What to Eat Before a Workout
Everyone has a different exercise goal – whether it’s to build muscle, shed pounds, or push your performance. Whatever your focus, your body will require a similar diet.
You’ll want to eat a meal high in carbs and protein and low in fat. Eat this meal three to four hours before you exercise.
Eat The ‘Right’ Carbs
Carbohydrates provide the glycogen your muscles need for your workout, whether it’s a five-mile run, gym workout, Zumba class, or yoga session. Your muscles won’t perform well if you don’t have sufficient glycogen.
A carb-heavy meal may seem all wrong if you’re trying to lose weight. But we’re talking complex carbohydrates like beans, lentils, whole grains, and starchy veggies (potatoes, corn, peas). These will provide fuel plus nutrients and fiber.
Refined carbohydrates – pasta, bagels, soft drinks, cookies, and many packaged foods – are high in calories, fat and added sugars. They lack the fiber and nutrients that fuel your body. Generally, they’re the foods that expand your belly and spur your appetite. Those are the wrong carbs if your goal is to lose weight.
Consume Lean Protein
Protein is essential to the body’s normal functions. Protein helps the body synthesize enzymes and hormones, maintain fluid balance, and regulate vital functions – building antibodies against infection, blood clotting, and scar formation.
Protein is also a building block for our muscles, bones, cartilage, skin, hair, and blood.
Protein helps muscle cells rebuild after a workout. But you need the right protein that contains amino acids. Chicken or lean beef are ‘complete’ protein packages that contain these amino acids.
Protein-rich foods also include cheese, milk, fish, and eggs. Certain grains and vegetables contain protein, but not the ‘complete’ kind. Beans and grains like quinoa and bulgur contain this type of protein. However, if you eat a variety of these food sources during the day, you can get the amino acids you need – without meat.
Add Heart-Healthy Fats
Good fats play a significant role in preventing fatigue and controlling weight as they make you feel full. Before a workout, eat a little of these “good” fats – flax seeds, almonds, pistachios, peanut butter or avocado.
Drink Plenty of Water
Dehydration is a big concern, especially if you exercise in the morning. You’ve likely gone through the night without any water, so it’s important to rehydrate before starting your day.
Water is actually critical to exercise at any point of the day. Your cellular metabolism depends on water. Your performance, your mental sharpness, and your mood will suffer if you’re dehydrated.
Sports drinks are generally overkill unless you plan to exercise for more than 60 minutes or in hot conditions. The best options include water or water mixed with a small amount of fruit juice. Have a sports drink with intense training.
As the rule of thumb goes, if you feel parched, you’re already dehydrated. It’s best to stay ahead of that parched sensation.
What NOT To Eat Before A Workout
You need “fuel” to sustain a workout with plenty of energy.
- A cup of coffee can boost your performance. But too much coffee can trigger the jitters, headaches, digestive and urinary issues.
- Steer clear of refined carbs – pasta, pastries, and other white-flour foods. They are high in calories and fat and don’t have the fiber and nutrients your body requires pre-workout.
- Kale and other high-fiber foods can cause gas and bloating.
Easy-to-digest complete carbs and proteins can make a huge difference in your stamina. Almond butter and honey – or a sweet potato – are favorites among athletes.
Blending and juicing are great for pre-digesting food, so your stomach doesn’t have to work hard. Just make sure to finish your drink at least two hours before your workout.
What To Eat Before A Morning Workout
Jogging is a great way to burn calories and improve your heart health. Some people mix it up with a walk-run routine if they’re not up to running the entire 3 or 5 or more miles.
Be sure to fuel and hydrate yourself for the energy you need to go the distance. Before a morning workout, allow a few minutes for a quick bite and some water. Otherwise, you’ll become weak and tired too soon.
Eating a small carb and protein snack 30 to 60 minutes before you head out will keep stomach grumbling at bay.
A combo of protein, slow-burning carbs, and a little healthy fat helps to keep energy high and blood sugar levels sustained throughout a workout. A banana’s potassium will help prevent cramping.
Choose your carb wisely as refined carbohydrates often spur spikes of blood sugar and insulin, which later can cause your body to crash. While a donut may sound great, it’s a refined carb that won’t sustain you long.
Best morning pre-workout options:
- Banana with a big spoon of peanut butter
- Whole grain bread or half of a bagel with peanut butter
- Banana, whole grain cereal, with 2% skim milk
- Low-fat yogurt with berries or granola
- Poached or hard-boiled eggs
What to Eat Before An Afternoon Workout
If your lifestyle has room for an afternoon workout, make sure to eat at least two hours ahead. Your body needs time to digest so you have plenty of energy – and no cramps.
A pre-workout snack (instead of a full meal) is the best option. You’ll need a mix of “good” carbs, lean protein, heart-healthy fats, and fluids. If you’re going for a run, your energy level will depend on your meals. To stay fully energized through the day (and the workout), try to eat five or six small meals during the day.
Good pre-afternoon workout choices:
- Peanut butter with celery or carrots
- String cheese and whole grain crackers
- Yogurt with strawberries or a granola bar
- A handful of nuts and low-fat cottage cheese
- Flax seeds on top of yogurt or oatmeal
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What To Eat Before An Evening Workout
If an evening workout is your best chance for exercise, timing your snack is very important. Make sure you eat at least two hours before starting. Your body needs time to replenish the glycogen stores so it can repair the cells.
A light snack is your best bet if dinner is two hours away. You need a quick, easy snack with carbs and protein. Examples include:
- Peanut butter on whole-grain bread.
- Whole-grain pita with hummus.
- Whole-grain crackers with low-fat cheese.
If you have time for a full dinner before working out, stay focused on carbs and protein. The carbs will provide fast-acting energy whereas protein provides long-lasting energy. Some good options are:
- Turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread with avocado, lettuce, and tomato.
- Whole-grain pasta with steamed veggies and chicken breast.
- Fish filet with brown rice and a green salad.
What To Eat Before A Workout To Build Muscle
Exercise without eating is a bad idea. You will break down your muscles and won’t have sufficient energy to fuel an intense session.
Healthy adults need about 45 to 56 grams of protein a day. However, if you exercise regularly, you may need more calories and protein. A great option is a protein shake you can easily whip up to refuel your body before your workout.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
The amount of protein your body requires will depend on your daily caloric intake and your weight. Since most foods (including vegetables) contain protein, the typical American gets plenty of protein every day.
Protein deficiency is a risk for a few specific groups of people, including those with illnesses or eating disorders, as well as the elderly. A person with protein deficiency eats just 50% to 75% of the recommended amount of protein daily.
Dietitians advise that we consume 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. This is based on the recommended daily allowances (RDA) set by the Food and Nutrition Board. Based on that formula, a person weighing 170 pounds needs about 61 grams of protein daily.
On a daily basis, protein should comprise about 15% of your total caloric intake. If your diet is 1,800 calories a day, about 270 of those calories should come from protein.
The Beauty of Protein Shakes
Protein shakes provide a quick way to get easily digestible protein before – and after – a workout. Protein shakes range in their protein content, and you need one that fits your body weight. All protein shakes contain some carbohydrates and a little fat. Protein shakes are available in various flavors. You can buy them in powder form or in ready-to-drink packages, such as cans or foil packs.
Choosing a Protein Shake
First step: Read the label to determine protein content. A bodybuilder should get a shake mix with more protein. If you’re an endurance athlete, like a marathoner, you may favor drinks with more carbs.
To lose body fat, you need a protein shake that’s mainly protein, has fewer carbohydrates, and only a little bit of fat. Make sure the product is more than 50 percent protein.
A combination of whey and casein is a good choice, as long as you tolerate dairy well because both come from milk. Soy protein is another option. It’s a plant-based protein and is just as effective as most animal sources of protein.
DIY Protein Shake
The total amount of protein you need on a daily basis is 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight.
Each scoop of powder must contain 2 to 2.5 grams of leucine. Leucine is an essential amino acid that helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis, or the putting together of amino acids to make muscle protein. Essential amino acids are the amino acids that you must get from the foods you eat because your body cannot make them.
In your blender: combine protein powder, 1-2 cups skim milk or water, half of a banana or apple, ½ tablespoon of freshly ground flaxseed powder. Buzz until the mixture is completely blended.
Cow’s milk is better than soy milk for preserving muscle. The carbohydrates from the slow-digesting fruits and the fat from the flaxseed powder will provide you with a steady stream of energy during your workout.
Sip the shake slowly. Then drink an 8-ounce glass of water to hydrate.
Beware of Too Much Protein
Keep this in mind: medical research shows that consuming too much protein – more than 30 percent of your total daily caloric intake – could harm your body.
Adding more protein – but not more calories or exercise to your diet – won’t help you build more muscle mass. You may put other body systems under stress. You could build more fat along with the muscle mass if you’re maintaining the same exercise level.
That’s why it’s best to include carbohydrates in a protein-dominant diet.
A diet in which protein makes up more than 30 percent of your caloric intake causes a buildup of toxic ketones. The “ketogenic diet” can push kidneys into overdrive to flush ketones from your body. As kidneys rid your body of these toxic ketones, you can lose a significant amount of water – which causes dehydration, especially if you exercise intensely.
You will see a weight loss on the scales, but that’s just water weight. Along with losing water, you lose muscle mass and bone calcium. The dehydration also strains your kidneys and puts stress on your heart. Also, the dehydration can make you feel weak and dizzy.
Moderation Is Best
Whether you are an avid strength trainer, a marathon runner, or just an average exerciser, a balanced diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish, and complex carbohydrates is what nutritionists recommend.