Food is fuel, and if you don’t have the right fuel or the correct amount, it can throw a wrench into your workout. Think of food and exercise as a dance between two partners – you want to be in sync. You want to avoid feeling full and sluggish, but you also want to avoid feeling empty and weak. To get it all straight, here’s the scoop on eating before you hit the gym!
The best way to burn fat and exercise well is to acquire the necessary carbohydrates prior to working out. Exercise on an empty stomach will not only keep you from increasing intensity, but if you fail to “start your engine,” you’ll run out of stored carbs and start burning muscle instead of fat. So what’s the perfect snack? 200-300 carbohydrate-based calories, plus a bit of protein and fat. This combo helps normalize blood sugar and is easily digested by your body, which will help prevent cramps during your workout. Our favorite pre-workout snacks:
• An apple with a teaspoon of peanut butter
• Low-fat yogurt with some almonds or a sliced banana
• A slice of whole wheat bread with nut butter
• Oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts
• When in a hurry, check out the many options of energy bars that line the shelves. Look for quality choices with ingredients you can recognize.
Timing Is Everything
The time you fill your stomach is just as important as the ingredients you fill your stomach with. You don’t want your stomach growling during exercise, but you don’t want to feel like you just ate Thanksgiving dinner, either. Take note of the Mayo Clinic’s recommendations and check your watch before you chow down.
• Large Meals: Eat at least three to four hours before exercising.
• Small Meals: Eat two to three hours before exercising.
• Small Snacks: Eat about an hour before exercising.
Water, not just food, counts as your fuel for a workout. Proper hydration is essential to keep your body working safely and productively. The American College of Exercise recommends drinking 16-20 fluid ounces of water or sports beverage at least four hours before you exercise, and 8-12 fluid ounces of water in the 10-15 minutes leading up to your workout. If you’re a common sufferer of cramps during a workout, check your water intake. Adding a few more glasses can be a big help!
Remember that each body is different, and sometimes finding the perfect pre-workout fuel will be a game of trial and error. Start with these tips and you’ll be well on your way.