You may have seen health and fitness fanatics nibbling on a protein bar or a rice cake smeared with peanut butter before workout for a clean source of energy.
But nutritionists say that when it comes to pre-workout snacks, you don’t necessarily need to limit yourself to a certain food type. Yes, even a thick milkshake from McDonalds can be considered a good pre-workout – as long as you skip the extra whipped cream on top. Julie Duffy Dillon, a certified nutritionist says that choosing the right pre-workout snack depends on a number of factors.
Listen to Your Body
Dillon has worked with professional athletes for almost two decades, and his experience in the health and nutrition space has taught him that everyone is built differently which is why their choice of pre-workout should depend on their individuality.
Books and online resources are a great way to learn about nutrition but at the end of the day you need to listen to your body and do what’s best for you.
Other certified nutritionists agree with Dillon. Dietician and certified trainer Jonah Soolman says that whenever clients come to him for nutrition or fitness advice, he always suggests taking pre and post-workout meals to suit their individual needs.
There are people who can’t work out after eating something whereas those with fast metabolism complain about lacking energy during workouts if they don’t have a good pre-workout meal before. Of course there are certain principles that apply to everybody – having carbs before workout, for example.
Marathoner Soolman has a really unconventional pre-workout snack before he goes for a long run. He admits that having a pack of Oreos with Mountain Dew before starting keeps him energized throughout the endurance activity. He has tried popular energy drinks like Gatorade and Monster before, but they don’t seem to work well for his body.
Carbs are Not the Enemy
Carbs have long been vilified in the health and weight-loss industry for causing weight gain and bloating, and this avoidant culture has created problems for people who are physically active and need the right sustenance before a workout. You can avoid carbs all you want, but when it comes to fueling your muscles for intense physical activity, nothing works better than this essential macronutrient.
Moreover, when you take carbs in your pre-workout snack, they are quickly turned into simple sugars and burned as fuel instead of being stored in the body as excess fat. On the other hand people who don’t eat carbs before working out lack energy and may even experience muscle loss as their body turns to its natural protein reserves for energy.
Timing Your Pre-Workout Snack
When choosing a pre-workout meal, timing is a big factor that should be considered before making a decision. If you have at least a couple of hours before you hit the gym, you might as well eat a full meal since you’ll have plenty of time to digest it.
When eating an hour before the workout, keep your meal ratio a bit more towards carbs since fats and protein slow down digestion and make you feel sluggish while exercising. A cup of low fat yogurt or a serving of fruits are ideal high-carb pre-workout options.
Just before starting a workout, you should choose a snack that is purely carbs such as an energy drink, plain bread, fruit juice or pretzels. Soolman suggests staying away from foods that are high in fiber or protein since they can give you digestion issues while you’re working out.
People often prefer energy bars, bananas or a sports drink as pre-workout fuel, and while these foods are a great source of fast metabolizing sugars, there are definitely more adventurous options you can choose as your pre-workout snack that provide similar benefits.
Dillon says that there’s nothing wrong with eating a peanut butter bagel, chocolate milk or even an odd milkshake from McDonald’s, if you’re really feeling adventurous.
Having water during your workout is crucial to keep your energy levels from dipping. Keep a water bottle with you at all times and sip on some H2O throughout the workout.