How to use food to power your workouts without weighing you down.
Food is fuel, and the more nutrient-dense fuel you give your body, the better you’ll be able to perform. Fact.
But in order to get the proper fuel for your body for a standard hour-long workout, you have to eat the right foods at the right time. That means foods with a balanced amount of carbohydrates and protein that will help power you through your workout without weighing you down.
Here are a few ideas for foods you should consider adding to your pre-workout repertoire, and when you should eat them. But first, a quick rundown on why you should even consider eating before sweating it out.
Why You Should Eat Before a Workout
While fasting before a workout has been shown to help burn more fat, there’s a catch—a few of them, actually.
For starters, when you burn fat too quickly, your body begins to adjust its metabolism to compensate for the loss. So, during your next meal, your body thinks it needs to store more fat. Extended periods of fasting can actually drop your resting metabolic rate.
What’s happening in both cases is that your body is basically going into survival mode. By fasting, your body thinks it needs to reserve energy.
Even more alarmingly, research suggests that you can actually lose muscle mass by regularly working out on an empty stomach. And losing muscle could ultimately slow your metabolism even more, making it harder to lose weight (if that’s what you’re going for). All in all, there’s little benefit to forgoing food before a high-gear workout.
By contrast, eating the right foods can help you maximize your exercise performance and improve recovery time by maintaining blood glucose concentration steady. This study found that eating or snacking before a workout allowed athletes to push themselves harder and endure longer during a workout.
Pre-fueled exercise could also have the added benefit of suppressing your appetite afterward. One study found that participants who ate before working out felt less inclined to eat more later than those who skipped their snack.
So what foods are the best? Read on.
The 10 Best Foods to Eat Before a Workout
In a nutshell, the best pre-workout bites should always include a complex carbohydrate and protein. Carbs provide the glucose that your muscles need for fuel to replenish glycogen stores. Protein is needed to increase muscle protein synthesis, which helps with muscle growth, performance, and recovery.
Here are some ideas for meals and snacks that have a good balance of both carbs and protein:
- Banana and almond butter
- Oatmeal with greek yogurt and berries
- Protein smoothie
- Brown rice and beans
- Hummus and whole wheat crackers
- Apples and walnuts
- Small sweet potato
- Egg and whole wheat toast
- Ham and cheese wrap
- Trail mix
Bananas are fast-acting carbohydrates that, combined with protein and fiber-rich almond butter, will give you the most usable fuel for your workout. Bananas are rich in potassium, to boot, which helps in maintaining muscle and nerve function.
Oats are one of the best high-fiber carbohydrates because they slowly release carbs into the bloodstream, which helps deliver a steady supply of energy. Greek yogurt brings some necessary protein, while berries, the most low-sugar fruits, keep it interesting.
Smoothies packed with fruits, vegetables, and some sort of protein are one of the best snacks to have before a workout because they have a good combination of simple and complex carbs and can be easily and quickly digested.
Brown rice and beans provide that nutrient balance, as do hummus and crackers.
Foods You Should Avoid
While some fat and some protein is totally fine, you should avoid saturated fats and too much protein right before a workout because these types of foods take longer to digest. As a result, they take away oxygen and energy-delivering blood from your muscles.
Foods high in refined sugars should also be avoided at all costs. Refined sugars make your blood sugar spike and consequently crashy, taking your energy down with them.
When You Should Eat Before a Workout
While choosing the right foods to eat can make or break your workout, timing is also important.
Eating too close to a workout can leave you feeling heavy and sluggish, while eating too long before can leave you hungry right before you start.
While you want to give your body at least 45 minutes to digest something before exercising, the best time to eat is at least 2 hours before. As a rule of thumb, the closer to your workout, the more simple your food choices need to be to easily digest.
Here are some general guidelines of when to eat before exercising:
– 4 hours before: solid meal
– 3 hours before: liquid meals
– 2 hours before: carb and protein snack
– 1 hour before: water or another sugar-free beverage
And Please, Don’t Forget to Hydrate
On that note, don’t forget to hydrate. While eating the right foods can help you maximize your workout, drinking the proper amounts of fluids is equally important for boosting performance.
Good hydration has been shown to sustain and even improve performance during a workout. So, eat up, and drink up, too.