The food you choose to eat before a workout is the fuel that your body uses to power through difficult moves. Whether you’re training for a marathon, working on your strength training, or starting a new running program, paying attention to what you eat before you exercise can change your workouts for the better.
Is there any truth to the idea that eating pasta before you work out is good for you? Are there better, healthier foods out there that you should be eating instead? What’s the deal with pre-workout food? Over Easy has all the answers you need so that you can power your body the right way to reach your goals.
Does It Really Matter What You Eat Before A Workout?
You might be wondering if what you should eat before a workout really warrants its own article. Is it that important?
Uh, heck yeah. What you eat before you workout does matter, both during your workout and during the recovery period that follows it, unless you want to be dealing with sore muscles for days on end. Not only does an underfed body lead to underperformance, but it also burns fewer calories when doing the same amount of exercise. If you eat the wrong foods, your performance will suffer.
If you don’t fuel your body with the right stuff before a workout, your body won’t have the right materials to create additional, stronger muscle tissue. Getting leaner and buffer is the main point (for many people at least), so you work against yourself by not giving yourself the right foods before you start.
Focus On Macronutrients
Most of the conversation around what you eat before you exercise revolves around the concept of macronutrients, and two of them in particular. Carbohydrates and protein are equally important, for different reasons.
Carbs provide your body with the glucose that it needs to fuel you and provide you with energy so that you don’t pass out on the treadmill. More specifically, this energy comes from glycogen, which is a type of glucose that is synthesized in the muscles and the liver. When you exercise, your muscles use the glycogen that is stored inside of them to power your workout.
Unfortunately, those glycogen stores are limited. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. That leads to that terribly familiar feeling of “hitting a wall,” where you feel exhausted, your muscles are suddenly weak, and you can’t seem to catch your breath. It essentially ends your workout, or at the very least, makes it much harder to power through.
Don’t grab a slice of cake in the name of fitness just yet, though. If you fuel up on unhealthy carbs, like sugary drinks or white bread, your energy may build quickly, but it will just as quickly wear off. The sugar crash comes hard, and often painfully, which can feel even worse than if you hadn’t fueled up beforehand at all. Healthy carbs are key.
While carbs are the fuel that you need to power your workout, protein is the real key to building muscle.
Muscles are made out of protein. When you work out, especially if you’re doing a difficult routine, your muscles are torn down so that they can be built back up stronger than before. As those fibers are torn apart, it requires more protein to put them back together again. If you don’t have enough protein in your body, your muscles will be torn down without being rebuilt. That leads to muscle atrophy, weakness, and fatigue—not exactly the results you’re looking for from your deadlifts.
Focus on eating a five to one ratio—five grams of healthy carbohydrates for every one gram of protein that you consume. Protein and carbohydrates work together in tandem, and this ratio has been proven to provide the most benefit for people who work out regularly.
Timing Is Key
When you eat before a workout is almost just as important as what you eat.
Most experts recommend that you focus on eating a small meal between one and four hours before you exercise. This meal or snack should contain both protein and carbs, which work together to support and promote the synthesis of muscle tissue. And, obviously, it should be tasty (like a certain breakfast bar we know… Peanut butter? Banana nut? Apple and cinnamon? We’re in).
If you normally like to go for a run in the morning (first of all, major props), try to get up an hour early so that you can eat something light. While it may be tempting to work out on an empty stomach, especially in the morning, it doesn’t stimulate your metabolism like many people think it does. In fact, working out on an empty stomach can send signals to your body that it needs to go into starvation mode.
Think of your body as a car. If you don’t fill up your gas tank before you drive across town, you won’t get very far. It’s the same thing with working out. You need to give your body fuel before the workout to get through it.
The closer you get to your workout, the smaller the meal you eat should be, too. No one wants to risk all those healthy ingredients coming back up.
Water, Water, Water
Equally as important is making sure that you get enough water before (and after) working out. With exercise comes the potential for dehydration, but knowing how much to drink and when can reduce that risk.
Try to drink at least eight ounces of water at least half an hour before your workout. It helps provide hydration to your muscles so that they can work harder as well as more easily repair themselves after you finish.
Be careful not to drink too much water before your workout, though. If you have a stomach full of water, not only will it weigh you down, it may also lead to muscle cramps.
Is Carb Loading Real?
Yes, but only in specific situations. Don’t get too excited.
Carb loading is best left to long-distance and high-intensity athletes, like marathon runners and triathletes. It has almost no benefits for the average person working out, and it may actually lead to weight gain and feeling sluggish during your workout. Generally speaking, carb-loading should be left to athletes who plan to be engaged in a high-intensity workout for at least 90 minutes.
If you’re only doing a short workout, a stomach full of carbs will slow you down without giving you the energy you need. So, sorry, but save the pasta party for another day.
What Are The Best Foods To Eat Before A Workout?
Protein and carbs, ratios, timing… while all that is important, you’re here to learn about the FOOD.
While it really does depend on when you’re eating your meal, there are a few common foods that always make for great pre-workout fuel.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are near the top of the list. They’re an excellent, natural source of carbohydrates without making you feel full and sluggish. They also have a high water content, which can boost your hydration almost as well as a glass of water can. They can be eaten raw and don’t require much prep work. And, considering a large percentage of Americans don’t eat their daily recommended serving size of vegetables, it’s the perfect way to boost your nutrition. Are you really surprised that we’re taking after your mom and telling you to eat your veggies?
If fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t an option, our Over Easy breakfast bars are a great substitution. They’re full of healthy sources of protein, like egg whites and peanuts, as well as a good source of complex carbohydrates in organic, rolled oats. They can easily be stored in your bag or even in your pocket, and you can just grab and go. All that power is packed into one small, colorful package. We’re not saying there’s such thing as a perfect snack, but we are saying that if there was, Over Easy would be it.
What Should You Avoid Before A Workout?
Knowing what to eat is half the battle, and knowing what not to eat is just as important. First and foremost, always listen to your body. Over time, you’ll learn what your body does best with and what really doesn’t work for you.
Generally speaking, try to avoid caffeinated beverages before a workout. If you absolutely must have some caffeine, lean more toward black coffee than soda. In addition to the extra sugar that’s in soda, it’s also loaded with carbon dioxide. The carbonation can lead to feeling gassy and full, which causes abdominal pain. No thanks.
You should also try to avoid spicy foods before a workout. Although you may do well with spice regularly, when you combine it with activity, it may lead to an upset stomach, heartburn, or acid reflux. Not only is that uncomfortable, it can also significantly impair your ability to push yourself as hard as you need to to reach your fitness goals.
What you eat before you workout really does matter. Grab an Over Easy breakfast bar or a piece of fresh fruit an hour or so before you get your sweat on to power through your workout. You’ll also have an easier, quicker recovery after you’re done. When you know the right way to fuel your body, the sky really is the limit.