Whether you are in the camp that enjoys working out fasted or the camp that cannot workout until they’ve had something to eat, the performance benefits to having a well chosen and timed pre-exercise meal are there and well documented.
For those who participate in strength sports or sports that require explosive movement like weightlifting/powerlifting, football, wrestling, hockey, etc., having something to eat before a training session is that much more important. It could make the difference between hitting the wall 30-60 minutes in or hitting the wall 90-120 minutes in. Even if performance is not the main goal with your exercise of choice, most individuals should still get something in before training. You do not have to be an athlete to see the positive effects of eating before exercise. By focusing on fueling your body for exercise, the increase to your strength output and duration that you can exercise can result in more energy expenditure/calorie burn over time and better results long term!
When it comes to food choices around training time, much of the choice revolves around getting in some amount of carbohydrate and making sure that what we choose to eat does not upset our stomach or cause any gastric distress. Because of this, many of the food options outlined below are very simple but serve their purpose well!
30 Minutes – 1 Hour Before Workout
- 1 medium sized fruit of choice
- 1 serving of rice cakes
- 1 rice cake with 1 tablespoon of jelly or jam
- 1 handful of pretzels
- 1 cup of fruit juice
- 8-12 oz. of a regular sports beverage
- 1 cup low fat/fat-free yogurt
- 1 cup low fat/fat-free milk or chocolate milk
- 1 low fat energy bar
- 1/2-1 cup applesauce
3 – 4 Hours Before Workout
- 1 cup of oatmeal, 1 cup 2% milk, 1/2-1 cup mixed berries
- 1-2 cups cooked pasta, 3 oz. 90/10 ground beef with 1 serving of red sauce
- 1 sandwich made with white or wheat bread, 2 oz. sliced chicken or turkey, 1 oz. low fat or fat-free cheese
- 1 flour tortilla, 1/2 cup cooked rice, 2 oz. chicken breast, 1 oz. low fat or fat-free Mexican style cheese blend, 2 tablespoons salsa
- 1 cup cooked brown or white rice, 3 oz. chicken breast
While having food before you work out can be beneficial in most situations, if having a certain food before exercising causes your stomach to get upset or it makes you uncomfortable, it is not worth it. The goal of having food before you work out is to help you feel better and have more energy while exercising, so finding foods that sit well with you is extremely important.
Food choice pre-workout is going to vary from person to person, but hopefully you can pull a few ideas from this list to try next time around. The benefits of having food prior to exercise make it worth it to go through the process of finding which foods work for you and agree with your stomach during exercise!
Steven Tsaparikos, RDN, BS Dietetics
Hancock Wellness Center – New Palestine