containing 100 to 200 calories one hour before exercise; 200 to 300 calories two hours or more before exercise. If you have just 30 minutes, a piece of whole fruit or a whole-grain snack will give you that energy boost you need for your workout.
Being smart about your pre-exercise snacks will allow you to get the most out of your workouts – without counteracting the calorie burn. By paying attention to what types of food you are eating and when, you will be equipped to get the most out of your workout. Don’t forget to replenish your body post-workout by eating a small snack, like chocolate milk or a yogurt and fruit smoothie, along with replacing the water lost with more fluids.