I’m often asked, “What’s the best thing to eat before I workout?” I typically answer this question with a few questions for the person who asks. What you eat really depends on what your goals are. That said, for most of us who just want to head in to the gym for a good workout and leave feeling even better, there really isn’t a need to over-think what goes down the hatch. Read my post about Foods that Energize Exercise for the basic guidelines on what and when to eat.
If you’re an athlete who is training for an event, more consideration needs to be taken when it comes to pre-workout nutrition. Because much of much my “athletic” history has been in endurance sports, like running and triathlon, my pointers are almost always geared toward those populations. If you’re training for fitness competitions, or body building, however, your pre-workout tips aren’t the same.
I’ve broken down pre-workout meal tips into three broad (and I stress broad) categories of Endurance Athletes, Power Athletes and Fitness Enthusiasts. If you’re really into equestrian sports and want to know what will keep your stomach settled riding dressage, or needs tips with foods that will help your stamina playing snooker, I’m sorry – this post will probably not be that helpful. BUT I would still like to talk with you just so I can impress my husband as he seems to have an infinite amount of knowledge in all sports – including those dealing with horses and billiards. I’ve digressed. Back to you.
You are specifically training for an event that has you running, swimming, cycling or all three. Your workouts are almost always over 75 minutes. If you’re working from a training plan day-in and day-out, this applies to you.
- Pre-Workout Meal is mostly carbohydrate, easily digestible, contains a little bit of protein and a little bit of fat. These meals can include oatmeal w/ milk and berries, whole grain toast w/ almond nut butter, eggs and rice (yes, that’s a great pre-workout breakfast) or a banana nut smoothie. There are plenty of options, and how much you eat depends on the length of time you have from breakfast until your workout. The ideal amount of time is three (3) hours to let food digest. Anything less means you should eat less or your body’s blood will be busy breaking down food, which means it will be unavailable to the rest of your body when you need it. This can cause stomach cramping, but also breathlessness or a feeling of fatigue as a lot of your oxygen-rich blood is working on breakfast. Thus, a big meal in your stomach, even for a swimmer who doesn’t “jar” their body as much as a runner, will cause problems. Eat more if you have more time, eat less if you have less time.The 30 minutes after a workout is really important for the endurance athlete – especially if a workout has surpassed 90 minutes. Eating or drinking something that has a decent balance of protein and carbs is key. Since most people don’t make it home or to the office to eat something right after a workout, a supplement might be needed. I always recommend Hammer Nutrition’s Recoverite. It’s not cheap, but it’s high quality – and the company is great!
Not to suggest we’re all not “power athletes” but for ease of definition, you’re a power athlete is your goal is to build muscle mass or achieve a physique that has a lot of muscular definition. Your workout’s primary focus is in very specific strength training.
- In comparison to the endurance athlete, the pre-workout meal for the power athlete can be heavier in protein, moderate to light on carbs, and moderate to light on fat. Fiber and digestibility is not as much of a concern. A slice of toast + a couple eggs, small serving of oatmeal + protein powder, berries + greek yogurt or a protein shake are all fairly common meals. While power athletes train at all different levels, protein before and after a workout is usually important. When it comes to the type of protein, many strength-focused athletes look for something with a high bio-availability, which means better absorption. I like whey or egg-based protein. If you don’t eat or don’t tolerate dairy or egg, rice or pea protein powder actually has a reasonable amount of usable protein. The only protein I do not advocate is soy – particularly for women. My rationale for that will be another blog post soon.
The fitness enthusiast will go out for quick run, make it into the yoga studio for a hot yoga class, or into the gym for a good workout and a little socialization. There is no training plan, just regular maintenance.
- If you fall into this category, the most important thing is that you eat a healthy, clean breakfast. Sugary cereals need not apply. Protein and fat are always important as is some carbohydrate. Pay attention to how you feel before and after you eat. If you feel like you’re famished less than two to three hours after eating breakfast, you might be eating too many carbs, or too little protein/fat. My advice is to avoid a high sugar breakfast, including fruit-flavored yogurt, any boxed cereal with 10+ grams of sugar/serving, and of course pastries. Keep in mind, a lot of breakfast foods are marketed as healthy, or even low sugar, when they in fact break down very quickly in your body, wreaking havoc on your insulin – and making you feel hungry too soon.A couple of my fave everyday breakfasts include plain yogurt + cinnamon, stevia and blueberriers, boiled eggs + Ezekiel sprouted English muffin, oatmeal + protein powder + strawberries. **These are my favorite breakfasts, and they’re fairly low in fat. That said, I DO supplement with at least a teaspoon of omega-3-rich cod liver oil every morning to make up for it. Good fats are so important!**
I hope this post helps you. If you’re not connecting with me yet on Facebook, now is a great time to start! If you’ve got a question, don’t hesitate to ask.