Fuel for Your Body
Whether you’re preparing for a quick jog or a lengthy weight-lifting session, the food you eat prior to exercise can make a big difference on overall performance. Having an adequate meal can help maintain elevated energy levels during the physical activity, and making the right meal choice will optimize your effort and results.
Simple vs. Complex Carbs
Many experts reference “carb loading” prior to a big race or an extended workout, but it’s important to understand the differences between types of carbohydrates, which are the body’s primary source of energy. Once digested, carbs are converted into glucose (blood sugar), which the body uses as fuel.
“Simple carbs” are so called because they contain only one or two types of sugar that are easily digested, but contain less nutrients. “Complex carbs” are made of multiple sugars strung together in long chains that are more difficult to digest. And because they take longer to digest, complex carbs are better for sustained blood sugar levels and necessary for energy and endurance.
Complex carbs found in beans, vegetables and whole grains are preferred over processed carbs such as white rice, white flour and most dried white pastas. Many of their beneficial vitamins, mineral and fiber are stripped away during processing.
Timing is also important when it comes to pre-exercise meals. It’s important to give yourself enough time to properly digest a meal prior to working out to avoid feeling sluggish and slow. If you have four hours before working out, eat a meal with a combination of complex carbs, monounsaturated fats and protein. Two to three hours prior, try a small meal that is lighter on protein and fat. If you’re snacking 30 to 60 minutes before exercising, stick to simple carbs that can give you a quick boost of energy.
(30 to 60 minutes prior)
- Whole-grain crackers
- Half of a bagel
- Fresh fruit, including a banana, apple or grapes
- A tablespoon or two of natural peanut butter
Meal Ideas for Longer Workouts
(3 to 4 hours prior)
- 1 cup of prepared lentils with grilled chicken breast
- 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt with a drizzle of honey and fresh fruit
- 1 cup of oatmeal with fresh fruit and a handful of nuts
- A roasted turkey breast sandwich on whole grain bread with alfalfa sprouts
Always consult a physician to ensure you’re meeting your own health and dietary needs.