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What should I eat before I workout?

Let’s talk about what you should be eating before you workout.

The first part of the answer depends upon when you plan to exercise.  Someone exercising in the morning will have different needs than someone who works out in the evening.  Let’s start with some basics on digestion which will help illustrate how the whole issue of how food and exercise work together.

Digestion Is Its Own Workout

After a person eats, their body immediately begins the process of digesting the food. Digestion is not a passive process—the food doesn’t simply sit in the stomach and breakdown all by itself. Instead, the body has to invest energy to process food, and if the body is busy digesting food, it will not have as much energy to be used for working out.

So, if you eat anything before exercise chances are you are depriving yourself of the energy needed to accomplish the task of working out. That energy loss manifests in a number of ways, but the biggest impact is amount of oxygenated blood that diverts to the stomach instead of supplying it to the muscles. Consequently, the exerciser gets oxygen in the muscles depleting . Oxygen, of course, is essential for preventing dizziness, nausea and cramping.

Even if the person doesn’t experience these symptoms there is a higher chance of muscles soreness following day because the lack of blood flow leads to a build up of lactic acid, which is the cause of soreness.

Good Pre-Workout Meals – AM Workouts

It’s important to remember that for the entire time that you were asleep, you were fasting.  Many people are able to exercise on an empty stomach but many are not.  Eating before your AM work out can assist in kick starting the metabolism and waking the body up.  Foods consumed immediately prior to any exercise should be easy to digest and not divert blood away from the muscles.  Fruit (banana), orange juice and other simple sugars are great ways to wake up the body before the workout.  Running stores have plenty of other options as well (GU, Waffles, Gels).  Some of my clients enjoy a cup of java before their AM work out and while I am not a fan, it seems to work for them!  (Coffee is a diuretic and also causes dehydration so I tend to stay away from it). However, I also understand the benefits of caffeine as a stimulate but I prefer something like a PowerBar Gel pack instead.

Good Pre-Workout Meals – PM Workouts

Earlier we talked about how digestion affects your workout. If you workout is going to be in the evening, it is important to space out your meals and provide enough time for digestion to occur.  Afterall, you do need to eat so you have energy for the workout!  If evenings are your time to exercise, you’ll want to be done eating your heaviest meal prior to your workout (probably at least 60 if not 90 minutes before the start of your routine).    If you need a pick me up prior to your workout, see some of the examples of stimulants above in the AM workout meal section.

The trick is to find what works for you.  Sometimes experimentation is best.  Try different things and see what provides you the most bang for your buck.