Workout Nutrition: Pre-Workout Snack

Workout Nutrition: Pre-Workout snacks

As you may know, I’m a big fan of keeping your energy level and blood sugar stable all day long. I encourage people to do this by eating balanced meals and snacks and by not going too long without food. Somewhere during this conversation with my clients, I always get asked “how do I eat around my workout schedule?”

Ultimately, by eating a nutritious, well-balanced meal or snack 1-2 hours before exercise, and a nutritious, well-balanced meal or snack 1-2 hours after exercise, most people can meet their workout nutrition needs without much additional intentionality. If you are an average, healthy person who exercises regularly, you probably don’t need special workout nutrition strategies. If you are a professional athlete, bodybuilder, or are training for some type of fitness competition, you likely want to pursue specific nutrition to optimize your performance, but that’s another post for another day.

For the average exerciser however, workouts can sometimes derail our well-intentioned diets by causing strong cravings later in the day, hunger causing us to overeat, or creating too much stress on our bodies from not eating enough. In order to optimize your workout nutrition, we need to consider the type, duration, and intensity of your workout, as well as the time of day and which other meals you have already or are planning to consume that day.

IS YOUR DIET WORKING FOR YOU?

Because each body is biochemically unique, the pre-workout snack that works for your friend may not be right for you and there may be a simple reason why the nutrition plan you followed from a magazine didn’t work. The truth is, your body is your best doctor when it comes to knowing which foods nourish you and which foods make you feel crummy. In order to decide if your diet is sufficiently supporting your workout routine, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How is my energy level before a workout?
  2. Do I feel tired during my workout?
  3. Do I feel like I can use proper technique or use more intensity during my workout when I eat (or don’t eat) certain foods?
  4. Am I able to maintain a balanced diet after my workout, or do I experience strong cravings or tend to overeat?
  5. Am I progressing toward my strength building or weight loss goals?

If you were able to answer positively to these questions, then congratulations! It appears that your diet and workout routines are sustainable; at least for now. If you feel like you could use some improvement in one or more of these areas, you may want to make some simple adjustments to provide better energy and strength for your workouts.

EATING BEFORE YOUR WORKOUT

There are varying opinions about when, what, and how much to eat before a workout that can cause confusion for the average exerciser. The most important thing is that you eat something within 2-3 hours prior to your workout.

The most important reason for eating before your workout is to stabilize your blood sugar. Low blood sugar during your workout can make you feel dizzy and sluggish and may also work against your muscle building or weight loss goals. When there’s no sugar in your bloodstream, your body will convert your own muscle tissue into energy.

In addition to stabilizing your blood sugar, eating before your workout can help increase your intensity. Being able to exercise at a higher intensity will make your workouts more efficient and can help you reach your goals more quickly. Your goals for your pre-workout meal or snack should be to sustain energy, boost performance, hydrate, preserve muscle mass, and speed recovery.

The duration, intensity, and timing of your workout will determine your energy needs. For example, the closer you get to a workout, the more simple your meal should be. If you eat 2-3 hours before, you’ll have time for your food to digest and be absorbed from your GI tract into your blood. Within an hour of working out, however, you should eat something that will be digested and absorbed more quickly.

STRENGTH TRAINING: The more intense your efforts, the more protein you’ll need. Enjoy a protein- and complex carbohydrate-rich meal 1-2 hours before your workout.

  1. A palm-sized portion of protein: Beef, chicken, fish, eggs, plain yogurt, protein powder (providing about 21g of protein)
  2. A fist-sized portion of vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, green beans, salad, spinach, summer squash, etc.
  3. A cupped handful of starches: Sweet potato, banana, rice, quinoa, oats
  4. 1 thumb of fats: Nuts, seeds, oil, salad dressing, avocado, coconut, nut butter

CARDIO: Enjoy more carbohydrates than protein about 30-60 minutes before beginning your workout.

  1. A thumb-sized portion of protein: Beef, chicken, fish, eggs, plain yogurt, protein powder (providing about 10g of protein)
  2. A fist-sized portion of vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, green beans, salad, spinach, summer squash, etc.
  3. 1-2 cupped handfuls of starches: Sweet potato, banana, rice, quinoa, oats
  4. 1 thumb of fats: Nuts, seeds, oil, salad dressing, avocado, coconut, nut butter

CIRCUIT TRAINING: Have a protein- and complex carbohydrate-rich meal 2-3 hours before your workout and a carbohydrate-rich snack 30-60 minutes before your workout.

* A note about fats: While I’m typically a big advocate of including fat in a balanced diet, it takes a long time to digest (which is one of the reasons why I love it – it makes you feel full!). Because of this, it may feel heavy in your stomach or slow you down if you eat too much fat before your workout. Enjoy a small amount (1-2 Tbsp. or “thumbs”) and save the rest for after your workout.

Ultimately, you’ll want to eat whatever makes you feel light, energized, and keeps you feeling balanced all day long. Stay tuned for part 2 – what to eat after your workout! In the meantime, share some of your favorite pre-workout meals below.

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