Gym bag? Check! Sneakers? Check! Water bottle? Check! Quick snack before hitting the gym? Not quite. Just when you thought you were all set with your new workout routine you realized you might have forgotten one of the most important parts. In order to reap the benefits of working out it is essential to fuel your body with the right foods before and after your workout.
It is important to recognize that getting the right balance of nutrients will impact your workout and the results you want to achieve. Your body requires fuel that includes carbohydrates, fats and proteins (macronutrients) for a variety of reasons, including hunger, serving as fuel and to assist with recovery. This is especially important for workouts that are longer in duration, over 60 minutes, and with a higher intensity. Regardless, it is still always important to understand that there is a direct relationship between food as fuel and your exercise routine.
In order to allow your body to effectively build muscle, burn fat and be able to recover from exercise, it is important to follow a healthy diet that includes meals and snacks. A healthy intake is not just critical right before and after the gym, as your body is working hard 24 hours a day. However, about 60-90 minutes before the gym it is advantageous to have a small snack that will allow you to have more energy (fuel) for your workout. When deciding what would be a perfect pre-workout snack, think in terms of something small and nutrient dense.
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When choosing a snack keep in mind that carbohydrates equate to energy. When we eat carbohydrates they will be broken down into glucose, enter our muscle cells and then will provide us with the fuel we need for our workout. Simple carbohydrates will be the best option as they are digested more quickly and will be readily available as fuel. Be sure to add in protein, which will help especially when you are weight training. The protein is the fuel that will go directly to our muscles and muscle fibers, for strength and repair. And a touch of fat will also serve to satisfy our hunger, which often increases as we burn calories as we workout. An easy guideline for creating this pre-workout snack would be one that contains about a palmful of carbohydrates, a half of a palmful of protein and a quarter of a palmful of fat.
When timing your snack try to think about not only eating but also digestion as well. Anywhere from a half hour to two hours before will be ideal for having that snack. This element of timing can vary from person to person, so find the timing that works best for you. You want to feel fueled before you head to the gym and you certainly want to feel fully digested. And of course do not forget to always be hydrated prior to and during a workout. Be sure that you have been drinking water throughout the day, and have a water bottle to bring with you to replenish as you are exercising.
So go ahead and give some of these pre-workout snacks a try to fuel your body, keep you energized and allow you reap the benefits of getting in shape!
- Oatmeal - While you might think this is only for breakfast, think again. Whole grain oats, topped with berries and nuts would be ideal before heading to the gym.
- Smoothie - Blend up a banana, along with milk, yogurt, berries and ice for a delightful drink that will fuel your workout. (Keep in mind that choosing milk or yogurt with some fat verses no fat will provide for more fuel.)
- Cottage Cheese - Top with berries and sprinkle with granola for a creamy, easy to digest snack that will hit the spot!
- Apple and PB - Slice up an apple and top with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter for a creamy, rich but healthy snack. Feel free to add raisins or some granola for crunch on top!
- Egg and Avocado Toast - For those a bit more hungry prior to hitting the gym, choose a slice of whole grain toast, spread with a quarter of avocado and top with a hard boiled or poached egg.
- Yogurt Parfait - Regular or greek yogurt serves as the perfect base to a parfait layered with berries and granola.
- Almond Butter and Rice Cakes - Try this variation on peanut butter, and use almond butter (2 tablespoons) spread over rice cakes.
- Banana and PB Toast - Toast up some whole grain bread, top with peanut butter (2 tablespoons) and slices of banana. Can sprinkle with seeds, like chia or pumpkin, for added texture.
- Vegetables and Hummus - For an easy snack that is perfect especially for those on the run. Cut up some carrots, celery or peppers and serve alongside hummus.
- Crackers and Cheese - Easy enough to carry in your bag or bring to work prior to working out. Opt for low fat cheese and whole grain crackers to maximize the quality of this snack.
M Mittler, MS, Registered Dietitian