It’s important to know what kind of foods we should eat before exercise. But we’re always hearing about what we should be eating, and what we should not be eating. Let’s back up a bit first and quickly recap the various functions of primary food nutrients.
- Protein: Enables physical growth; develops and repairs muscles and tissues.
- Carbohydrates: Helps deliver caloric energy to the body; three types: fiber, starch, and sugar.
- Fats: Delivers protein energy to the body; transports vitamins and minerals throughout the cells.
We know that all three nutrients are critical to health, but there is much more to food than just macronutrients. For the sake of not turning this article into a research project, suffice to say food elements such as micronutrients, phytochemicals (antioxidants, antibacterial, antiviral, etc.), water, and zoochemicals (the animal-based kin of phytochemicals) play roles in producing and maintaining energy. When we exercise, we must manifest this energy as we perform under exertion. For this reason, we must have the correct balance of these nutrients.
Besides knowing what foods to eat before exercise, we must also know what foods not to eat before exercise. To a certain degree, the latter is more important than the former.
Today, we are going to discuss foods to never eat before exercise. We’ll wrap things up by going over foods that will do your body good!
Here are the foods (and drinks) to never consume before exercise:
“Food is the most widely abused anti-anxiety drug in America, and exercise is the most potent yet underutilized antidepressant.” – Bill Phillips
For those who exercise regularly, the thought of eating a fat-laden, sugary pastry is enough to make us hurl. It’s funny how getting in shape changes your perspective about food. Anyways, pastries are a huge no-no that provides little in the way of nutrition.
While a bit of lowfat milk with cereal is probably okay, too much dairy – or any dairy product – can cause stomach troubles. The last thing you want is to be kicking butt in the middle of a workout to head to the nearest toilet. Anyone sensitive to any lactose product shouldn’t touch dairy before working out.
Fried or fatty foods
Okay, so you’re going to the gym, right? Think you’ll burn off that burger and fries? Think again. Saturated fat is about the worst thing you can load up on before exercise; they are hard to digest and are known to cause bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and nausea.
If you’re going to hit the gym after work, it is wise to skip Happy Hour. Alcohol is a diuretic and will sap your energy when you need it the most. It also inhibits normal metabolic function – and that pretty much defeats the entire purpose of working out.
A sports drink (especially Gatorade) is perhaps the most overhyped, overmarketed “fitness” product today. The main draw of sports drinks, health-wise, is its electrolyte content. While electrolytes do indeed carry out essential functions within the body (e.g., maintaining sodium levels, delivering water to body tissues), most sports drinks are loaded with sugar. Stick with water.
While carbs are vital for energy, refined carbs spike blood sugar levels and lead to an energy crash. Fortunately, you can find plenty of healthy pre-workout options, such as whole grain bread, oatmeal, brown rice, and sweet potatoes.
Besides possibly causing a mean case of tummy trouble, carbonated drinks (e.g., mineral water, soda) often contain a load of sugar. Carbonation may also prevent water and other fluids from reaching muscle tissues.
Beans are one of the healthiest, most nutrient-dense foods around. Loaded with protein and fiber, they are great for any other meal besides one that precedes a workout. We all know what sometimes happens when we eat beans – so no need to go into further details.
Come to think of it, protein bars may actually be the most overhyped fitness product. The only exception is a bar that is under 200 calories, over 10 grams of protein, and a couple of grams of sugar, max. But most protein bars, aside from tasting like cardboard, are not conducive to a quality workout.
The vast majority of energy drinks are carbonated and loaded with sugar. While a bit of caffeine (less than 250 milligrams) can help fuel your workout, energy drinks are not the way to go. Instead, try a quality green or black tea.
What you should eat before exercise
The pre-workout meal should serve one purpose: to hydrate and fuel your workout. Ideally, you’ll want to eat one to two hours before lacing up. A meal of 200-300 calories will suffice for a medium- to high-intensity workout lasting 60-90 minutes.
Here are few excellent foods to eat before working out:
- A whole-wheat bagel with banana and peanut butter (yum!)
- 1 serving of oatmeal with sliced fruit or berries
- ½ turkey sandwich with two slices of turkey, low-calorie mayonnaise, and tomato slice on whole-grain bread
- A small chicken breast with a scoop of brown rice
- 1 cup of Greek yogurt and a tablespoon of fresh blueberries