We all know nutrition is important, but how long should you wait if you eat before the gym, and what are the best foods for that pre-exercise meal? The key is understanding your body and what it needs just before a session.
Timing is crucial, as you shouldn’t eat certain types of food too close to the start of your workout, and you can make good use of pre-session supplements to give you a real boost.
Timing is everything
You need to ensure your body is well fuelled before a workout but timing is vital, and it depends on what you’re eating and what sort of workout you’re doing.
For example, a competitive 10k requires plenty of carbohydrates but a strength-building session needs more protein. You can eat these food groups in different ways, and some take longer than others to digest.
If your food is not digested before you eat then you may suffer stomach pains, and you will not get the full nutritional benefit from the food.
As a good rule of thumb, leave at least two hours after a full meal before you work out. If you know you won’t have that much time then look for more easily digestible foods, like nutrition bars, fruit and Greek yoghurt.
Carbs are your energy source
Carbohydrates are an essential part of your diet, as they provide the energy you need to perform well in your workout.
If you have plenty of time and can plan ahead, then have foods like wholegrain bread, cereal or pasta, but try to avoid fatty sauces.
If you are eating less than two hours before your session, then the wholegrain breads and cereals should still be fine. If you are eating closer than that to your workout then the best source of carbs is fruit, although some nutrition bars are specifically designed to provide easily digestible carbohydrates.
Protein helps build and repair muscle
Protein is the key component for building and repairing muscle, which is why it is so important for anyone doing strength or power work. However, don’t exclude it if you are working on endurance, because protein helps your muscles to recover
Like carbohydrate intake, the best approach is to eat a balanced meal well ahead of your workout so your body can digest it in plenty of time. Eggs and lean meat, including fish, are perfect.
As you get closer to your workout it’s harder to get protein into your body in time, so within two hours the best bet is probably to have a protein shake. Once you’re within an hour of your session then go for protein bars.
Avoid fats when you eat before the gym
Fat is particularly important for endurance athletes, and everybody needs some in their diet, but you should keep it to a minimum just before you exercise.
Your body digests fats more slowly than carbohydrates, so it may not be able to absorb them before a workout begins.
It’s OK to have a small amount of fats in a pre-workout meal, such as in low-fat Greek yoghurt or a smoothie, but don’t go gobbling down doughnuts and fried foods.
Don’t forget your hydration
We often forget hydration when it comes to planning our diet, but you should always bear in mind that your body needs water to do just about everything. That includes digestion and working out.
Remember to drink plenty of fluids with your meals and keep your hydration levels high throughout the day. Soups and stews have more water than other meals, while fruits and vegetables can be up to 90 percent water.
Aim to complete your pre-workout hydration about half an hour before starting.
Supplements can make a difference
Some workout supplements are best used before a workout than after, so speak to your personal trainer before you start using any supplements. They can advise you on what is most appropriate.
Supplements which include caffeine can really help improve your performance and alertness during exercise. The evidence suggests you can get a benefit if you get these into your system less than 15 minutes before your workout, but generally try to leave at least an hour.
Branch-chain amino acids, known as BCAAs, have become an important part of the pre-workout diet of many athletes. They help reduce muscle soreness after your workout.
If you are doing strength and power workouts then you can take beta alanine before you exercise to improve your performance in the workout and reduce fatigue.
You can and should eat before the gym, but you remember that different foods digest at different speeds. The type and time of your workout also matter, and you can combine safe supplements with a balanced diet to get the most out of your exercise.
|Majed Alhamad is an accomplished personal trainer who inspires his clients to pursue their fitness and health goals. Read more at his blog http://www.majedalhamad.com|