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What to Eat Before You Workout

Your workout shouldn't start when you walk in the gym. It actually begins several hours before. There are two strategies to follow. The first is if you're doing a cardio workout, the second is for strength training. The key is balancing the energy you take in (your food) with the energy you put out (your workout). Like most things, you will have to plan ahead for the most impressive results.

Before Cardio

If you're doing a cardio workout you should avoid eating immediately before. Eating too close to a workout can also cause diarrhea, cramping and an upset stomach. For optimum results, follow these general guidelines.

Cardio first thing in the morning. Eat breakfast, but make sure you do it at least 30 minutes before. Drink plenty of water or consider a sports drink. Immediately after your cardio workout as well.

Cardio during the day. If you're eating a large meal, make sure it's 3-4 hours before exercising. When eating smaller meals (300 calories or less), eat 1-2 hours before exercising. Choose foods that are higher in carbs and protein but lower in fat.

Of course not eating enough before a workout can be just as bad as eating too much. Try to limit the total calories in your meals to between 200 and 500 calories. Much more than 500 calories and your blood sugar levels drop making you feel weak, light headed, faint or tired.

Before Strength Training

First thing in the morning, eat a full breakfast right after you get up. You're body has used up most of the energy you got from dinner the night before. Map out your other meals so that your workout falls in the appropriate time afterwards.

If you're eating a large meal, make sure it's 3-4 hours before exercising. When eating smaller meals (300 calories or less), eat 1-2 hours before exercising. Choose foods that are higher in carbs and protein but lower in fat.

If it's within an hour of your workout, avoid high fiber foods because they can give you gas or cause cramping. You should also avoid foods high on the glycemic index (GI) before a workout. High GI foods can cause your blood sugar to spike, and then crash during the workout. You want to feel energy, not sluggish.


SPECIAL NOTE: There are some people who should monitor the glycemic index of foods. Diabetics are taught to monitor the glycemic index to prevent dangerous spikes in blood sugar levels. There is also evidence that foods with a low glycemic index provide beneficial effects for people with ischemic heart disease.

For a database with the Glycemic Index of foods visit www.glycemicindex.com or Click Here.


Things to Avoid Before a Workout

  • Simple sugars in fruit can cause diarrhea for some people when eaten within an hour of a workout.
  • Avoid fats. They take longer to digest and can remain in your stomach making you feel uncomfortable.
  • The closer you are to your workout, the less you want to eat to avoid an upset stomach.

Everyone is different, so you may need to experiment a little before you figure out exactly how much and when you can eat for best results.

Avoid Simple Sugars

Simple sugars don't help with strength training. Some athletes eat honey or candy bars before an event to get "quick energy." That can work, but in a very limited sense. You would have to eat them about 30 minutes before an event for it to provide energy (in the form of glucose) to your muscles.

Sounds good so far. Unfortunately the energy is only used when other energy sources have dropped to levels below where you would normally want. Another drawback is that some people will get dizzy or lightheaded when experiencing a blood glucose spike from the sugars. It makes much more sense to eat properly in advance, rather than rely on "fixing" it during an event.

Eat the right foods, at the right times and watch your body improve.

To learn what to eat AFTER you workout, CLICK HERE.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.

9/10/2006
Updated 1/13/2011