Eat for Athletic Performance

The Best Foods to Eat Before a Workout

Whether being hardcore at the gym or enjoying a lighter cardio day, it's important to eat the right foods before hitting your workout.  

Eat to Support Your Workout

Feed Your Machine
Feed Your Machine for a Great Workout. John Fedele/Getty Images

The human body requires quality nutrients for optimal athletic performance. In order to feel "ready to go" for a hard workout, it will be important to consume the right energy. 

The best nutrients to boost your exercise session will come from healthy carbohydrates. Carbohydrates by simple definition are foods providing the energy to run body functions at optimal levels.

Carbohydrates Provide Energy

Complex and Simple Carbohydrates
Eat Carbohydrates Before a Workout. Arx0nt, Moment Open/Getty Images

The best pre-workout energy foods are quality simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates  include fruits and real juices whereas complex carbs refer to foods like whole grains and oats.

Every person is different in their digestive processes. Nutrient timing is a factor to consider and should be coordinated with your workout.  Some people feel fine eating a lighter meal and exercising after 30-minutes, but others may suffer from stomach upset. 

All food requires energy to digest. Once a meal is consumed, the focus of our system is to break down and absorb the nutrients. Digesting food shunts blood flow to the stomach and away from our muscles. This explains why nausea can occur when exercise is performed too quickly after eating.

 A good rule of thumb is to allow at least one-hour prior to exercise. This allows plenty of time for digestion and absorption of essential nutrients. Your body will be well-fueled and ready to attack a great workout.  

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Timing the Pre-Workout Meal

Best Foods to Eat Before Your Workout
Eating the Right Foods to Power Up Your Workout. BROOK PIFER/Getty Images

Regardless of when you choose to workout, selecting quality carbohydrates is important. They provide optimum energy levels during your exercise session and maintain overall good health.

Are you planning to exercise within an hour of getting out of bed? Eating something light is preferred and will reduce the risk of stomach upset.  Enjoy an apple or blended real fruit smoothie to raise blood sugar and supply quick energy to the bloodstream.

If you're planning to workout later, larger carbohydrate meals are a typical choice. Oatmeal with milk and side of fruit can take up to three hours to digest.  

Trial and error with pre-workout food consumption is the best teacher. You will learn what foods make you feel best during a workout.  Pay attention to your body, how you feel, and make note of the time and type of foods consumed prior to your workout.    

Grab Some Pre-Workout Meal Ideas

Pre-Workout Meal
Healthy Meal Ideas for a Great Workout. David Roth, Photolibrary/Getty Images

Below are some great pre-workout meal recommendations. They will not only get you going but supply enough energy to complete a great workout: 

  • Fruits: Grab your favorite and go! Bananas, apples, peaches, pears and blueberries are all great choices and will provide quick energy for an excellent workout. Canned fruits, although not as fabulous as fresh, are acceptable as long as there is no added sugar and packed in their own fruit juices. 
  • Hot or cold cereal: Whole grain or bran based cereals such as oatmeal or bran flakes will provide high fiber and long term energy over time. Enjoy with organic almond, soy, or light dairy if tolerable.
  • Toast with protein, healthy fats, and fruit: Whole grain or sprouted wheat toast with your favorite nut butter, or topped with a large organic egg and a side of your favorite fruit is a great way to start the day and fuel your body for a hardcore session at the gym or long distance run. 
  • Smoothies: Blending one cup of your favorite fruit with almond, soy, or light milk if tolerated and ice makes a fabulous light meal for those wanting to get that workout in within the hour after getting out of bed. 
  • Pass the leftovers: Quinoa or brown rice makes a great power meal mixed with a handful of raisins, or fresh fruits and sprinkled with a few raw nuts. Add a touch of cinnamon to kick off even more flavor to the dish.

Drink Plenty of Water

Drink Plenty of Water
Drink Water During Your Workout. Gary Burchell/Getty Images

In addition to eating quality carbohydrates prior to a workout, it's also important to stay hydrated before and during exercise. Valuable nutrients are lost through our sweat. The human body is over 60 percent water so drinking plenty throughout the day is essential. 

Sources:

ACSM.org Article, Preventing the "Low-Fuel Light" in Endurance Exercise, Andrea Hacker Thompson, M.S., R.D., 1/9/12

CDC.gov, Nutrition for Everyone, carbohydrates, last reviewed Dec. 2012

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