DO YOU EVER FEEL LIKE YOUR TRAINING SESSION IS RUNNING ON EMPTY? Though widely overlooked, pre-exercise snacks play an integral role in giving your body the energy it needs to fuel your workout, plus enhance your ability to exercise longer, harder and build muscle.
What you should eat prior to exercise depends on the type of exercise you are performing. The energy to exercise comes from glycogen, a stored form of glucose, derived from the breakdown of carbohydrates. Glycogen is found in muscles and the liver and is the go-to energy shop during exercise.
Whatever your intended training session, the basic principle stands; in order for our muscles to perform at their optimum exercise capacity, they need fuel supplied via blood glucose. As you can store only small amounts of glucose in your working muscles, before you exercise you need to supply the body with enough glycogen. The best way to do this is to have a pre-workout snack. Foods that adequately supply our working muscles come primarily from carbohydrate sources. Whether you are lifting weights, resistance training or getting in some cardio, you will be using high amounts of energy and need a proper pre-workout snack to ensure your muscles work efficiently and effectively and to reduce muscle breakdown.
How long before exercise should you eat?
The timing of a pre-workout snack depends on the type of exercise you are performing. Longer endurance exercise needs a longer sustained nutritional intake of carbohydrates, allowing a gradual release enabling the body to actively work longer before fatigue sets in. If you’re running a long distance event or setting yourself up for a grueling endurance event, your body will work best if you eat 3-4 hours before the start time. This allows for maximum digestion and reduces the risk of stomach discomfort.
For your regular daily workouts, 45-60 minutes prior to your session is sufficient. A combination of both carbohydrate and protein will give you the extra energy to lift heavier and for longer. Research indicates eating carbohydrates with a small amount of protein prior to resistance training will help stimulate post exercise muscle growth. So, get eating and watch those muscles grow.
What should you eat before you exercise early in the morning?
The body uses more body fat in a fasted state. However if your goal is to improve performance or build muscle, a small meal prior to exercise will be beneficial. After fasting overnight during sleep, the body’s glycogen levels reduce significantly. So, a pre-training snack before your early morning session will sustain your session. A pre-workout snack before your morning exercise session helps reduce over-eating after your training session. When you exercise on an empty stomach, your body will not only want to reclaim the used glycogen but it will also be looking for a top-up to get you through the day which can get the hunger cravings started. The key to early morning physical activity is to train smart, your body will perform better when there is fuel in the tank.
Do you need to eat a snack before an evening training session?
Whether or not you need a pre-workout snack or meal for an evening training session depends solely on when you last ate during the day. The best way to add one is to eat your afternoon snack to coincide with your workout. If you feel that the time lapse between your afternoon snack and your exercise is too long, opt for a small snack to top up your glycogen stores.
What if you have no time for a pre-workout snack?
We all get busy and it is easy to forget to fuel up an hour before exercise. But research indicates even a quick snack right before you start your workout has a positive effect on your ability to exercise longer and harder. Just be mindful not to overload your body while snacking and then get straight into it. If you hit the snacks too heavily before a workout, you may get gastro-intestinal discomfort from exercising on undigested foods. The humble banana is great in this circumstance as it delivers fast acting carbohydrates.
What are the best pre-workout snacks?
Choose foods low in GI with a small amount of protein (save your higher protein intake until after your workout for muscular recovery). Snacks with a low GI allow a slower release of glucose into the bloodstream, helping to maintain fullness and energy levels. Keep your snacks low. High fat foods prior to exercise reduce the stomach’s ability to empty, which can leave you feeling bloated and overfull.
Breakfast or morning snacks
»» Banana smoothie: – banana, skim milk (or almond, soy or coconut milk) and cinnamon
»» Wholegrain toast: with an egg or baked beans
»» Wholegrain oats: with berries and a dollop of low fat natural yogurt
»» Wholegrain oats: mixed with cooked egg whites (top with cinnamon to help stabilize blood sugar)
»» Berries: with low fat natural yoghurt
»» Unsweetened cereal: with non fat milk
»» Egg white omelet: with vegetables
Afternoon or evening snacks
»» Low fat cottage cheese: with strawberries or pineapple
»» Wholegrain rice cakes: with a small amount of peanut butter
»» Raw veg sticks: with hummus
»» Banana or apple: with peanut butter
»» Apple: with a handful of almonds
»» Brown rice: with chicken and pineapple
»» Sweet potato: with small amount of chicken or low fat cottage cheese
»» Small bowl of pasta: mixed with low fat cottage cheese and a few vegetables
»» Small wholegrain roll: with turkey and salad
Remember to hydrate.
Although food enables our bodies to exercise efficiently, never start your exercise without first ensuring you are adequately hydrated. This will reduce the risk of dehydration, help the body regulate body temperature, prolong endurance training and maintain muscular strength.
Go by the mantra, ‘what you get out of your body depends on what you put into it.’ Don’t forget this includes before your workout as well as after. Fuel your workout with these simple snack ideas and get moving with all that extra energy.
Dee Taylor is a nutrition and fitness writer, certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and in her final semester of a Health Science degree majoring in nutrition at the University of Queensland. Her studies are focused on understanding health behaviors, crucial to identifying health related behavioral patterns needed to navigate successful health changes. She holds memberships with Nutrition Australia, Fitness Australia and Forum Speakers and actively conducts speeches on nutritional related topics.