So you have your gear ready and you are raring to go! Fitness has never looked so good!
You get to the gym and find your body lacking in energy to complete the amazing workout you had in mind. The culprit is usually nutrition or rather, bad nutrition.
Your body needs fuel to be able to give you the stamina and strength you require to perform your workout,
“What you eat before a workout is important. It helps you maximize the benefits of all your hard work at the gym.”
States registered dietitian Jessica Jones. That means being thoughtful about what you eat before and after exercising.
A pre-workout supplement like BCAA is a good idea but it should not replace real, delicious meals and snacks. The kind of things you would enjoy anyway—and will enjoy even more when you know they’re helping you reach your fitness goals.
Here are the top tips Ms. Jones gives her patients regarding eating right before a workout, which she considers to be this part of their training plan.
What to eat before a workout:
She counsels her patients to eat before exercise because she thinks it will give them the best chance to get the most out of their workouts. According to Jessica, not eating enough before a workout can make you dizzy, lightheaded, nauseated, or lethargic. It can also make you more likely to injure yourself. And even if none of these things happens, skipping food can negatively impact your performance and reduce your gains.
“Realistically not everyone will always have the time (or desire) to eat before a workout.”
Says Jessica. “On nights when you’re scrambling to get from the office to your favorite studio for that 6:00 P.M. class, it might feel impossible to squeeze in a snack on the way.”
Some people might also work out early in the morning, and have no time to have breakfast prior to their workout. That is ok. For most people it’s OK to workout on an empty stomach. Of course not recommended if you have blood sugar issues.
So if you can’t even grab a protein bar, or the idea of forcing down a bite makes you want to gag, that’s all right. But ideally you should fuel up before you work up a sweat—and definitely, definitely drink water before, during, and after. Here’s how to fuel up right.
Carbs give energy. When we eat them, they break down into glucose, enter our muscle cells, and give us fuel to exercise at our maximum capacity.
Your muscles store glucose in the form of glycogen, and dip into these reserves when you’re putting them to work. Eating carbs before you exercise ensures that you’ll have extra glucose on hand if you need it to replenish those glycogen stores.
If you’re strapped for glucose during your workout, you’ll likely feel weak, tired, and tempted to call it quits and take a nap. Before a workout, it’s good to eat simple carbohydrates, because they are digested fast and provide quick energy.
Of course if you are on a low carbs nutrition plan and you are fat adapted, you can have a snack like avocado to fuel your workout. In this case instead of glucose, your body will use ketones for fuel.
Carb Examples include:
- a granola bar
- a piece of fruit
- Greek yogurt (this contains carbs and protein)
- dried fruit (high on sugar so don’t overdo it)
2. Have a bit of Protein too.
In addition to carbs, it’s a good idea to consume a little bit of protein before your workout—especially if you are doing weight training. When we do strength training exercises, like lifting weights, we create small tears in our muscle fibers.
When you rest, your body repairs those microtears, building up your muscles bigger and stronger than they were before—and it needs protein to do it.
But that doesn’t mean you want to pound a burger before a workout. Instead, go for sources of protein that are easily digestible, and don’t eat too much, so you don’t get an upset stomach halfway through your workout!
Examples of good sources of protein to eat before a workout include:
- Greek yogurt
- a slice of turkey
- a hardboiled egg
3. Timing is important.
The ideal time to eat is between 30 minutes to three hours before your workout. That way you’re not still digesting when you hit the gym floor, but you haven’t gone and used up all those helpful calories yet.
Having said that, you may have to experiment to see which timeframe does your body good. If you’re working out first thing in the morning, you probably won’t be able to eat a whole meal before you hit the gym. A small snack or mini-breakfast should suffice.
“Taking a high quality protein shake or smoothie 30 minutes to an hour before you hit the gym is a good idea”
Just don’t make take a full serving! It is better to split it and have half before your work out and the other half after.
4. Don’t forget to drink water.
It’s best to get your body hydrated before you even think about heading to the gym. One way to determine your overall hydration status is to check out the color of your urine first thing in the morning. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), lemonade-colored urine is a sign of appropriate hydration, while dark colored urine (think apple juice), indicates a deficit in H20.
While there is no one-size-fits-all method to determining fluid needs during exercise, a good place to start is drinking about 2 cups of water 2 to 3 hours before exercise and 1 cup of water 10 to 20 minutes before working out. The goal here is to minimize dehydration—which can cause low energy, and muscle cramps or spasms—without drinking too much water.
You should try to also stay hydrated throughout your workout. Consider drinking 1 cup of water for every 15-30 minutes of intense physical activity, especially if you are sweating profusely or are training in a heated environment. Again, this may take a bit of experimentation until you find what works best for your body.