Here are some questions my clients ask me. Should I eat before my workout? Is it better to exercise on an empty stomach so that I tap into my fat stores and burn them away? I run out of energy during my workouts but have a sensitive stomach and can’t seem to figure out what works. How much should I eat before going out for an easy jog?
If your goal is to perform well during exercise then you definitely want to eat prior to exercise. The bottom line is that when you eat carbohydrate-rich foods before exercise, you will perform better, both mentally and physically during the workout.
If you have a sensitive stomach or find that you basically don’t feel great when you eat before exercise choose low-fiber and low-fat foods, they are easier to digest. Also try to eat at least an hour before beginning your workout. Avoid foods like peanut butter, cereals, bread and grains before your workout. Both fat and fiber hold food in the stomach longer and if you have a sensitive stomach you will want to eat food that will be digested and out of your gut when you start exercise. Some good low-fat, low-fiber options are banana, fruit salad, fresh berries, steamed non-gaseous vegetables, kefir, low fat yogurt, organic milk, soy milk or almond milk. For those lifting weights a meal replacement shake may be appropriate such as the Isalean Shake.
How much to eat is dependent on your body size, the type of exercise, intensity, duration, and ultimate goal of the exercise. If you are exercising for fitness, at a low to moderate intensity for 60 minutes or less experiment with consuming 120 calories and see how that feels. If the workout is very light, such as yoga, walking, or light cardio you may not need to eat. In these cases an empty stomach may feel best or you can consider liquid calories like a half serving of 100% juice added to water, coconut water, or an electrolyte replacement drink.
What if your ultimate goal in exercising is to burn fat? It is true that exercising on an empty stomach allows you to burn fat during exercise, but this does not necessarily translate into a reduction in body fat. Why? Because when you go into a workout with a low carbohydrate reserve you will feel less energetic and are likely to drop the intensity of your workout. When you have low carbohydrate reserves generally exercise feels much harder. Therefore if you were to get on a stationary cardio machine with low carbohydrate reserves and attempt a moderate to high intensity workout you would probably run out of fuel within 20 minutes resulting in a reduction in intensity and perhaps even total time of exercise. But if you were working with the cardio machine and are planning for a very low intensity workout you would be more likely to sustain the intensity for up to an hour even if you had not had a meal or snack prior to exercise. If your goal is to loose body fat you should be working at a moderate to high intensity. In order to sustain that type of workout your body needs carbohydrate as fuel. Therefore if you have not had a meal within approximately 2 hours you should consume a low calorie, carbohydrate rich food. Some examples are ½ cup cooked oatmeal with some berries; whole grain bread, look for sprouted bread, along with no more than 1 Tablespoon of almond butter; or a small serving of organic yogurt with ¼ to ½ cup of fresh fruit.
If your goal is to build muscle the pre workout meal is only a little different. As stated before, any high intensity workout requires carbohydrate reserves for fuel. Carbs power exercise and weight lifting, cycling, running, tennis, soccer, volleyball are all examples of high intensity workouts. If you have not had food within 2-3 hours it is easy to blow through your glycogen stores and then your mental and physical energy will drop during your workout. When trying to build muscle choose pre-workout meals that provide carbohydrate and a bit of protein. Great options are hummus and raw veggies, oatmeal topped with seeds or nuts, baked sweet potato with a little cheese, slice of sprouted bread with 2 ounces of chicken or other lean meat, or snack on edemame. I like to buy the edemame in the pod, it’s available as organic and already cooked in the frozen food sections. The meal I am most likely to consume prior to weight training, running over one hour, or cycling over and hour is an Islean Shake which provides 23 grams of carbohoydrate (more if I add some fruit) and 23 grams of protein.
The key to properly fueling your body is to experiment with which foods in what quantities work best for your body. Consider the type of exercise, intensity, duration of exercise, time of day, when your last meal was, and your ultimate goal. Always keep in mind that with all exercise, except very low intensity, the purpose of the pre exercise meal is to provide the nutrition your body needs to complete the exercise for a given intensity with a particular goal in mind. Contact me for a free nutrition and exercise consultation.