Body Fuel: What to Eat Before a Workout
By Meredith Bergman | 7/28/2006
It's a common refrain: "food is fuel." Just as you'd be sure to fill up your car's gas tank before a road trip, it's vitally important to make sure your body has the right fuel to sustain you during a workout. Proper nutrition is the key to "consistency and longevity" when exercising, which will help your body get more from a workout, explains West Hollywood, California-based personal trainer Warren Friendland.
So, what should you eat before going for a walk or bike ride, or heading to the gym? "A relatively high carbohydrate, moderate protein, low-fat meal is best to consume before exercise," says Suzette Kroll, a registered dietitian at the Canyon Ranch Spa in Tucson, Arizona.
High fat foods – or large quantities of any food – should be avoided just before working out because they won't digest well during exercise. Kroll recommends waiting at least two to three hours after a small meal (or three to four hours after a large one) before embarking on an exercise routine to allow time for your body to process the nutrients.
If you're squeezing a workout into a busy schedule (and aren't we all?), you may be tempted to grab a protein bar on the way out the door, but neither Kroll nor Friedland recommends this shortcut. Most bars are "glorified candy bars, often providing even more calories," says Kroll. They're also likely to be loaded with sugar, another pre-workout no-no.
Here are Kroll's suggestions for pre-workout mini-meals:
|Before a Workout: Best-Bet Food Combos|
|Low-fat yogurt with a sliced banana|
|Skim milk blended with frozen fruit to make a smoothie |
|Low-fat cottage cheese with pineapple chunks |
|Small chicken or turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread |
|Low-fat string cheese and grapes |
|No-sugar-added applesauce or a diced apple mixed with low-fat cottage cheese or ricotta cheese (try sprinkling with cinnamon)|
|Hard-boiled eggs, yolks removed and replaced with hummus|
|Half a sweet potato topped with low-fat cottage cheese and sprinkled with nutmeg (or for something savory, add a spoonful of salsa)|
Don't forget that it's just as important to eat smart after the burn has subsided and you've toweled off that hard-earned sweat. After a workout, your body is like a sponge, ready to soak up the nutrients in food to restore energy and replenish your muscles, says Freidland. A mixed meal containing carbohydrates and a little bit of protein and fat soon after completing the workout is best, advises Kroll. "But go easy on things like nuts and full-fat cheese, which are high in fat and calories."
|After a Workout: Replenishing Repasts|
|One or two poached eggs on whole-wheat toast |
|Bean burrito: a whole-wheat tortilla filled with black beans, salsa, and a a little reduced-fat cheese|
|Stir-fried chicken and vegetables (try pepper, zucchini, and carrot) over brown rice|
|Whole-wheat pasta tossed with chicken, broccoli and eggplant |
|Whole grain cereal or oatmeal, with milk and fruit (such as a sliced banana)|
Of course, the right foods alone won't get you through a workout – you'll also need to maintain proper hydration as you exercise. "The idea is to drink enough before you feel thirsty," explains Friedland, who has his clients drink at least at least 16 ounces of water two hours before a workout, and about 6 to 12 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise. (An ounce is about a mouthful.)