To eat or not to eat before you work out is a hotly debated topic. Proper pre-workout nutrition can help you gain the nutrients and the energy you need to perform your best in your workout session. Taking the right meals before you work out whether you want to lose weight or maximize performance is thus very vital.
Today, the fitness industry is a booming industry. That is because physical exercises such as swimming, walking, jogging, or dancing, have numerous physical and mental benefits. However, poor eating habits can reduce the effectiveness of these activities. If you want to maximize your performance and recovery, then you must fuel your body with the right nutrients before a workout.
Too hard to digest foods and too-large servings of foods can also reduce your performance. If you overeat or eat hard-to-digest food before exercising, then you risk nausea, cramps, indigestion, and even running to the loo when working out which can drag your training efforts.
The composition of your pre-workout meals depends on the type, intensity, and the duration of the workouts. Also, it depends on the goals for the exercise session and the overall body composition goals.
So, let’s look at what to eat and drink before your training sessions.
Your body, as well as your brain needs carbohydrates for proper functioning. Carbs produce glucose, which is a vital nutrient for your muscles. The body stores that glucose in the form of glycogen in your liver and muscles. Then, the glycogen produces the energy that you need for short and high-intensity bouts of physical exercises.
However, the degree to which the carbs are used when you want to do more extended exercises depends on several factors, including the type of training, the intensity of the workout, and your overall diet.
As the glycogen you store in the muscles depletes, your intensity and output diminish.
According to a recent study, carbs can increase the levels of glycogen in the muscles as well as its utilisation while boosting carb oxidation during exercise.
If you want to maximize the glycogen levels that you have in store, then you must consume a high-carb diet for 1-7 days before a workout, which is a method commonly known as carb loading. But you need to consume the easily digested carbs to avoid feeling sluggish.
Foods rich in carbohydrates include:
- Grains: Whole grains include corn tortillas, whole wheat bread, and whole wheat pasta, whole oats, quinoa, beans, brown rice, or whole grain cereal.
- Milk and Greek Yogurt: Low fat, rBGH free or organic.
- Fruits include fresh, frozen or even canned in its juices such as apples or bananas
- Vegetables such as broccoli.
If you want to get extra energy to boost your performance, you can take pre-workout supplements. Though some dieticians say that it is safe to use pre-workouts supplements, a few of them say that they are potentially harmful.
Some of the best pre-workout supplements that you can try include Creatine, Caffeine, Beta-Alanine, Nitrates, BCAAs, and Sodium Bicarbonate. You can make or buy the supplements best for your type of exercise.
Eating protein before a workout has numerous benefits. Research proves that protein consumption improves athletic and muscle performance. If you eat protein either alone or with carbs, then you increase muscle protein synthesis.
Also, a protein-rich diet has a better anabolic response or growth of the muscles. Research proves that there is a positive anabolic response to the people who consume proteins before they do exercises. This diet also improves muscle recovery, and it results in increased and lean body mass.
You need to remain well hydrated before exercising and replace fluids throughout the training period. Taking water is the best way to stay hydrated. Not drinking enough water can significantly decrease your performance.
If you are a man, aim for about three litres per day. Women, on the other hand, should aim for about 2.2 litres of water before a workout. However, you must consider your level of activity and other external factors such as the environment for example, if it’s hot and you’re sweaty, you can increase your intake.
Besides water, you can take certain sports drinks or coffee. Consider taking an isotonic drink if you do intense workout sessions that last more than 60 minutes.
Low amounts of fats but avoid saturated fats
If you want to do longer but moderate-to-low intensity exercises, then you can consume small servings of food with fat. Unlike glycogen from carbs, which is ideal for short but high-intensity moments of workouts, food rich in fats fuels the more prolonged bouts of exercises. Studies indicate that a four-week diet that consists of 40% fat helps increase endurance in running periods for trained runners.
On the contrary, you need to avoid saturated fats because they digest in your stomach and take away oxygen as well as the energy-delivering blood from your muscles. Fats should form at least 20% of the calories in your diet, but if you consume too much of it before you exercise, it can negatively affect your workout. Large servings of fat can slow down the digestion process and also doesn’t allow proteins and carbs to do their job as quickly.
When to Take your Pre-Workout Meal
The time you take your meals before a workout is another crucial aspect. If you want to maximise the results of your workout, eat a complete meal containing carbs, protein, and a little bit of fat 2-3 hours before you start the exercises.
The sooner you eat before your training begins, the simpler and smaller the meal should be. That means that if you eat 30-60 minutes before your training begins, then you should eat smaller servings of food that are easy to digest and should mainly contain carbs and a little bit of protein. At that point, avoid fats to prevent any stomach upset during your workouts.
To sum up, here is what you need in different sessions of exercises:
- If you are doing high-intensity sessions, then you need lower fibre sources of carbs since they are easy to digest. They can include rice, cakes, and potatoes.
- When doing long cardio training, choose carbs with higher fibres such as whole grains and legumes. You can also include some protein as a pre-workout snack.
- For a long, steady state cardio session that will go for more than 90 minutes, take a meal or snack which has a good quality, slow-release carbohydrate, and some protein. That can help sustain the rate in which energy is released and not spike the glucose levels in the blood.
- For a short cardio training or a steady state aerobic session that will last around an hour, you can go in without eating.