What to eat and how much to eat is highly dependent on how what you’ve already eaten that day, what you plan to eat after, how hard you’re training, and personal tolerance. Some people do well exercising on a full tank, while others become nauseous if they exercise too soon after eating.
ENERGY TO BURN
Regardless of personal tolerance, it is important that you have something in the tank; if it’s been longer than two hours since your last meal or snack, it’s likely that your workout will drag without a readily accessible energy source. It’s easiest for your body to digest carbohydrates soon after consumption. If your body is forced to burn stored fat, the result is a slower, more fatiguing process that can leave you feeling zapped halfway through a set.
Naturally, if you’re trying to lose weight, it is necessary to burn through fat stores. However, fat utilization is happening constantly if you’re operating in a total caloric deficit - eating a small amount of carbohydrate just turns the volume on fat utilization down temporarily in favor of carbohydrate metabolism, giving you the time and energy to exercise and burn more calories during your workout. This, in turn, contributes to a total Caloric deficit - as long as you don’t eat so much that you negate the effects of your workout, that is.
Even if you’re not trying to actively lose weight, it’s still important to consider total Caloric consumption if you’re trying to maintain weight. It’s easy to get overzealous with fueling, to detrimental effects on the scale. Stick to an easily digested snack of 100-150 Calories prior to your workout:
- Try a banana with 6 oz of greek yogurt prior to training
- Oatmeal with fruit
Certain foods irritate the lining of the GI tract, which can lead to stomach pain or nausea. Caffeine, which acts as an ergogenic aid to give you energy and focus, can prove troublesome for some exercisers. If coffee prior to a workout leaves you sprinting for the bathroom, avoid it or reduce the amount you consume. Other common culprits include spicy or high fiber foods.
The goal of a pre-workout snack isn’t to be completely full. It’s unlikely that you'll feel completely satiated, even after eating the ideal snack. The goal is simply to give your body an immediate energy source to burn through, preventing fatigue or low blood sugar that might occur while exercising between meals.
- Keep Calorie content to 100-150 Calories
- Aim to consume no more than 8 oz of food in the hour prior to vigorous exercise
- A banana, a small yogurt, a string cheese stick, or a slice of toast are all good options
- Avoid high-fat foods - even foods with healthy fat take longer to digest, impeding energy utilization