Written by Lisa Allen | Edited by Dr Mark Kapnoudhis
It is very important to get the right balance of food and drink before your workout. Obviously, you don’t want to work out on a stomach full of milk, but you don’t want to be starving either. So what kinds of things should you be eating or drinking in those crucial moments before your workout? We will break it down to foods and liquids in this article.
Water – we will talk about liquids first because this is the easiest topic to cover. If you don’t know this already, drinking WATER, and lots of it, is essential if you are trying to accomplish any kind of fitness goal, whether it be weight loss or weight gain.
And consuming adequate amounts of water is even more important before your workout because you will be losing so much of it during your intense exercise regimen (you are following an intense workout regimen, right?). So be sure to drink plenty of water. A good estimate is to try to get anywhere from 3-4 quarts of water a day. You should drink the most in the morning and begin to taper that off as the day end. You don’t want to be waking up every other hour in the middle of the night to take a piss so don’t drink a ton of water before you go to bed.
Other Liquids – to me, water is the only essential liquid you should drink. However, other liquids have their benefits too and are more preferable and sometimes satisfying than water. Drinks like Gatorade or Powerade are great before and during your workout because they will help replace electrolytes, which is necessary for staying hydrated.
Sports drink and juices are also good in some situations because of their simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are carbs like sugar, dextrose, glucose, etc that digest quickly and provide short bursts of energy. These can be beneficial before a workout, but I prefer to get simple carbohydrates through food, rather than through the processed sugars that you often find in beverages.
I believe that before a workout, you should have some kind of food in your body. I have had times where I went to the gym on an empty stomach and needless to say, I didn’t get much done. The important principle to remember is balance.
In this light, you don’t want to eat a Thanksgiving feast before your leg day but you certainly don’t want to go without having eaten anything in the past 2-3 hours. Try to aim for a meal about an hour before your workout that has a 2:1 carb to protein ratio. So if you meal has 50 grams of carbs, its also got 25 grams of protein.
When selecting a meal to eat before your workout, realize that carbs are not as bad as Dr. Atkins swore they were and that they are actually a pretty good source of energy. You don’t even have to eat the complex carbs that are found in whole grains and other really healthy foods. Since you are about to be burning calories through your workout, you can experiment with simpler carbs like fruit, breads, and some starches.
I like to eat a handful of raisins before I workout, along with a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Occasionally I will follow up this meal with a small protein shake. With this meal, I am getting some complex carbs in the whole wheat bread, some simple carbs in the bananas and raisins, some fats in the peanut butter, and some protein both in the PB and in the shake. This is a great way to fuel your body before your workout without filling your stomach with something that will hinder your performance.
Timing it all out
Like I said above, you shouldn’t eat too near your workout because you want your body to have already started metabolizing the foods you ate so you can derive energy from your meal. Also, if you are taking a pre workout powder, you are generally supposed to take these on an empty stomach.
I have experiment with taking pre workout powders on an empty stomach and on a full stomach and they definitely work better if you haven’t eaten a meal in the last 30 minutes. So try to plan your pre workout meal for about 45 minutes to and hour before your workout.