There are two schools of thought when it comes to eating and exercise. The first says that you should work out on an empty stomach so your body will burn off excess body fat. The other says that you should fuel your body before exercise. So who’s right?
Eat before you compete
The truth is your body needs food in order to exercise. Your muscles use carbohydrates found in bread, pasta, cereal, rice and fruits for energy. Protein found in meat, fish, beans, tofu, or eggs helps build and repair tissue. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that eating before working out improves your exercise performance compared to exercising in your fasting state.
On the flipside, forgoing food before working out can be harmful to your body. Glycogen, a stored carbohydrate, is your body’s preferred energy source. When you haven’t eaten for many hours, your body has less glycogen. While having a reduced amount of glycogen in your body can help your body prioritize burning fat, having none will cause your body to use your muscle for fuel. This will cause you to loose muscle strength and definition.
According to Hana A. Feeney, MS, RD, CSSD, eating on an empty stomach may allow you to burn fat during your exercise, this doesn’t mean it will help you reduce your overall body fat. Eating carbohydrate-rich foods before exercise causes you to perform better during your workout both mentally and physically.
That said, it’s important to understand that some foods make better workout fuels than others. Let’s take a look at what types of food to eat before hitting the gym.
What makes good pre-workout food?
The food you should eat before you work out depends on how soon you eat before working out. If you’re eating two to three hours before your workout, you’ll have time to digest your food, so you can eat more complicated meals. If you’re eating less than an hour beforehand, it’s import to eat small, simple meals such as bowl of cereal or yogurt. If you’ve ever eaten a huge meal before going for a jog, you know how uncomfortable it can be to exercise with undigested food.
You should also consider the intensity of your workout. If you’re doing moderate intensity exercise, it’s okay to eat something more complex like a sandwich a couple of hours prior. For lighter exercise, you’ll need less food to fuel your workout. For very light exercise, such as walking on a treadmill, you can usually skip fueling up beforehand.
So what exactly should I eat?
Eating before a workout is beneficial, but what should you eat? You don’t have to limit yourself to a single food before working out. There’s no perfect pregame dish. There are a few criteria to consider to determine what you should eat before your workout.
Look for foods that are low fat, since fats take the body more time and energy to digest. Food that contain moderate amounts of carbohydrates and protein are also pre-workout friendly. Stick with low fiber foods to prevent uncomfortable gas and bloating during your exercise.
It’s also advisable to steer clear of foods you’ve never tried before. An hour before and intense workout session is not the time to try out a new recipe.
When in doubt, it’s always best to eat simple foods such as fruits. Bananas are an excellent choice. According to Dr. Louise Burke, a Researcher at the Australian Institute of Sport, bananas are full of easy-to-digest carbs and potassium which aids your muscle function during exercise.
Simple carbohydrates also make a great snack before pumping iron. A piece of whole wheat toast or a small bowl of granola help provide your body with the quick energy you need to power through your exercise routine.
Listen to your body
Eating before you work out provides your body with the nutrients it needs to help you stay in great shape. Make sure the food you’re consuming is appropriate for the workout you’re doing. While it’s important not to starve yourself, it’s just as important not to overestimate how much food you actually need.
When it comes to exercise, always listen to your body. If a particular food doesn’t sit well with you while you work out, don’t eat it. Typically, you can’t go wrong grabbing a serving of easy-to-digest fruit before you start your workout. You can always keep track of your diet using a food and exercise journal. Remember to comment if you have any questions.