You’re all geared up for a workout session – happy thoughts, perfect playlist, stylish workout clothes – but you forgot about one of the most important things: pre-workout fuel. Most of us are so focused on the workout itself that we don’t consider how a meal, or lack thereof, can affect our bodies during a workout.
While we could all guess that loading up on junk food, sweets or alcohol right before a workout isn’t ideal, there are some more surprising culprits on our what not to eat before a workout list. . You’ll learn that even if a food is actually “healthy” and ideal for weight loss or gaining muscle mass, it could be detrimental to your workout and leave you feeling worse than before.
What not to eat before a workout
Let’s address why pre-workout food matters so much. Exercise requires a large volume of blood to be pumped to your working muscles. That means that the blood flow to your stomachs is reduced during exercise, especially during intense exercise like 8fit HIIT workouts. Likewise, your stomach demands energy to digest food which drains the power from the rest of your body. Don’t get us wrong, when your belly starts to rumble before a workout don’t ignore it, but you also don’t want these two functions to compete thus forcing your body to work harder than it should.
Before we start listing the foods that are pre-workout-friendly, let’s look at which foods are best to avoid. As we just mentioned, our tummies shouldn’t work too hard when breaking a sweat. Foods that’ll require a lot of effort from your stomach (i.e. complex carbs and other high-fiber) are best kept for after a workout — or are best consumed two or more hours before a workout. These foods include:
Greens are usually a great addition to any meal, but the greens’ fiber breakdown time can cause discomfort during exercise.
Legumes like lentils, black beans, and chickpeas have both fiber and the carbohydrate “raffinose” — a combination that can induce bloating and discomfort.
Just like legumes, they contain fiber but also hard-to-digest sulfur.
Whole grain bread
Usually an exemplary choice at mealtime, the complex carbs in whole grains are a lot for the body to process.
High in fat, seeds should be combined with other macros (carbs and protein) to avoid stomach discomfort. Avoid them before a workout if possible.
Good foods to eat before a workout
Now that you know what foods are best not to consume before a workout, let’s focus on some healthy pre-workout foods that’ll make you feel good and help you achieve your goals.
As you get closer to your workout time, carbs with a little bit of protein should be your main focus. If you only have one to two hours before your workout, keep your snack light (preferably under 200 calories, more if your goal is to gain weight or muscle). This mixed carb-protein snack will help you feel satisfied, energized and may also help reduce muscle soreness post-workout.
Snacks are always best consumed two to three hours before working out, but these foods are still ok to eat up to 30 minutes before a workout, is long as they digest quickly and easily. The less time you have, the lighter your food should be. Here are some healthy pre-workout snacks so you can fuel your body effectively:
They’re a great source of natural sugars, simple carbohydrates, and potassium. The natural sugars and simple carbs are broken down quickly, boosting your glycogen stores and increasing blood sugar levels. Go ahead and consume a banana around 30 minutes to one hour before your workout.
Consuming a fruit smoothie before exercising is a healthy pre-workout meal option that can provide you with a good source of fast-acting glucose. They’re super quick to make, just use your favorite sliced fruit and some Greek yogurt for protein and a thicker consistency. It’s best to make it yourself, but if you’re picking one up, just check the label to make sure it’s got wholesome ingredients and no added sugar.
Dairy with protein like Greek yogurt, quark or cottage cheese is great combined with naturally sweetened fruit before a workout. This healthy snack is easy on your stomach, and when paired with a small amount of nuts, will keep blood sugar levels from dropping mid-workout. Just remember not to consume too much of this snack — especially the nuts, because they take longer to digest.
Enjoying sliced apple with a bit of nut butter 30 minutes before exercising won’t harm your workout. It’s perfect f you’re craving something sweet because it has fiber to prevent that sugar crash mid-squat session, and it’s a surefire way to ensure you’re stocking up on necessary vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
They’re usually fat-free, which makes them quick-digesting, healthy pre-workout snack. Just make sure your rice cakes don’t have added sugar, then spread on a thin layer of some nut butter or hummus for a touch of protein.
Best post-workout meal for weight loss
Now that you’re all set on what to eat before working out, let’s have a look at some ideal post-workout meals that will promote weight loss should that be your goal. Go ahead and read Coach Jennifer’s article on what to eat after a workout so you know when a post-workout meal is necessary and when it’s not. If you fall into the category of needing a post-workout snack, here are some of our recommended combinations:
Banana and peanut butter
Try eating a banana covered in some peanut butter after a tough workout. Make sure you use peanut butter without additives like sugar, artificial flavorings or salt. As we already mentioned, bananas provide you with potassium, carbohydrates and (bonus!) magnesium, which play an are an important role in your body’s recovery. As for the nut butter, that stuff is full of essential proteins and healthy fat.
Baked sweet potato and egg
An egg and sweet potato scramble is a perfect post-workout meal for weight loss. Sweet potato and egg combined have a high biological value — meaning your body is able to absorb a high proportion of the nutrients and protein from the meal.
Cottage cheese with vegetable sticks
If you’re in the mood for a savory snack, plain cottage cheese is very high in protein and great paired with veggies like carrot, celery or cucumber. Cottage cheese also contains a lot of leucine, an amino acid that promotes muscle protein synthesis after a workout. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest. This, in turn, results in more weight loss.
Quinoa is a great plant-based source of protein and is one of the best post-workout meal for weight loss. If you want an added kick of protein, mix in some beans and chickpeas. Make extra to enjoy for lunch the next day.
Omelettes or frittatas
Last up is protein-packed egg omelettes or frittatas with savory vegetables. We love our Mini Sweet Potato and Spinach Frittatas because you can make a large batch ahead of time and have them ready as a post-workout snack all week long. The eggs and sweet potato fill you up, and the nitrate in the spinach has been shown to enhance muscle fiber composition.
Important workout do’s and don’ts
Here are some final pointers so you always get the most out of your workouts.
- Do fuel with healthy pre-workout snacks to keep you energized. Don’t overeat or eat complex foods before a workout because they’ll leave you feeling sluggish.
- Do get enough sleep the night before a workout because it’ll help you recover faster. Don’t deprive yourself of sleep because if you do, your mind will give up before your body.
- Do nap if you need it — 15 minutes should be enough to feel rejuvenated. Don’t nap more than 30 minutes because it could make you more tired than before.
- Do do some dynamic stretching to warm up and activate the right muscles. Don’t do static stretches (i.e. holding positions for an extended period of time) as they can decrease your strength and lead to injuries.
- Do fuel up on the supplements you usually take to reach your goals. Don’t take a supplement you’ve never tried before as it might affect you mid-workout.
- Do hydrate by drinking water to replenish the fluids you may have lost during a workout. Don’t drink alcohol because it leads to dehydration and can affect your motor skills and coordination.
Remember, you can really set yourself up for success by fueling your body properly, hydrating with lots of water, and making sure that your body is well-rested. It won’t just allow your body to perform better, it will put you in a more positive mindset to tackle your workouts with and will motivate you to give it your all. Sign up for 8fit and start your customized workout plan today.