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Eating to fuel your workout

When and what you eat prior to your workout can affect your energy and stamina throughout your workout. Exercise is fueled mostly by carbohydrate stores in our body. Carbohydrates are stored in our liver and muscles as glycogen. When the body needs energy, it breaks the glycogen down into glucose and delivers it to the working cells. Without enough glycogen stores on board to fuel your workout, you might feel tired or sluggish, or even sore and weak. Not having enough fuel for your muscles (and brain) can also limit how long and how hard you can work, which in turn has an impact on the gains you get form that workout. Make sure you are getting the most out of your exercise by giving your body what it needs to perform.

What to eat prior to your workout:

  • 2-4 hours beforehand, eat a meal that includes carbohydrates, lean protein and fat. How much and what to eat depends on how long before your workout. See the two examples below based on how long you have before your workout.
  • 30-60 minutes prior to your workout, eat a high carbohydrate snack. Stay away from foods high in fat, fiber and protein for this snack, they take longer to digest and can cause stomach cramping and sluggishness during a workout.

Examples of things to eat prior to a workout:

If Your Workout Starts Within 2–3 Hours or More

  • Sandwich on whole-grain bread, lean protein and a side salad
  • Egg omelet and whole-grain toast topped with avocado spread and a cup of fruit
  • Lean protein, brown rice and roasted vegetables

If Your Workout Starts Within 2 Hours

  • Protein smoothie made with milk, protein powder, banana and mixed berries
  • Whole-grain cereal and milk
  • A cup of oatmeal topped with banana and sliced almonds
  • Natural almond butter and fruit preserve sandwich on whole-grain bread

Pre-workout snack

  • Greek yogurt and fruit
  • Nutrition bar with protein and wholesome ingredients
  • A piece of fruit, such as a banana, orange or apple

Some common questions:

Does it matter how long and how intense my workout is?

If you are doing a light workout of 30 minutes or less, you might not need the snack. If you are doing longer than 1 hour or are doing a moderate to high intensity workout, a snack will give you the added boost of energy you need. Energy levels during a workout will also depend on how much, and how intensely, you have been working out recently, and what you ate for recovery after your previous workout.

What if I workout first thing in the morning?

Eating a meal 2-4 hours before your morning workout is not doable for most people. For morning workouts, a high carbohydrate snack will give your body the energy it needs. Your blood sugar stores are lowest in the morning because your body was using while you. If you are doing a short or light workout, you might not need anything. Experiment to see what is best for you in terms of what sits best and gives you an extra burst of fuel. If you are worried about something in your stomach, start with something light and easy to digest like a small glass of juice or a few crackers. If you can handle that, and feel like you need more, you could try a whole piece of fruit or a granola bar. If you really can’t stand to eat anything in the morning but feel like you would benefit from some extra fuel, try eating your snack right before you go to be to top off your stores.

How do I know if I am eating enough?

Try experimenting with eating different foods and different amounts and note how you feel during your workout. You want to have enough energy to push through to the end without your stomach hurting or feeling sluggish. Having a journal or something to take notes in is helpful so you can find out what works best for you.

If you want help planning out meals and snacks to maximize your training, I can help you find a plan that works for you! I have personal experience with eating to support athletic and fitness goals and I have also helped others create plans to support their training and goals. Together we can find the best plan that works for you! Feel free to email me with questions or to set up an appointment. lrobinson (at) clubworx.net

Stay healthy!
Lisa Robinson-Mihiar, RDN, LD
Dietitian at ClubWorx

Have a question you want Lisa to answer on the blog? Send your questions and ideas to Lisa at lrobinson (at) clubworx.net

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