Embarking on a workout without fueling your body is likely going to result in a sluggish performance. You must eat to exercise, not exercise so that you can eat.
Many people may purposefully exercise on an empty stomach, as they believe that it improves fat burning. While this theory is true, it doesn’t mean you are going lose body fat. By losing body fat, one needs to create a calorie shortage. Eating a pre-exercise snack will allow you to exercise harder and burn more calories.
Pre-exercise eating will fuel your muscles, delay fatigue and prevent low blood sugars that cause light-headedness, fatigue, blurred vision and indecisiveness.
Meal and Snack Timing
Make sure to allow enough time for your food to digest so you avoid exercising with food in your stomach. Here is a general guideline (for higher-intensity workouts, allow for more time).
Large meal = 3-4 hours
Small meal = 1-2 hours
Liquid meal = 1 hour
Light snack = less than an hour
For early morning workouts, athletes often debate whether or not they need to get up early to fuel beforehand. After fasting all night, it’s good practice to try and eat prior to heading out the door.
If you’re like me and cherish every minute of sleep, it’s difficult to wake up earlier in the morning just to eat before a workout. Instead I may eat a snack before going to bed, then all I need to do is grab something light, quick and easy to digest that next morning (ex. Slice of toast with jam or a banana). However, if I am planning a high intensity and/or longer than 60-minute morning workout then I need to eat something more substantial.
With a pre-exercise meal, choose foods high in quality carbohydrates and lean protein. Be cautious of high fat and high fiber foods as they delay digestion. For snacks, aim for higher carbohydrates, moderate in protein and low in fat and fiber.
Hydration is just as important as eating prior to exercise. Four hours before your workout, begin consuming 17-20 oz. of water or sports drink, and an hour prior drink an additional 5-10 oz. of fluids.
If your stomach is persnickety about food before a workout, you may want to trial some liquid foods, as they tend to digest faster and provide fluids. This could include a low-fat smoothie or shake, a sports drink or using a product created and marketed to athletes such as Gatorade Nutrition Shake 01 Prime. Liquid meals also are convenient for ultra-endurance events such as Ironman and tend to produce low stool residue (my clever wording to say you’ll poop less, always a win-win situation in triathlons)
Choosing what to eat can vary from athlete to athlete and their type of exercise. It is best practice to learn what works for you through trial and error in your training. Find what foods fuel you properly, but don’t cause intestinal anarchy.
There are a select few athletes who may react poorly to consuming carbohydrates in the hour before exercise. If this is the case for your, it may be best to consume carbohydrates a few minutes before exercise or wait until you are exercising to fuel up.
Please don’t hesitate to comment if you have questions. Stay tuned for future posts on during- and post-exercise eating.