Dietitian Melissa Meier weighs in on whether or not you really need to be re-fuelling before a sweat session, and shares the five healthiest pre-workout snacks to eat for a hit of energy.
To eat or not to eat before exercising… that is the question. And the answer isn’t as simple as you might think. Whether you’re champing at the bit to get back to the gym once #iso is over or you’re a newbie to the exercise scene, here’s what you need to know when it comes to pre-workout fuel.
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Nutrition for exercise 101
What to eat…
This might surprise you given the typical gym-junkie stereotype chugging protein shakes all day, but the most important nutrient pre-workout is actually carbohydrate – not protein (Mind. Blown). It’s not until post-exercise that protein becomes crucial because that’s when your muscles are in repair. Got it? Good.
So, why carbs? Your body’s preferred source of fuel is carbohydrate. That’s right – carbohydrates are not the enemy, and are actually necessary for your body to perform it’s best. When you eat carbohydrates (think: bread, pasta, fruit), your body breaks them down into glucose (i.e. sugar). This glucose can either be used immediately for energy or stored in the muscle for use at a later stage. Your body doesn’t want to have to break down fat or, worse, protein from muscle mass for fuel for exercise.
How much to eat…
If and how much you eat prior to a sweat sesh, however, depends on what you plan on doing, how hard you’re going to do it and how long you’re going to do it for, as well as your individual goals. For the average Joe, having a main meal two to four exercise before a training session and, if necessary, a small snack one to two hours before will do the trick. Anything within an hour could cause stomach discomfort, so it’ll pay to try and avoid that. Of course, we’re all different, so a little experimenting wouldn’t hurt.
And what if you’re a first-thing-in-the-morning kind of exerciser? Like I said earlier, your body is well equipped to store carbohydrates, enough for about 90 minutes of exercise – so you mightn’t need anything at all, especially if you’re only doing gentle movement. For longer, more intense early morning training sessions, however, a snack from the list below will work.
Top 5 dietitian-approved pre-workout snacks
Easy to digest carbs are the way to go if you’re eating within an hour or so of exercise. So, without further ado, here’s my top five picks for pre-workout snacks:
- A piece of wholemeal raisin toast
- A fruit smoothie made with low-fat milk and a cup of frozen berries
- A wholemeal crumpet with a teaspoon of honey
- A tub of reduced-fat yoghurt
- A handful of crackers with a slice or two of cheese
If your goal is weight loss, think twice
In saying that, I’m going to leave you with a gentle reminder: eating pre-exercise adds kilojoules to your daily energy intake – it’s not all automatically burnt off. If weight loss is your goal, this is an important consideration because obviously you don’t want to be adding unnecessary kilojoules to your day.
Don’t feel the need to eat just before you exercise in the hope it’ll give you more energy, especially if you’re not actually hungry. If you can do the same amount of exercise without eating beforehand, go without and pay more attention to what you eat post training to help you recover.
Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can connect with her at www.honestnutrition.com.au or on Instagram @honest_nutrition