As our lives become more and more sedentary, it is more important than ever to set aside time to work out throughout the week. As people try to cram in working out around busy work and home lives, oftentimes people lose sight of the proper nutritional habits that will help them get the most out of their workouts.
Our muscle cells are like little engines, and they need the right fuel to run at peak performance. But what, and when, should you eat?
What to Eat:
For moderate to intense workouts, it’s important to not work out on an empty stomach. For such workouts, a light meal 2-3 hours beforehand to ensure your body has time to put the energy to use (besides, working out on a full stomach doesn’t feel very good!).
The key to maintaining sustainable energy throughout a workout is whole foods that are composed of easily digestible carbs and proteins. Foods like bananas, whole fruit smoothies, peanut butter on toast, eggs, and hummus are all excellent choices.
A combination of easily digestible carbs and proteins are going to provide your body the energy it needs without slowing down your metabolism as it works overtime to break down complex foods. That also means that high-fiber carbohydrates, while good for you, should be saved for after the workout.
Another often overlooked component of preparing for a workout is drinking water. In particular, people tend to grab coffee over water before morning workouts. While coffee gives you the quick hit of energy, it is worth waking up a little early in order to have enough time to drink plenty of water and eat a light breakfast before working out.
Working out while dehydrated is dangerous and can lead to sluggish workouts at best and, in extreme cases, dangerous conditions like heat stroke, seizures, and death. New research suggests drinking 8 oz. 30 minutes before, 8 oz. for every 30 minutes of working out, and 16 oz. afterwards. That’s a lot of water, but it will keep your body in fighting form.
Pre-Workout Foods to Avoid:
When you’re trying to get the most out of your workout, you want foods that will let you maintain your energy throughout. Thus, you should avoid foods that are highly processed and full of sugar. Processed sugar products give you a noticeable spike of energy, but the energy doesn’t last because your body consumes it too quickly, which will lead to a sugar crash. During a workout is the worst time for a sugar crash.
On the other end of the spectrum are foods high in fat. Fat takes a long time for your body to break down. While your body is busy trying to break down the fats, you’ll end up taking a hit when it comes to strength and energy. Save the fatty foods (the good kind, like nuts and avocados) for after the workout.
And, while they’re marketed as nutrition for athletes, the high-sugar drinks, gels, and bars pumped out by companies are designed to help athletes fuel up quickly during intense and extended workouts. If you’re working out for less than 90 minutes, it’s best to stick to water and whole foods before and after your workout. Otherwise, you may end up blowing the workout by consuming a bunch of calories that you won’t burn off in a normal workout.