I hear so often people at the gym complaining about a lack of energy; when questioned what they've eaten all day, their response is something like a salad or a soup for lunch. And there lays the problem. So often we are told what foods to stay away from & what to eat in order to loose weight & stay trim, but not enough people talk about the fuel our bodies need to complete a workout. In particular, carbohydrates are given such a bad name - they make you bloat, make you put on loads of weight & make your skin really bad. Well what a load of ****! Certain sugary, processed carbs might, but don't lump all carbs under the same category. We'll talk more about this later.
So what do I eat before the gym? As well as a balanced breakfast & lunch, I will make sure to snack before the gym, as I usually go before dinner. This may be a banana & peanut butter - my all time favourite - a tangerine & half a protein bar, pitta & hummus, Fuel 10K quark pouches... Something reasonably healthy, with a good amount of carbs in, but not too heavy, to fuel me through an hour of weights & then cardio. I will also have a black coffee! This mixture of cabs & caffeine keeps my energy levels consistent throughout my workout, till I get home, when I refuel with a high protein snack & meal. So why does this combination seem to work?
I'll let the American College of Sports Medicine explain -
"Adequate food & fluid should be consumed before, during & after exercise to help maintain blood glucose concentration during exercise, maximise exercise performance & improve recovery time. Athletes should be well hydrated before exercise & drink enough fluids during & after exercise to balance fluid losses."
In other words, it is SO important to fuel & refuel with the right foods when exercising, to keep energy levels consistent for the most effective, intense workout possible, but to also help aid the body's recovery for your next workout. You may have heard about how 'exercising on an empty stomach can improve weight loss'? Wrong! Instead your body is more likely to hold onto stored fat, if you don't fuel it first. On the flip side, by eating prior to a workout, you're maximising your ability to burn calories & firing up your metabolism. Now it's time to look at exactly what & when we should be eating...
Water - It is always essential to keep hydrated, not just during a workout. So get sipping.
Caffeine - Black coffee or espressos help to generate energy for a workout, slows down fatigue & helps to increase the rate of which we burn fat.
Carbohydrates - Put down that donut! Instead look for healthy, complex carbs, that offer slow release energy, but be careful not to eat anything too hard to digest, or you'll be left feeling sluggish. Try something like a banana, wholemeal pitta & hummus or fruit & veg prior to a workout. If you have time to spare however, around 2 hours, brown rice & chicken is a fantastic pre workout meal, but you'll need a little time to digest it. Why not simple carbs? Sugary or high processed carbs are good for an initial spike of energy, but you will soon fatigue & loose interest in your workout if that is what your body is relying on for fuel.
Avoid saturated fats & lots of protein prior to a workout, as they're slower to digest, meaning that not only will it make you feel sluggish, but your body's oxygen & energy stores will be prioritising digestion, instead of fuelling your muscles.
Here's a few suggestions of what foods to try - remember your workout's intensity, your digestive rate & how soon after you workout all plays a part in how much or what you should eat! Try to leave at least 30mins between your pre workout & your workout!
- Fuel 10K Quark Pouch.
- Whole grain cereals with nuts & berries.
- Whole wheat toast with scrambled eggs.
- Brown rice with chicken & veg.
- Oatmeal with nuts & berries or honey.
- Peanut butter with banana or apple. Try almond or cashew butter too!
- Rice cakes with peanut butter & banana.
- Tangerine & protein bar.
- Whole grain pitta & hummus.
Water - Keep sipping! Try to aim to drink a whole water bottle during an hours long workout. Not only are you re-hydrating yourself, but you are also helping towards your daily water intake.
After an hour - If you're workout is around an hour or less, you have no need to refuel mid workout. But if you're doing a high intensity form of exercise for over an hour, you might need a boost. So instead of waiting for your energy levels to drop, consume around 50-100 calories snack. Once again, something easy to digest. Try some dried fruit, nuts & seeds, an energy bar or a banana.
Supplements - During particularly intense workouts, some people like to sip on supplements to maintain their energy levels. BCAA's are a popular choice.
Water - Yes more! It is so important to re-hydrate & stay hydrated after a workout.
Carbohydrates - We aren't finished with carbs yet. Your body has burnt through a lot during the workout, so they need replenishing too, to prevent fatigue & encourage recovery. Did you know carbs are your muscles' primary source of energy & that your muscles require carbs just as much as protein post workout, for energy for repair & recovery? Try to consume some 20-60 minutes after a workout.
Protein - We should all know to consume protein post workout. Try to consume some within 20 minutes of a workout - I usually go for a yogurt or can of tuna - to promote prompt muscle recovery. I will then eat a meal rich in protein & carbs, which I aim to eat within an hour of my workout. Protein is an important nutrient for muscle repair & growth. Here's a few examples of great post workout snacks & meals -
- Cold cuts - Turkey or chicken, lean proteins.
- Canned tuna (in water) on whole wheat crackers.
- Greek or Icelandic high protein yogurt.
- Protein shake with water or skimmed milk.
- Cottage cheese on wholegrain crackers.
- Scrambled egg & smoked salmon on brown toast.
- Chicken/turkey/tuna, veg/rice & salad wholemeal wraps/sandwiches .
- Protein pancakes.
- Jerk seasoned or Peri Peri tuna steak/salmon/chicken, veg & rice.
I know how important food is to my workout & fitness goals, so I really hope that this article helps you to achieve yours! Thanks to Fuel 10K for inspiring this article. If you have any questions or suggestions, comment bellow, I'd love to hear them, or find me on social media!