Before you head out to work out, it’s important to make sure your body is properly fueled. The amount of food you need may vary based on your workout, weight and gender, but the make-up of what to include in your pre-workout snack or mini-meal should follow the same general principles. The key is to know how to fuel correctly. Doing so will help you maximize your energy and give you staying power.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind to put gas in your tank without weighing you down:
Watch the clock
The best time to eat is about 30 minutes to an hour before you work out. This gives your body enough time to digest your food so you’ll have the energy you need to get moving. You’ll have some pep in your step without being slowed by the digestion process.
Don’t eat too much
Doing so can cause indigestion or may make you feel nauseous once you start moving. Aim for a snack of about 100-200 calories, including about 25-45 grams of carbs.
But eat something!
Not eating before a workout can result in low blood sugar, light-headedness and fatigue. If you haven’t eaten anything in about two hours or more, you’ll need to eat something before you exercise.
Incorporate the trifecta: carbs, protein and fats
Carbohydrates will provide you with the quick energy you need at the start of your workout and protein will provide staying power and will help to prevent muscle damage later. Protein doesn’t break down quickly enough to provide you with the energy you need on its own, however. Keep fat intake to a minimum because fat takes too long to digest and can make you sluggish. When choosing fats, stick to healthy choices like avocados and nuts.
Be picky: choose your carbs carefully
You don’t want to get your carbs from simple sugars because your blood sugar will spike and you’ll soon crash. High-quality complex carbs give you the energy you need but keep blood sugar levels more stable so you don’t get that spike-and-crash effect. When carbohydrate-containing foods also have fiber (like oatmeal), your energy levels will stay more consistent. Keep away from high-glycemic choices like donuts, cookies or candy.
Don’t forget those antioxidants, vitamins and minerals
Choose from a variety of fruits that contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals in addition to carbs to help fight workout-induced stressors on the body. For example, the potassium in bananas can helps prevent muscle cramps. Blueberries can help you recover from exercise-induced muscle damage.
In addition to food, you also need to make sure your body is well-hydrated. If you feel fluids swishing around in your belly or feel bloated from drinking a lot, wait about 20 minutes after you eat and then have 8-16 oz. of fluids. Continue to hydrate during your workout, especially if it’s hot or you’re sweating a lot.
Play around with what works best for you
Not everyone feels the same on the same amount or type of fuel. It’s best to use these tips as a guideline and then tweak them based on how you feel when you work out.
Here are a few pre-workout snack ideas:
- A medium banana with a ½ cup of Greek yogurt
- Oatmeal with fresh berries
- Apple slices dipped in natural peanut butter
- A hard-boiled egg with whole-grain toast and jam
- Sliced turkey with a few whole-grain crackers
- A mix of nuts and fresh or dried fruit
- Smoothies made from fruit and protein-rich Greek yogurt, cottage cheese or milk