Proper nutrition is critical to our health – and for getting the most out of our workouts. Pre-workout snacks and drinks have become popular marketing items lately, but what is the right thing to do prior to a workout?
Just to make it complicated, the answer is it depends. Variables at play are the type of workout, the length of the workout, time of day, and the individual. We have all had tough workouts that have made us feel sick.
This is why I never eat prior to a workout. It is not worth feeling sick. But is that the right answer? It is possible to eat something smaller or eat further ahead of time. It is also possible that something as simple as a sports drink or supplement taken prior to the work out could provide you with that extra energy for longer sessions without nausea.
For example, there is a big difference between walking and HIIT. You may feel fine having a meal or snack prior to walking, but feel absolutely terrible if you do the same thing prior to a tough work out. However remember difficult or lengthy workouts may not provide you with the best results if you are depleted, making everything you do harder. There is definitely a balance to be struck.
For longer workouts, or tougher workouts lasting longer than an hour, it is obviously more important to have something fueling you than for shorter sessions. Some experts suggest workouts lasting 1.5-3 hours could benefit from having 45-60 grams of carbs per hour for fuel.
Now back to the unscientific part, you have to test this for yourself. Experiment with eating and your energy level in grueling workouts. Also part of the experiment is to see what your stomach can handle. We are all different and have to learn how our bodies best function. Unfortunately like so much else in life, there is no right answer.
30-60 minutes prior to a workout try an easily digestible carb and a small serving of protein. 1-2 hours before a workout you can go ahead and have a real meal. Protein is good here, as it takes longer to digest. The same goes for fat.
If you are working out in the early afternoon you might not need a snack if you had a healthy balanced lunch. If you are hungry prior to the work out make sure you have an easily digestible snack.
Working out in the evening before dinner, a snack might be a good idea since it has been much longer since lunch. You won’t get the most of your work out on a depleted fuel tank, and later in the day, hours after lunch is an empty tank zone.
You know your body best. Pay attention to how you feel. It all depends on what makes you feel full of energy and ready to give your all to your work out. Don’t fall for the hype around certain work out snacks, some of them are just the nutritional equivalent of candy bars but with protein added.
If you ever come across programs like BeachBody they will have you thinking you need pre-workout drinks, post work out snacks, it never ends. You know your body best. Feed it the healthy foods it needs to fuel you and maximize your efforts without making you sick.
You just need to use a little common sense, think through your day, your energy levels, and the level of energy you can access for your workout. Experiment with small changes to get the most for your efforts. After all, if you are going to work out, you should get the most out of it. Nutrition and paying attention to your needs can get you there