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Have you ever wondered what you should eat before a hard workout or training session? I know I have, and sometimes have been stumped on what to eat, when, and why.
How you eat all the timeis the most important way you can prepare your body nutritionally to perform at its peak. It is impossible to make up for skimping on meals and snacks during the week by eating one super large carb loaded meal on your grueling workout day. You see, your muscles and endurance levels can’t be tricked that easily. And, without the adequate nutrients, you’ll be “hitting the wall” considerably faster than if you had been powering all along.
Your ongoing eating patterns should be high in good quality complex, slow digesting carbohydrates (think oat bran, quinoa, and amaranth.) It should also be moderate in both protein and fat because these take a bit longer to digest.
You’ll usually find that your energy will remain highest during a competition or exercise routine if you have eaten a light meal about 2 or 3 hours before exercising, and a snack 30 minutes before exercising. This allows your body to have some available energy in the form of circulating glucose, without having too much food in the stomach to slow you down or feel uncomfortable. (And, you definitely don’t want to get sick!)
This small meal or snack should be comprised of mostly carbs, it could have some protein to let it stay with you a little longer, and should be very low in fat, to allow your stomach to digest this food quickly.
Some examples of solid pre-exercise snacks:
A banana with 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt
Greek Yogurt with a slice of wholegrain toast (Ezekiel bread is an excellent option)
Fruit and Greek Yogurt
A banana and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter Fruit smoothie made with almond milk Oat Bran bowl made with raisins and hemp milk
A bowl of quinoa with a banana or fruit of sorts and unsweetened milk Chia Seeds Pudding made with Greek yogurt and fruit
Two Brown rice cakes with a side of fruit
Got the idea? Fruit is always a good idea for carb loading.
Timing meals is important
Timing your meals is important! If you eat too much before your workout—or too soon before it, you won’t have digested your snack by the time you start moving. And unfortunately, since both your digestive system and your muscles need blood to function properly, they’ll end up competing for it. As you get into your workout, your muscles will win out and require more blood, pulling it away from your digestive tract. This in return will have you feeling pain in your gut when you get on the treadmill or elliptical too close to breakfast or snack time.
On the other hand, if you don’t eat enough before your workout, or it’s been too long since your last meal, you can expect an energy crash. Blood-sugar levels drop during the first 15 or 20 minutes of a workout, which can lead to tiredness, dizziness, or even fainting. To avoid all of this, eat half an hour before your workout. This snack should be an easy-to-digest and composed of 60% carbs like fruit, a bagel, or a banana with peanut butter. Since your body and muscles can’t be fooled, eating a nutritionally balanced diet will make a world of a difference. And, definitely, avoid eating high fats. Fats take a bit longer to digest and will have you feeling a bit sluggish. (You don’t want that!)
I tend to get more nervous before grueling workouts like boot camp or kickboxing, even if I’ve done them a million times. This anxiety will usually slow the digestive process. Allowing more time before exercising, eating a lower fat meal, doing relaxation breathing techniques, or even trying a liquid meal like a fruit smoothie blended with simply Greek yogurt and fruit should help.
Whatever you do, don’t experiment day-of
If you are trying something new with your eating routine, it’s not a good idea to wait until the day-of to experiment, especially if you’ve got a tournament or some sort of competition. You could upset your digestive system, an even bigger problem than too much food in your stomach!
Early morning workouts cramping your eating schedule?
If you are exercising first thing in the morning or have a race, then the last meal and snacks you have the evening before are crucial. You’ll want to make sure that you eat foods that are high in carbs, moderate in protein and fat. You should also aim to have a light high carbohydrate snack as soon as you can after you get up on the morning of. A bowl of Oat Bran or a banana smoothie might just enough to get you through an early morning event. You can always add more calories later in the morning.
I'm an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200), offering guidance to high achievers in aligning their lifestyle with well-being through daily wellness and self-care routines, promoting balance and harmony. Join me at Wellness Bum for tips on living well, and consider subscribing to my newsletter or booking a coaching session.