You are ready to hit the gym, the road, or the living room for your P90X session. You are neither hungry nor full, but you still wonder—“Should I have something? What if I get hungry in the middle of the workout and hit a sugar crash? Or is exercising on an empty stomach better like the ability to burn more fat?”
“To put it simply, pre-workout nutrition is the gas that fuels your workout. You can’t drive across town in a car with no gas and you certainly can’t get in a gold star workout on an empty stomach,” says Tara Gidus, MS, RD, CSSD, Team Dietitian for the NBA’s Orlando Magic and co-host of Emotional Mojo National TV show at dietdiva.net.
But this doesn’t mean you should fuel up simply to burn off that energy, and nothing else. “That’s not going to make a difference in body composition,” adds Alexandra Caspero, MA, RD, owner of the weight-management and sports-nutrition service, www.delicious-knowledge.com. In other words, load up on 200 or so calories that you barely use could keep you from reaching your goal to lose fat.
But what about working on empty? The truth is that yes, you may burn more fat in the process, but not necessarily more calories. This is because fats are quite inefficient at providing muscle energy to exercise at high intensity, and plenty of studies show high intensity interval training (HIIT) decreases more body fat than prolonged low-to-moderate exercise training.
Rx Workout Food
The best workout food prescription depends on your specific workout. Your needs for a yoga class differ than you weight-training session. Here is a look at some common exercises and Gidus’ advice for creating the right pre-workout meals:
- You want to begin thinking about your pre-workout meal 1-2 hours before a strength training session since protein takes longer to digest and get to your hungry muscles. Example: Egg white omelet with spinach, whole grain toast, and 8 oz. skim milk or a smoothie with whey protein powder and fruits like mango or pineapple. Add flax seed for a bonus burst of healthy fats and fiber.
- On the go? Grab a Greek yogurt and add a banana and ½ handful of walnuts.
- Don’t be distracted by clever marketing of specialty energy drinks and protein shakes. Whole foods will provide the best nutrition for your body.
- In terms of pre-workout protein whey is the “way” to go. It digests faster than casein (found in milk) and will have your muscles ready to go faster. Opt for protein powder that contains whey protein isolate. It is better than concentrate because it has less fat and carbs.
- If protein building amino acids had a king it would be leucine. This amino acid is packaged with the most whey protein supplements, however, it can take hours for leucine to get to your working muscles. Try a free form leucine supplement to activate maximum muscle growth.
- What you eat beforehand depends on many factors, including the type of yoga and why you practice. Some forms can be as demanding as a tough session with the weights, so fuel accordingly. Also forms of yoga like Bikram (hot yoga) can cause major fluid losses and require additional hydration before and after.
- Make sure you allow enough time before eating and your yoga practice for food to fully digest. Your body will direct its resources towards digestion, so if you wait and eat right before yoga you might be uncomfortable during class and have a harder time focusing because your body is working to digest.
- Have a small snack 60 minutes before or a larger meal 2-3 hours before.
- One hour prior to yoga, fruit is a great choice. Grab an apple, banana, or pear and pair with Greek yogurt for more staying power.
- Some early morning yoga practices like Ashtanga recommend doing so on an empty stomach. Listen to your body and if you feel hungry grab a small handful of dried fruit before class.
- Eat to fuel for Zumba just like you would for a long run or cardio session. Focus on carbohydrates and give yourself over an hour to digest properly. Try cottage cheese with berries, a fruit smoothie, hard-boiled eggs, and wheat toast, or half of a sandwich.
- If you’re eating closer to workout time then choose fast digesting carbohydrates like melon, pineapple, a small bagel, or protein bar with 5 grams of protein, 15 grams of carbohydrates, and little fat.
- Avoid foods high in fat or fiber. These will leave you feeling full, which may slow down your dance moves.
- If you’re looking for motivation and drive, try a small cup of coffee before you workout. The caffeine has been proven to increase the number of fatty acids circulating in the bloodstream. This enables you to workout longer because your muscles can absorb and burn that fat for fuel and save the body’s limited stores of carbohydrates until later.
- Cross Fit combines the protein needs of weight lifting and the heart pumping carbohydrate-consuming needs of cardio. Combining protein with high glycemic carbohydrates—such as white rice, corn, potato, or fruits like pineapple and mango—will provide the proper fuel.
- Cross Fit is an intense exercise that causes you to work in your anaerobic threshold. Don’t try to cut calories and head to a session on an empty stomach. The lifts will be difficult and the possibility of serious injury exists if you’re not fueled and focused.
- Eat a well-balanced meal of 500-600 calories 2-3 hours beforehand then grab a smaller 15 gram of carbohydrate snack 30-45 minutes before you hit the floor.
- These are some Cross Fit friendly pre-workout meals: a peanut butter and banana sandwich, oatmeal with almond milk and berries, turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, applesauce mixed with whey protein powder.
- If you are into a Paleo diet, you shouldn’t shun carbohydrates like whole grains and low fat dairy, particularly pre and post workout.
- Fueling for endurance exercise requires you to examine how long you’re working out and where. Take into consideration your hydration status if you’re training in warm weather. However, your pre-workout routine should remain the same—carbs, carbs, and carbs. Add about 10 grams of low-fat protein to stay full and focused through your workout.
- Try these options that are all high in fast digesting carbohydrates: Whole grain bagel with honey; Whey protein shake made with juice; Oatmeal made with water and a banana or berries; 1 cup brown rice with 2 oz chicken; Scrambled egg whites with whole grain bread; Baked sweet potato with small amount of peanut butter.
- Don’t forget to hydrate. If you’re going to sweat then hydrate before, during, and after you exercise. If you’re going to be sweating excessively then consume water and electrolytes as you exercise since you lose both in your sweat. Try a sports drink or electrolyte tabs that you can add to your water. You can also pick a form of energy gel that has added electrolytes for a double dose of performance-boosting nutrients.
- When you workout time crosses the 60-minute mark reach for some fast digesting carbohydrates, such as energy bars, raisins, and sports drinks.