Fueling properly before exercise can prevent low blood sugar, fuel performance, top off the tank, and help preserve muscle mass.
Generally speaking, larger meals should be eaten 3–4 hours before exercise, and smaller meals or snacks an hour before workouts.
When eating closer to your workout, choose foods that are higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat and fiber.
Options include whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk, banana, and English muffins, or toast with peanut butter.
The type and amount of carbohydrates you eat are important for both fueling your muscles and keeping you hydrated.
Registered dietitians typically recommend consuming complex carbs, such as whole grains and legumes, before a workout. These types of carbs digest more slowly.
And don’t interrupt your exercise with a spike in blood sugar or take energy-delivering oxygen away from your muscles.
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But if you plan on exercising less than two hours after eating an easy-to-digest carb, a simple carb may be in order. This is especially true if your workout is intense or long in duration.
A handful of dried fruit, a bagel with peanut or almond butter, and an English muffin with jelly are good options that deliver both the carbs and protein you need to keep going.
You can also eat a high-carb smoothie, such as blending bananas with berries, ice cream, and milk, or a protein powder shake to get your carbs before a workout.
It’s not just carbohydrates that fuel your body during exercise; protein is also important. Protein provides the amino acids that help your muscles repair and build.
You can eat protein from foods such as eggs, lean meats, and dairy products.
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You should avoid eating fatty foods before working out, though. These can slow down your digestion and cause bloating and stomach cramps.
Spicy foods are also not good pre-workout choices since they can trigger heartburn and other gastrointestinal problems.
Eating too much food close to workout time can interfere with your performance.
“The food you eat needs to be fully digested before your muscles can absorb the nutrients and energy from it,” says a registered dietitian and certified strength.
Fats are also important energy sources, but they should be consumed in moderation because they digest more slowly than carbohydrates and protein.
Consuming too much dietary fat before exercise can cause gastrointestinal distress or make you feel sluggish, especially during high-intensity workouts.
Carbohydrates and proteins are the body’s most important natural energy sources, but a good pre-workout meal should also include a source of healthy fats to help stabilize blood sugar.
The best time to eat such a meal is about 30–60 minutes before the workout, depending on the type of workout and the individual’s eating habits.
A small granola bar, a banana, or some low-fat yogurt with fruit is a good choice because it provides carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of healthy fat.
The granola will help keep the carbs steady and provide some slow-digesting energy, and the fruit will give a quick boost in energy.
Boiled eggs are another option because they contain protein, some carbs, and a bit of fat to help fuel the body through a long workout.
It’s important to have carbs in your diet, especially before workouts, because they provide an immediate energy source and help maintain blood sugar levels during exercise.
It’s also important to consume a moderate amount of protein, which promotes muscle maintenance and stimulates the production of new muscles.
But avoid high-fiber foods before a workout because they take longer to digest and draw blood into the digestive tract, which can hinder your performance.
Instead, opt for easy-to-digest foods such as bananas, whole grains, and a sandwich.
Which have complex carbohydrates and protein, plus potassium, an electrolyte that helps prevent muscle cramping.
You can even add peanut butter or avocado for heart-healthy fats and protein.