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What should I eat before I workout for optimal results?

In continuing this discussion about food and nutrition, let’s talk about the issue of what you should be eating BEFORE you workout.

The first part of the answer has to do with WHEN you workout.  Someone who exercises in the morning will have different considerations than someone who works out in the evening.  Let’s start with some basics on digestion which will help illustrate how the whole issue of how food and exercise work together.

Digestion Is Its Own Workout

After a person eats, their body immediately begins the process of digesting the food. Digestion is not a passive process—the food doesn’t simply sit in the stomach and breakdown all by itself. Instead, the body has to invest energy in processing food, and that is energy that could also have been used for working out.

So what does that mean? It means that when people eat large meals with lots of calories in them, they are depriving themselves of energy they need for working out. That energy loss manifests in a number of ways, but the biggest impact is that blood goes to the stomach, and not to the muscles.

Consequently, the athlete or exerciser gets less blood and less oxygen throughout the muscles he or she is using. Oxygen, of course, is essential for preventing cramping. This is why people who exercise directly after eating are apt to cramp up: The process of digestion is depriving them of blood and oxygen for their muscles.

Even if the person doesn’t experience the pain of cramping, there will be more soreness in their muscles the following day because lack of oxygen leads to a build up of lactic acid, which is the cause of soreness and, when enough of it is present, cramping.

People who have eaten large meals just before exercising will breathe harder, and for much the same reason. Their body is drawing in more air and more oxygen because it senses that its muscles are not getting the amount of oxygen they need.

Good Pre-Workout Meals – AM Workouts

It’s important to remember that for as long as you were sleeping, you were fasting.  Many people are able to exercise on an empty stomach but many more are not.  Eating before your AM work out can assist in kick starting the metabolism and waking the body up.  Foods consumed immediately prior to any exercise should be easy to digest and not divert blood away from the muscles.  Fruit, juice, even simple sugars are great ways to wake up the body before the workout.  I hear clients talk about drinking coffee before their AM work out and I am not a fan.  Coffee is a diuretic, and causes dehydration.  The caffeine is a great stimulate but I prefer something like a PowerBar Gel pack or chew instead.  These are quickly digested and provide a super boost of energy for my workout.  If you are worried about the calories, another stimulant can be found in the form of strips called Energy Sheetz.  Or, you could also go for a natural source of simple sugar in the form of simple Orange Juice, or just eat an orange!

Good Pre-Workout Meals – PM Workouts

Remembering what I talked about earlier about digestion, it’s important in the evenings to space out your meals providing enough time for digestion but not too much time in that you are hungry again going into the workout.  If evenings are your time to exercise, you’ll want to be done eating your heaviest meal prior to your workout at least 60 if not 90 mins before the start of your routine.    If you need a pick me up prior to your workout, see some of the examples of stimulants above in the AM workout meal section.

The trick is to find what works for you.  Sometimes experimentation is best.  Try different things and see what provides you the most bang for your buck.

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