Knowing when and what to eat can make a big difference in your workouts. We’re talking the difference between a good workout and a great workout. We want all your workouts to fall into the “great” category, so read on to understand how best to fuel up and recover.
When it comes to eating and exercise, everyone is different. We recommend paying close attention to what foods you consume and how they make you feel during and after your workout. Use the following information as a guideline to help you get started in fueling your body for a successful exercise session!
Why Is Fueling Up Before Working Out So Important?
Food is NOT the enemy…it’s your energy, and it’s important to make sure you have enough energy for your workout. While there are some studies that support exercising in a fasted state, more medical advice points to consuming smart, nutritious snacks before you hit the gym to enhance your performance. Exercising on an empty stomach can lead the digestive system to break down muscle tissue, which isn’t helpful if you’re training to get stronger, faster or lose weight. A personal trainer or coach can help you set these goals and decide how to fuel for them. Of course, how much food to eat, and when, will vary from activity to activity, the time of day you’re exercising, and—ultimately—your personal preference. But, to be succinct, you absolutely need to eat before you exercise!
When Should I Eat?
Different people have different preferences on when to eat before a workout. The best rule of thumb is that the closer you get to exercise time, the simpler your choices need to be in order to help your body utilize energy more efficiently. If you can eat 2-3 hours prior to exercise, a large meal with complex carbs will have time to be absorbed and processed. But, if you need to eat closer to your workout (within about an hour, or so), it’s best to choose a simpler snack.
If it’s been more than 3 hours since your last big meal, you’ll want to have a snack about an hour before you work out. Proper fueling at this time will help you feel satiated during your workout, keep the stomach cramps at bay (if you choose the right food!) and give you energy for your workout. Making sure you have enough time to eat and start the digestion process can also help ward off nausea and low blood sugar, which can make you feel faint during exercise. Proper fuel before your workout has many benefits, plus it’s safer too—which brings us to the next question: what to eat?
What’s on the Workout-Fuel Menu?
The general guideline for eating before a workout is that the size of the meal depends on how much time you have to digest it. If you have a lot of time before your workout, feel free to enjoy a large meal. For example, a sandwich stacked with lean protein, veggies and avocado on multi-grain bread would be perfect.
If you have 1-2 hours before your workout, a small meal or healthy snack composed of carbohydrates and protein is best for most people. One tasty example: enjoy a bowl of low-fiber, whole grain (healthy!) cereal with low-fat or skim milk. This would also be a great time for a nutritious energy bar, protein-based smoothie or sports drink.
If you’re working out in the next hour, or first thing in the morning, a light snack that’s primarily simple carbohydrates, rather than complex carbs, is what most studies recommend. You might have noticed that none of the pre-workout snacks recommend fat. Fat isn’t bad – medical advice supports that it’s an important part of people’s diets and of a healthy lifestyle. However, experts suggest avoiding fat if you’re eating a light snack right before a workout, as it slows your digestive system down. You won’t be able to convert as many calories into energy, and you might be working out on a full stomach, which isn’t very comfortable!
It’s hard to answer what the perfect workout snack is, as it hinges greatly on your personal preferences. Studies show that when you eat, your body increases blood flow to the digestive system, which is why it’s best not to eat a large meal right before a workout, as you want that blood flow available for your muscles. However, a small snack can make sure you have enough calories in your system to perform efficiently and proficiently!
Have an Hour or Less Before Breaking a Sweat?
Try yogurt or chocolate milk! A snack that fits in your hand is a good guideline for these scenarios. If you forget to eat, wake up late, or if you’re walking out the door and realize you’re starving, grab a piece of fruit like a banana to get you through your workout!
A great way to find out what’s best to eat for you is to look at personal data from a health tracker. Keep track of what and when you ate before a workout and see how that affects your performance. The bottom line is that if you’re wondering if you should eat before a workout, the answer is a resounding YES! Happy snacking.