Getting the right pre-workout meal will pay dividends
In a recent blog, we looked at the importance of nutrition for an athlete and how it was vital to fuel your body with the right food in order to ensure you reach peak performance. In the same way that a car needs to have fuel in order to be at its best, your body needs to be properly energised before training or competition. We looked at the broad range of eating before, during and after exercise, but this time we want to look a bit more in-depth at what is best to take on board just before exercise.
Like many aspects of an athlete’s routine, getting it right can be a delicate balancing act as you don’t want to eat too early or risk being hungry, and similarly, eating too close to exercise can lead to discomfort. In both cases, getting it wrong can mean you will be short of your best and your performance will not be what you had hoped. It is clear that the food you eat before you exercise has a significant impact on the quality of your athletic performance, as you have to ensure that you avoid low blood sugar levels and feeling hungry, while also ensuring that you fuel your muscles in order to perform to the maximum.
Find your own pattern
The importance of getting it right is outlined by Ben Greenfield who argues that your eating pattern should be a part of your overall exercise routine.
If you don’t have a nutrition plan for fitness routine, you’re doing yourself a pretty big disservice when it comes to getting the results that you desire. If you workout while you’re starved, you simply won’t have the energy for your body to gain maximum fitness. If you exercise for a long time without eating, you’ll limit your ability to burn calories and maintain intensity. And if you don’t feed your muscles and replenish your energy stores after exercise, you won’t have the necessary building blocks for recovery.
Some of the mistakes made by athletes, particularly those who are not in the elite bracket, is that they are tempted to take on fats and proteins before exercise. Even if these are of the healthy variety, they can take a long time to digest and become counter-productive as this means that instead of feeding your exercise muscle, your oxygen and energy-feeding blood is diverted to your stomach. Greenfield suggests that ideally you should eat approximately two hours before exercise and this would comprise in the region of 300 to 500 calories, provided by carbohydrates. However, he recognises that demands on time mean that you can’t always fit this into your schedule and suggests the alternative is to have a snack containing 50 to 100 calories about five or ten minutes before exercise.
Understand your food and your own needs
Meanwhile, Marc Perry in Pre-Workout Meal: What to Eat Before a Workout? points out that in planning our food intake before exercise, it is helpful to understand the rate of digestion of different foods. He suggests that the pre-workout meal should include, Dietary Fat, Protein and Carbohydrates.
Dietary Fat – Because fat takes the longest to digest, the pre-workout meal should be relatively low in fat, so stay away from fatty meats and oils.
Protein – A moderate amount of a meat (4-8 ounces) or dairy sources that are low in fat can work. A major benefit of meat, or dairy is they contain Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA), which can help increase the rate of protein synthesis and decrease protein breakdown during and after your workout.
Carbohydrates – Low Glycaemic (slowly releases into blood stream) carbohydrates should help fill up glycogen stores to help you power through a tough workout and also create a more anabolic effect.
As is always the case with athletes, the amount you take is very much based on the individual and it is vital to figure out what is best for you. Some athletes will avoid food for three to four hours before exercise, while others will start exercise within an hour of eating. Some of the food that is recommended in advance of exercise includes items such as bananas, fruit smoothies, caffeine, oats, bread, dried fruit, cottage cheese, pasta, chicken breast, chickpeas, brown rice and Greek yoghurt.
For a more detailed idea of what to eat and why, it is worth checking out the ideas of Manuel Villacorta registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association) as reviewed by Chelsea Bush in Best Workout Foods: What to Eat Before a Workout. Villacorta points out that ample energy and a steady stomach are the keys to a great workout and warns athletes to avoid skipping the pre-exercise meal.
Don’t forget the fluids
In addition to food, it is also important to take on fluids in advance of exercise as we are reminded in Sports and Nutrition: Fueling Your Performance.
The goal of drinking fluids before exercise is to be well hydrated before you are physically active. Different people need different amounts of water before they exercise depending on a wide variety of factors, including their weight, how much they sweat before exercising, and how much they’ve eaten. In general, teens should drink 2-2.5 cups of fluid at least four hours before physical activity; they should then drink 1-1.5 cups of water 10-15 minutes before the activity.
Remember: A little bit of research and recognising your specific individual requirements will help you come up with the best pre-workout routine that will have a significant impact on your performance.
What to Eat Before and After Exercising by Ben Greenfield
Sports and Nutrition: Fueling Your Performance
Best Workout Foods: What to Eat Before a Workout by Chelsea Bush
The Best Foods to Eat Before and After Your Workout: How to use the power of nutrition for optimal results by Nora Tobin
The best pre-workout foods from mensfitness.com
11 Of The Best Things To Eat Before A Workout by Rob Franklin
Pre-Workout Meal: What To Eat Before A Workout? by Marc Perry
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