Admit it, you have probably have said to yourself: “I am going to be working out later, so I can burn this junk right off!” I have said it myself. And it was only 5 minutes into my work out before the thought occurred to me that the large Italian sub I ate 20 minutes before the gym was not helping me get to Shred City. Most people need at least 4 hours to digest a meal, especially one high in meat and fat. Much like how eating before swimming is a no-no, eating a big meal before a workout is something you should avoid. It can feel like this:
(I will spare my gracious readers the pitfalls of eating the wrong thing before a long distance run. Trust me, it ain’t pretty.)
But exercising on an empty stomach can put a damper on sculpting that work of art you call a body. Hunger pangs can be a distraction, a drop in blood sugar can exhaust you, and dehydration can serious hinder your pursuit of achieving heroic levels of fitness, so there has to be some middle ground right? Well, today is your lucky day! There are a number of strategies to ensure that you are properly fueled while not negatively affecting your performance.
First things first, hold on to your butts, because I am really going to blow your mind. You should avoid eating fatty foods. OK, once you get a hold of yourself, we can continue. Ready? Good. Fatty foods take longer for your stomach to digest, which is the key thing to avoid. Digestion can draw blood to your stomach instead of the rest of your body, where it is needed during exercise. You also don’t want food just sitting in your stomach. You should also avoid meat and foods high in fiber. Anything you eat within 2 hours of exercise should be easily digestible, like simple carbs or fruits. And liquids. When it comes to pre-workout snacks, glucose is good. (How often do you hear that these days?)
Here are some snack ideas and when you should enjoy them:
1 hour-20 minutes before workout
Fruits, oats, whole grain bread
Greek yogurt, smoothies, peanut butter
Here are some tasty options:
Greek yogurt with low-fat (no chocolate) trail mix
Wheat toast with jam
Apple slices with almond butter
Banana with yogurt
Shakes can be good, but try to stick to a 4:1 carb: protein ratio
Sports drinks should follow these guidelines: per ounces -> 14-15 g carbohydrates, 110 mg sodium, 30 mg potassium
The old tradition of carbo-loading the night before a workout has somewhat lost popularity. If you are eating enough carbs regularly, it shouldn’t be necessary. It can be helpful the night before exercise expected to last 90 minutes or more.
Another important part of the digestion puzzle is familiarity with your own digestive system, which you should know a thing or two about by now. You need to consider what you react well to and can digest easily. You need to know your own stomach.
Everybody is different and you need to figure out what you can and can’t do. Michael Phelps can eat a huge sub before a big swim, and I can’t. I also probably can’t win 22 Olympic swimming medals, but in all fairness, I’ve never tried.
Based on my past experience, I think I can make the right choices. Based on what you know about yourself, which do you think is the right thing to eat before a workout?