Although you may be tempted to skip the calories, what you eat before you exercise will power your workout and maximize your results.
“If I don’t have my pre-exercise meal, my workout isn’t the same and it feels like a waste,” says Manuel Villacorta, R.D., author of Eating Free and Peruvian Power Foods. “If you fuel correctly you’ll workout harder.” By eating before a workout, you’ll prevent low blood sugar, which leads to light-headedness and fatigue. But you don’t want to eat the wrong thing before you head out for a run, either. If you’re looking to hit your best workout ever, have one of these foods within an hour before your workout:
“They’re nature’s PowerBar,” boasts Dr. Louise Burke, head of Sports Nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport and coauthor of The Complete Guide to Food for Sports Performance: Peak Nutrition for Your Sport
. Bananas are loaded with digestible carbohydrates (read: fuel) and are packed with potassium, which helps maintain nerve and muscle function. A medium banana before your workout will help keep nutrient levels high. Villacorta especially recommends bananas for morning exercisers: “Get up and eat a medium banana with 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt. Wait about 30 minutes and then hit the gym. Your body will need the carbohydrates and protein.”
Oats are full of fiber, meaning they slowly release carbohydrates into your bloodstream, Burke points out. (But not so full of fiber that they’ll cause gas.) This steady stream of carbs keeps your energy levels consistent throughout your entire workout. Oats also contain B vitamins, which help convert carbohydrates into energy. At least 30 minutes before you begin exercising, help yourself to one cup.
A slice of whole-grain bread is a good source of carbohydrates. “And it has flexible partners,” says Burke. “Top it off with jam or honey for more fuel or sliced up hard-boiled eggs for high-quality protein.” Hitting the gym during your lunch break? Grab some bread about 45 minutes before you head out. “Top it with a couple slices of turkey,” Villacorta suggests. “At this time of day, you should eat about 30 grams of carbohydrates and 15 to 20 grams of protein.”
Fruit smoothies are high in carbs and high-quality protein. Even better, “they’re easy to consume and are rapidly digested,” says Burke. Blend 1/2 cup plain, low-fat yogurt and 1/2 cup fruit with 1 cup fruit juice for an optimal pre-workout smoothie. “People tend to skip fruit and other foods that are high in carbs,” says Villacorta, “but protein doesn’t break down fast enough to become fuel for a workout. The carbs from fruit break down quickly and the protein is used later to prevent muscle damage.”
What to avoid: If you’re going to stray from this list, keep this in mind: Avoid fatty foods before working out. You’ll feel full and sluggish and could cramp up easily if you don’t because fat leaves the stomach very slowly. Although carbs are good, you should not get them from simple, processed sources like candy. These foods will probably cause a sugar crash in the middle of your workout. Though it goes without saying, don’t overeat before you workout. These are all snack—not meal—suggestions. Eating too much can cause indigestion, sluggishness, nausea and vomiting.