Fueling Your Workouts

This week’s nutrition tip focuses on what to eat immediately before you exercise to make sure you don’t burn out before it’s time to cool down.

The duration, intensity, and timing of your planned exercise along with your individual tolerance determine what and how much you should eat. Generally, the more time you have, the more you can eat, and the more types of nutrients you can include, and the less time you have, the more important it is to choose easily digestible carbs that quickly deliver glucose (energy) to your tissues and help delay the onset of fatigue. Fat, fiber, and protein-rich foods slow down digestion and may cause stomach upset, so you may wish to limit these nutrients just prior to exercise, unless you prefer and tolerate them.

Early morning workouts can be tricky to coordinate with nutrition, especially if you have a sensitive stomach and/or can’t sacrifice additional sleep to eat and digest. For easy to moderate intensity efforts under an hour, you’re probably fine waking up and just hydrating with plain water. If you’re a very heavy sweater and/or exercising in the heat, then you may need some electrolytes too. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to eat before an easier workout if you can! You may find that your tolerance varies based on the activity, for example you may be able to eat closer to the start of your cycling or strength training workout compared to the start of a run.

By contrast, avoid exercising on empty if you’d like to get the most out of your high intensity or longer workouts (>60-90 minutes) in the morning. If you can’t manage breakfast, try to at least have a small and simple carb-based snack before you workout. For example, a banana is a go to choice for many as it is very easy to digest, or you can eat a piece of toast with nut butter, 1 egg on a small corn or whole wheat tortilla, or a small bowl of oatmeal or cereal. If you can't get up early enough to digest real food and find yourself bonking during your workout, then consider a sports product (e.g. some chews, half a bar, etc.). If that doesn’t work either, then make sure to have a solid dinner the night before and try adding a balanced evening snack.

For workouts later in the day, eat a balanced meal 2-4 hours before and/or a carb-rich snack 1-2 hours before exercise (e.g. breakfast, mid/late-morning snack if needed, then pre-lunch exercise, or lunch, mid/late-afternoon snack, then pre-dinner exercise). As always with sports nutrition, experimentation is key to figuring out what works best for your unique body, so play around until you find what gets you to perform your best!

Questions or need more individualized guidance? Get in touch with me at eatforendurance@gmail.com.

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