What to eat before a workout

Sometimes getting a workout in can be a real hassle because of busy schedules and “better things to do”, but if you’re going to work out, you may as well do it right. This means putting all you can into the workout for the limited time you have, and it also means filling your tank beforehand with the right amount and right kind of fuel. If you don’t have the right amount, then you won’t have enough energy to expend; if you don’t have the right kind, you might as well not have any because you will be unable to perform the workout that your body really needs. Any workout, whether it’s walking, jogging, running, swimming, etc., needs the right ingredients, some requiring more than others. Then again, there are some general guidelines to make sure you’re getting a good pre-workout snack no matter what you decide to do!

Main Source of Energy
Yes, your main goal is to probably burn as much fat as you can during a workout, but it is a little more complicated than that. The primary source of energy during exercise is actually carbohydrates, which are easily turned into glucose once in the body. This sugar goes directly to the bloodstream to be used as fuel. The leftover glucose is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver, and this reserve is tapped into during a workout when it is needed. If you’re train of thought is taking you in the direction of, “if I don’t supply my body with carbohydrates before a workout, then it’ll have to burn off some of the fat,” back up that caboose right now. First of all, if you don’t have fuel that is easily consumed for exercise, then you won’t feel very energetic or get an effective workout, period. The end result will not be what was intended; it will be less work performed and less calories burned. Second of all, it is possible to burn fat if you exercise at a lower intensity for a moderate amount of time, but having that little boost of a snack will give you the energy to do even that.

Perfect Timing
Not only do you need nutritious foods before a workout to give you energy to do so, but the foods need to be eaten considering the amount of time they take to digest, in order to allow enough time for the stomach to settle. You don’t want food gargling around during a workout because it will most often result in stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, or diarrhea. At the same time, eating too long before a workout, say 6 hours or so, the food will be completely gone and not a good source of energy. Not only does this pre-workout food provide energy, but it prevents hunger when the focus should be solely on what you are doing in the workout itself.

Foods for Fuel
You don’t want to work out on a full stomach, nor on an empty stomach. So what, you may ask, is the line between these two boundaries? Here is a simple rule of thumb: carbohydrates are easily digested (about 2 hours), while proteins (about 4 hours) and fats (nearly 6 hours) take much longer to break down and will stick around longer in the stomach. A bit of common sense to go with that—large meals take longer to digest than small meals—and you’ll be on your way to figuring out a pre-workout meal on your own. That said, consuming a small snack of carbohydrates and moderate amounts of protein about 2 hours before a workout is the best goal to aim for because it will be digested rather quickly and leave you feeling satisfied throughout the duration of the workout. Of course, everybody is different, so be sure to experiment with what your body (stomach) can handle before partaking in any serious competition using this advice. The closer you get to exercise time, the fewer calories you should be consuming.

Snack Ideas
These snacks will suit your tastes depending on the time of day you choose to exercise. Also, be sure to include water with your workout snack. Sports drinks are another source of carbohydrates that work well with some of these snacks; it all truly depends on what your stomach can handle. Some people find that dairy products, no matter how long before a workout, can upset the stomach.

  • 1 medium banana with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter and a serving of pretzels or crackers
  • Bagel, English muffin, or toast with 1-2 tablespoons jelly or jam
  • 1 cup nonfat yogurt
  • Sports bar
  • Cereal and milk
  • Low-fat vegetable soup or chicken noodle soup with crackers
  • Fresh fruit, any kind
  • Fruit smoothie, homemade
  • Goldfish crackers
  • Pasta
  • Baked potato


Last updated on Aug 30th, 2011 and filed under Healthy Eating. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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