To Eat or Not to Eat Pre-Workout?

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Should you eat before working out? Is it better to exercise on an empty stomach so that you tap into your fat stores and burn them away? What if you have a sensitive stomach? Should it be carbs or protein or both?? So many questions!

The bottom line: When you eat carbohydrate-rich foods before exercise, you will perform better--mentally and physically--during your workout. The question then becomes, what works best for your body?

Sensitive Stomach?

Choose low-fiber and low-fat foods before exercise. Try to eat at least one hour before beginning your workout. Skip the peanut butter and high-fiber dry cereals before your workout. Fat and fiber hold food in the stomach longer and with your sensitive stomach, you want the food that you eat before a workout to be digested and out of your gut when you start exercise. Best low-fat, low-fiber foods:

  • Banana
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Whole wheat English muffin

Trying to Burn Fat?

While it is true that exercise on an empty stomach allows you to burn fat during exercise, this does not translate to a reduction in body fat. When the body is burning fat for fuel during exercise, it inevitably means that you are working out at a lower intensity. What does that mean? It means that you are burning fewer calories per minute of exercise.

To really blast through fat stores, you need to be in the carbohydrate-burning zone. When your body is using carbohydrate to fuel exercise, it means that you are burning more calories per minute. When carbohydrate isn't available, your intensity drops, both physically and mentally. Exercise on an empty stomach generally feels much harder. Choose a satisfying meal or snack, but keep the high calorie additions to a minimum if you are trying to lose body fat. Give yourself 30-60 minutes to digest and then hit a high intensity workout. Best lower calorie, carbohydrate-rich foods to blast fat:

  • Unsweetened cereal with skim milk and fruit
  • Toast with light spread of almond butter and preserves
  • Low-fat yogurt-fruit parfait

Protein to Build Muscle?

Eating protein-rich foods before exercise won't necessarily lead to bigger muscles. Focus your attention on protein-rich chicken, salmon, turkey and Greek yogurt for after your workout when your muscles are more receptive to the powerful muscle-building affects of protein.

Before any workout, you need carbs. Carbohydrate powers exercise, especially high-intensity workouts like weight lifting. You can blow through your glycogen stores (carbohydrate stores) during a heavy lifting workout. When glycogen levels get low, mental and physical energy will drop. When trying to build muscle it's a good idea to incorporate small amounts protein into every meal and snack, provided that you aren't sacrificing carbohydrates. Choose pre-workout meals and snacks that provide carbohydrate and a bit of protein for extra calories to build lean mass. Best muscle-building options:

  • Hummus with cucumber and tomato slices on whole wheat pita
  • Oatmeal with fruit and low-fat chicken sausage
  • Baked sweet potato topped with low-fat cottage cheese

Prime your body for exercise by choosing carbohydrate-rich foods for your pre-workout meal. When possible, give yourself at least 30 minutes to digest the food and absorb the nutrients. Experiment with which foods work best for your body.

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