Eating Before Exercise

Adequate nutrition and hydration can make or break your workout or race, and also greatly affect how you feel, work and think. With a better understanding of nutrition, you can more easily look, feel and perform your best. How and when you eat also determines your storage of glycogen (energy) in your muscles, and how quickly you are ready to train again at peak capacity.

One of the most common nutrition mistakes I see among both competitive athletes and individuals who simply want to lose weight is working out on an empty stomach. If you are concerned with your weight, rest assured that you will actually burn more calories by eating before your workout.

First of all, you will have more motivation and energy to both get out the door and complete your workout. Additionally, your body turns to your muscle protein stores for fuel when you do not have enough carbohydrates to burn. By eating before your workout, you will spare your muscle and allow your body to burn both carbohydrates and stored fat during your workout.

As for performance, there is no contest. Research study results consistently demonstrate that those who eat before exercise are able to swim, bike or run longer and rate their effort as being less difficult than non-pre-workout eaters.

By now I hope you are convinced that eating before your workout is one of the key factors to sticking with an exercise program and performing your best. So, what should I eat? I have heard every excuse as to why people do not eat before workouts: “It upsets my stomach,” “I have no time,” “I am trying to lose weight.” We have already learned why the last excuse is inaccurate. As for the first two, I will address them now.

If you cannot stomach solid foods before a workout, or have only a few minutes between waking up and starting your workout, try 8-16 oz of sports drink. You can also try 1/2 a banana, 1/2 of 1 energy bar, 1 slice of bread or 2-3 Graham crackers. If you have more time before your morning workout, or plan to exercise for over 1-2 hours, you’ll want to start out with more fuel. Try 1/2 of a whole wheat bagel with 1 tbsp. of peanut butter and 1/2 a banana or 9 oz of sports drink 1-2 hours before your workout, or as tolerated. You will want to experiment with different foods and pre-workout timing, as you may find you are able to tolerate different foods prior to different activities.

If you are workout out in the afternoon, you’ll want to eat a lunch that is rich in carbohydrates and low in fat and fiber. If the workout is more than 3-4 hours after lunch, you may also want to consume a snack of 100-200 calories in the afternoon to ensure your energy levels (and muscle glycogen stores) are topped off and that your workout is fueled and fun.

By now you should be convinced that while breakfast may still be the most important meal of the day, a pre-workout meal or snack can be the most important piece of your exercise routine. Whether your goal is to maximize performance in a marathon or triathlon, or simply to get in shape and lose weight, don’t sabotage your efforts by starting your workouts on an empty stomach.

-Lauren Wallack Antonucci, nutritionist

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