What to Eat Before Exercising

Knowing what to eat before exercising can have a major impact on your workout and physical performance. Too much food beforehand can leave you feeling queasy and nauseous. Too little food can leave you dragging and feeling sluggish. Even finding the right mix of food to eat has a major role in your workout performance. Some foods are also better left off your pre-workout menu and saved for post-workout meals.

Pre-workout meals and snacks should focus on quality carbohydrates, lean protein, heart-healthy fats and fluids and should be eaten 1 to 4 hours before exercising, depending on the size. And, of course, don't forget about the all-important water to hydrate properly before undertaking it too!

Here are my top 3 tips for what to eat before exercising and 3 tips of what to avoid eating before working out:

What to Eat Before a Workout

Size Matters

Before exercising, it’s important to start with some fuel on board, rather than on an empty tank. A large meal several hours (2-4 hours) before a workout will suffice, or a small snack within an hour or two of a workout is recommended. Everyone is different and what works for you may not work for everyone else. Try each approach and see what works for you.

Use the “Plate Method”

Use the “plate method” for a healthy meal or snack before a workout. Fill up half your plate with non-starchy vegetables (lettuce, green beans, carrots and etc.), a quarter of it with whole grains (whole grain bread, brown rice and etc.) or starchy vegetables (potatoes, beans and etc.), and a quarter of it with lean protein (chicken, turkey, eggs and etc.).

Snack Smarter

Snacks should focus on quality carbohydrates, lean protein and heart-healthy fats. Healthy snacks prior to a workout include a banana, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, trail mix, yogurt parfaits or energy bars. These foods contain a mix of needed nutrients, while not being too much trouble to digest easily. Think of it as snacking “smarter, not harder”!

What Not to Eat Before a Workout

Avoid High Fat Foods

High fat foods will make you feel sleepy and sluggish, which are huge motivation killers. Fat is turned into energy much less efficiently than carbs and protein, which is why fatty foods should be saved until after the workout. Avoiding fast food and last night’s creamy fettuccini alfredo before a workout might be a no-brainer, but even healthy high-fat snacks, like string cheese and almonds, can make you feel sluggish. Furthermore, fatty foods commonly cause bloating, which no one wants when they're trying to exercise.

Forget High Fiber Foods

If you want stomach cramps and discomfort during a workout, be sure to load up on a light, veggie-piled salad. Lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other high-fiber vegetables, are common sources of gastrointestinal discomfort, as are nuts and seeds. This fiber bomb can cause real discomfort mid-workout, especially during an activity like biking or running. Veggies are mostly fiber and water, therefore they lack the slow-released carbohydrates needed for sustained energy for a workout.

Say No to Sugary Drinks

Sometimes those products made for workouts should not be consumed before workouts. Guzzling sugary liquids like juices, gels and sports drinks can cause an upset stomach and diarrhea. While these simple carbohydrates are great for a quick boost, they won't provide sustained energy. These products are only beneficial when used in moderation and coupled with solid carb options, especially for longer workouts. Soda and other carbonated beverages cause gas and bloating for most people. Combined with the excessive amounts of sugar in soda, and you have double trouble. While research has found that caffeine can provide an energy boost before exercise, espresso or a small black tea might be more stomach-friendly than a caffeinated cola or carbonated energy drink.

Now you know my 3 tips about foods to eat and what 3 foods to avoid before exercising. Hopefully with these helpful hacks, you’ll be energized the next time you hit the road to take a run or jump on your bike. Now, just remember to hydrate properly in advance so you don’t get dehydrated during your workout too.

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