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Fueling Up Before Exercise

by ADMIN on OCTOBER 19, 2011

There are two main reasons why an athlete or exercise-buff may not eat before exercising:

  • Because they want to burn more fat; or

  • Because foods may sit ‘like a rock’ in their stomach while exercising, causing discomfort or nausea.

Let’s tackle the first point. Does working out hungry cause you to burn more fat? In fact, this is false. Multiple studies have come out showing that the body burns roughly the same amount of fat regardless of whether you eat before a workout.

However, the body burns up to 10% more protein when exercising on an empty stomach.

What does that mean? Basically the body is using more protein – from your muscles! – to fuel your workout. This could lead to the body losing muscle mass. Also, without fuel to aid your workout, you may not be able to workout as hard or as long, which reduces your calorie burn.

Seems to go against the whole point of not eating before a workout, doesn’t it?

As an added bonus, another study demonstrated that athletes who ate a pre-workout meal ended up eating less throughout the remainder of the day. Excellent!

Bottom line: Fueling up before a workout really does benefit not only your workout, but also your calorie burn and how much you eat for the rest of the day.

Furthermore, eating before working out can help to:

  • Settle your stomach by absorbing some gastric juices;

  • Prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and its symptoms of lightheadedness, fatigue, and indecisiveness – which can all lead to poor performance;

  • Fuel your muscles for a great workout.

So what should I eat before working out?

The most important guideline is to concentrate on eating low fat, low protein meals or snacks made of primarily easy-to-digest carbohydrates.

Both fat and protein take a long time to break down and leave the stomach. This is great for during the day when you want to stay full and satisfied – but before a workout this could lead to a lot of GI distress and upset. Focusing on carbohydrates that are relatively low in fiber is key.

Examples of easy-to-digest carbohydrate snacks:

  • Pretzels or crackers

  • Toast or waffle with jam

  • Cereal with low fat milk

  • Yogurt (Not Greek, as this type of yogurt may have too much protein for your stomach to handle)

  • Fig newtons

  • Granola bar (low fat, low protein), such as Nature Valley Bars

  • Raisins, dates, or banana

  • Rice or pasta

The timing and type of food someone can handle varies from person to person. Some people can eat 5 minutes before a workout without a problem while others need to eat 60 minutes before a workout to ensure they don’t have stomach problems. Similarly, some people can handle a full serving of food while others can only put down a couple crackers or bites.

Most people feel good results after eating 0.5 grams of carbohydrates (about 2 calories) per pound of body weight (or 1 gram per kilogram) about one hour before a workout. As you get closer to the workout, you can reduce the amount that you eat for a snack to help prevent GI discomfort.

The best thing to do is to experiment with different fuels and timing to see what works best for you. If you have a tried-and-true food that you like to eat before working out or competition, then stick with it!

TIP: You have to train your body to accept fuel before, during, and after a workout, just like you have to train your body to run 5 miles.

When you try a food as fuel, try it several times, because your GI track may just need to be trained to digest the food before and during a workout. This is especially important to do if you are training for a big event, such as a marathon or triathlon. Practicing your fueling strategy during training is just as important as the exercise its self.

The goal is to comfortable with your eating plan (both mentally and physically!) going into your competition so that you can perform your best without GI distress.

Athletes need to sit down to the plate before they step up to the win!

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