We’ve all been there, overeat before a workout, and that snack comes back to haunt you. Eat too little, and you’re working at half capacity, unfocused, and not getting the most out of your session. While many of us plan our workouts carefully, our pre-workout snacks don’t always get the same time and attention. Follow these basic guidelines to help you select the perfect pre-workout snack to keep you going full throttle.
WORKOUT FUEL COMPONENTS
Your pre-workout snack should consist of a balance of proteins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates. The type of workout, duration, and time of day will play a critical factor in the ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats.
Carbohydrates act as fuel for your muscles, providing energy for them to perform. It’s essential to have enough power in your tank, or your performance will decline. Once your body burns through its carbohydrate stores (glycogen) during a workout, it will start breaking down muscle and a little fat for energy. Your body’s preferred fuel source for your brain and muscles is carbohydrates, so it’s essential to include enough carbs in your pre-workout snack. The harder you work, the more carbs you’ll need. Foods that contain carbohydrates include grains, dairy, starchy vegetables, and fruit.
Proteins help your body rebuild and repair itself. Many athletes make sure they eat protein after a workout. This allows the body moves from a catabolic state (breakdown after an intense workout) to an anabolic state (rebuilding muscle). Many athletes don’t realize eating protein before exercising is just as important as eating it after. Having protein before your workout helps prepare your body to rebuild itself. Protein consumed before exercise has had time to be digested and broken down into amino acids (your body’s building blocks) before your workout ends. Amino acids are readily available and circulating in your system to help the body repair itself as soon as the exercise ends.
Including healthy fats in your snack can help stabilize your blood sugar and provide a steady release of energy throughout your workout. Healthy fats such as polyunsaturated (including omega-3 fats) and monounsaturated fats are anti-inflammatory. Including anti-inflammatory foods in every meal, including your pre-workout snack, can help with circulation and lung function and reduce pain, keeping you moving.
Generally, it’s best to avoid eating right before you work out. When you exercise, blood moves from the stomach to your working muscle. A snack immediately before a workout may cause stomach discomfort. Plus, the competing demand between digestion and physical activity may decrease performance.
Try to fuel your body 1 to 3 hours before you plan to work out. Experiment with what’s the best time frame for you. If you’re working out early in the morning and don’t have the time, think light carbohydrate snacks such as a piece of fruit, toast, oatmeal, Designer Protein Smoothie Pack, or a glass of dairy or non-dairy milk with protein powder. Eating too much will likely upset your stomach.
TYPES OF ACTIVITY
Light activity such as a walk, yoga class, or short 1-2 mile run doesn’t require much fuel. A light snack of about 100-200 calories should do the trick.
Some ideas include:
Are you hitting a cycle class, running for 5 miles, or high-intensity interval training? A longer exercise duration needs more carbohydrates, a little more protein, and healthy fat to keep your blood sugars balanced. Have at least 30g of carbohydrate and 10g of protein. Include more carbs if going longer than 60 minutes.
Some ideas include:
Smoothie with 2+ cups of fruit with your Designer Protein powder of choice
One large banana and ¼ cup nuts or 2 Tbsp of nut butter
Nut butter sandwich (add ½ banana if going more than 60 minutes)
Designer Protein chocolate bar and a small apple
Are you going for the long haul? Backpacking, long cycle, 10-plus-mile run, or 4-hour game coming up? Test out your pre-workout snack or meal in advance for these longer sessions. It’s brutal when you’re motivated and ready to go long, but your stomach comes back for revenge in the middle of your long training session. It will be necessary to snack on pure, simple carbs during an event that includes electrolytes. For these longer workouts, a good pre-workout meal and snack are vital to keeping you from getting hungry during your session and maintaining your blood sugar levels for your working muscles. Think heavier on the carbs with at least 60 grams and about 20 grams of protein. Give your body time to digest. You can have your meal 3-4 hours in advance, then have a light, mostly carbohydrate snack closer to go time.
Some pre-workout meals include:
Smoothie with 1 cup strawberries, one large banana, one peach, and two scoops of Designer Protein powder with 1 cup dairy or non--dairy milk of choice
Three eggs with a large banana, two pieces of whole-grain toast, and jelly
1 1/2 cup rice/quinoa/millet, teriyaki tempeh, chicken breast, or tofu, green beans
Smoothie bowl: 1 scoop Designer Protein powder, two large bananas, 1 Tbsp chia seed, 1 Tbsp honey, 1 cup almond milk, and 1 cup blueberries
Tuna sandwich on two slices of large bread, one large piece of fruit, and a glass of dairy or non-dairy milk
Foods to Avoid
It is best to avoid eating foods that are notorious for causing gas, bloating, acid reflux, and cramps before exercising. Foods that may cause this include sugar alcohols (sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, isomalt), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage), large amounts of fruit juice, heavy creams, fatty meats (like hamburger, rib eye, tri-tip) and beans.
Your perfect pre-workout snack is individual to you and your activity. Set yourself up for success by experimenting with the many Designer Protein options and snack ideas in this article to find the perfect fit for your training needs.
By Ginger Cochran, MS, RDN, CDCES, CEP-ACSM
BOOK: Exercise Physiology By John Porcari, Cedric Bryant, Fabio Comana