Trainers get this question a lot: What should I eat before (and after) a workout? Many people want to maximize their workouts, so naturally they want to know what to eat before they exercise to make the most out of all that blood, sweat, and tears . . . and also to make sure that they feel energized and mentally sharp from beginning to end.
Well, the answer is, there isn’t a miracle pre-exercise food or meal, but there are some general suggestions to follow when looking for a pre-exercise snack or meal.
To begin with, if your workout is going to be less than 60 minutes and not very high up on the intensity scale, then what you eat before your session doesn’t really matter. It’s the longer, intense workouts that will be affected by what you choose to eat beforehand. So if you’re getting ready for a 30-60 minute session, it’s generally fine to work out on an empty stomach or a cup of coffee. Just remember to hydrate properly! (And on that note, don’t chug a lot of water right before or during your workout or you’ll have water sloshing around in your stomach the whole time. The combination of water and overexerting yourself can lead to some . . . upheaval, or at the very least, lots of discomfort.)
That being said, some of the classes we teach are intense. So if you know what you’re heading into, I’d recommend a light snack that will give you fuel but also sit well as you do a lot of moving around.
With the right fuel, you can definitely see better performance and energy.
I’ll break it down simply: Eat foods that are high in carbs (complex carbs that don’t have high fiber ideally), moderate in protein, and low in fat.
What foods you eat depends on your food preferences, obviously, but get something that’ll sit in your stomach while you exercise. It also can be in drink form or solid food–as long as it hits the “high carb low fat” requirements, you’re good. A go-to pre-workout meal for me is rice and chicken.
Additionally, I would recommend eating at least one hour before activity. Some people need to digest for even longer, so this isn’t a hard and fast rule; just do what is most comfortable for you. Your snack or meal should be shorter if your workout is going to be shorter as well. Eat accordingly.
What you want out of the pre-workout meal are mainly two things: to maintain carbohydrate stores and blood sugar levels to provide lasting energy.
What you don’t want is to deal with discomfort or indigestion during your workout, so eat foods that you know won’t give you digestive issues. Trust me, I have seen many people make that mistake and it can end a workout quick.
In general, carbs are very important for all physical activity, so what you eat hours and days before a long workout makes a difference. If you don’t understand carbs and want to learn more about them (for example, what’s the difference between a complex carb and a simple carb?), I wrote a blog about that, too. Your body needs them to function; the role you play is in choosing the right ones.