Ask any nutritionist or dietitian, and they’ll probably tell you to avoid working out on an empty stomach.
You don’t want to go into a workout under-fueled, but you need to be careful when timing your meals. Finding the right balance of the right foods that also have the right macro balance and amino acid intake to maximize your performance is key to an efficient workout.
If you eat the wrong thing too close to your workout, you could be opening yourself up to stomach issues once you hit the gym. If you wait too long or don’t eat enough, you run the risk of feeling weak or may be unable to capitalize on the nutrients in your meal.
However, if you eat the right combination of fats, proteins, and carbs at the right time, you can make sure you are getting the most out of your workout.
How To Manage Your Macros
Counting your macros can seem complicated, but in reality, it is no more involved than keeping track of your caloric intake. The first step in choosing quality meals to get you ready for a workout is knowing how to identify the macros in your food.
Reading the nutritional facts is the first step, but they don’t always tell the whole story. It is not uncommon for the nutritional facts to provide a skewed overview of what you are actually eating. Consider weighing and measuring out your food so that you know exactly how much of each macronutrient you are consuming.
This level of accuracy will make it easier to identify which foods specifically work with your body to encourage an efficient workout. But with this in mind, how exactly do you choose what to eat right before you head to the gym?
Timing Is Everything
What you eat before a workout versus after a workout should differ drastically. Your body needs different things depending on whether it is pushing your muscles to the limit or cooling down from intense physical training.
For example, fat (from sources like peanut butter, almond butter, chocolate milk, or some protein bars) should not be consumed as a pre-workout snack. The closer you get to your workout, the lighter you’ll want your meal. While you might want to go easy on the fat close to a workout, you can push to include more protein and carbs.
What Should I Eat Before a Cardio-Heavy Workout?
When it comes to cardio preparation, carbohydrates are a vital part of your pre-workout meal.
Studies have shown that proper carb intake trumps both fat and protein intake when it comes to cardio efficiency. That being said, you want to make sure you are eating the right types of carbs. A bag of potato chips, while high in carbs, is not going to give you all you need for a workout — just a blood sugar spike. You want to eat simple carbs from natural sources whenever possible.
Here are some examples of things you can eat that are rich in simple carbohydrates:
A piece of fruit is the ultimate source of energy in the form of simple carbs. Fruit is a great option to prepare for a cardio workout. Bananas and berries are good choices due to their high carb count, and you can easily blend them into fruit smoothies. You’ll want to avoid overly sugary fruits such as watermelon, pineapple, and mangos.
Whole-grain oats digest slowly and are packed with nutritional value outside the macronutrient count. Oats come in many forms; you can have a bowl of oatmeal, you can eat a granola bar, or you can just try some dry oats if you are game for that.
When choosing between these three options, note that some granola bars are better than others. You should choose your granola carefully as some have a lot of added sugar. When you do find a quality bar, granola can be guilt-free yet filling. It is also unlikely to cause any discomfort if consumed before a workout.
A staple for strength training and building muscle mass, whey protein powder shakes are always a great fit when trying to improve your workout nutrition.
Protein shakes do include plenty of grams of protein, but you can also add fruits, oats, and many other simple carb sources to your drinks. A protein supplement in the form of a shake can bring all your macronutrients together in a package that is both easy to drink and easy to digest.
What Should I Eat Before Lifting Weights?
While it may seem like lifting weights would require a different type of fuel from cardio, the two are actually very similar. While many people believe that packing in protein is the key to any lifting regimen, a steady supply of carbohydrates is what will help you push yourself to your limit in the gym. Protein is not fuel on its own and is often associated with a post-workout meal.
That being said, you do not have to eat quite as light if you are lifting as opposed to doing cardio. Here are some strong options for pre-lift meals:
Chicken and Brown Rice
A popular combo for people looking for a lean meal, chicken and rice is a great combination of protein and carbs. We wouldn’t recommend a large serving, but a sturdy bowl of lean chicken and your choice of grain is a great choice when preparing for a high-intensity workout.
Greek yogurt goes great with a ton of other foods. You can add hearty fruits and granola to create a meal with plenty of carbs and fat to get you through your workout. Yogurt is a very portable meal, making it ideal for eating on the go before workouts.
These sandwiches, made with your choice of meat and whole-grain bread, veggies, and sauces on grain-rich bread, will get your body in just the right state for a workout. Avoid unhealthy sauces and other ingredients if you can help it, as it is easy for even a whole-wheat sandwich to go from a help to a hindrance in a workout.
Counting your macros is the key when it comes to planning food around your workouts. If you want to eat before your workout, ease up on the lean protein and instead go for carbs, which will provide your body with better fuel. Make sure you intake foods with enough carbs so that you are able to maximize your workouts.
The key to getting the most out of your time in the gym is knowing what tools will keep you prepared. Whether that means getting the proper nutrition or a proper gym bag — you need to set yourself up for success if you want to see results.
Haven Athletic gym duffles offer simple, organized storage so you can easily find all our gym equipment without taking away from your workout routine. Separated sections allow you to keep your stinky used gym clothes away from your post-workout snack or your work clothes away from your dirty gym shoes.
Stay tuned with Haven for more info on how to keep yourself on track in your fitness journey.
International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Nutrient Timing | PMC
What To Eat Before a Workout | Forbes Health
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics | Healthy Eating
These Myths About Eating Before a Workout Are BS Bro Science | Men's Health
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