Are you pumping hard on your health and fitness goals but not getting the results you want? The answer could lie in your pre-workout nutrition. Pre-workout snacks not only fuel your working muscles and ward off early fatigue, but also affect your digestion, hunger, concentration and motivation during your workout. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a full-time athlete, planning what you eat (or do not eat) before your sweat sesh can make a huge difference to your stamina, performance and ultimately the results that you’ve been working so hard to achieve.
Here are our 5 top tips in planning a dietitian-approved pre-workout snack to start your session on a high so that you can pound that pavement, pump some iron or do your yoga class with a light belly and clear head.
1. Time it right
The first thing to consider is when to eat your snack. You want to feel energized before exercising but not heavy and sluggish, so you need to find a balance between feeling hungry and feeling too full. If you’ve had a main meal within the last 3-4 hours, you probably won’t need any extra fuel. Any longer than that and you might need to throw in a carbohydrate-rich snack with a hint of protein 1-2 hours before you exercise. This means that you’ll need a small snack if you’re heading out for a lunchtime run and you haven’t eaten since breakfast.
2. Love your carbs
Carbohydrates should be the focus of your pre-workout snack. Carbs break down into simple sugars such as glucose which is then used by our working muscles or stored for later if there’s no immediate demand. Before you load up on pasta and pizza, we should note that the quality of the carbs you eat matters too – low-fat, wholegrain varieties will provide you with longer-lasting energy for your workout without the heavy feeling in your stomach. The exact amount of carbohydrate you need also depends on the intensity, duration and type of activity you do, but for the average Joe who is exercising for general health and wellbeing a piece of wholegrain toast, a piece of fruit, small bowl of cereal with chopped fruit and yoghurt or small bowl of pasta should do the trick.
3. Pack in some protein
Whilst most people tend to think protein is only important after exercising, giving your body a hit of protein around the time of exercise (i.e. before or after) will assist with muscle repair and growth. There is no need to choose expensive protein powders either, as you can get enough protein from natural foods like low fat dairy, nuts, beans and eggs as well as the lean meats (which you could add to your main meal prior working out).
4. Go easy on the fibre and fats (just this once)
As dietitians, we’re always encouraging people to eat more fibre for a happy digestive system, as well as choose healthy fats for sound heart function and to aid the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Whilst these are important nutrients for our bodies to function efficiently, filling up on rich sources of fibre or healthy fats before a workout isn’t the best idea because they slow down digestion and may lead to stomach discomfort – so leave these foods for other meals in your day.
5. Bottoms up!
Last but not least, remember that hydration is key! That said, unless you’re a competitive athlete, it’s best to steer clear of the sport drinks and vitamin waters, as these pack in more added sugars than the electrolytes that they boast. Most adults require 2-2.5 litres of fluid per day, the majority of which should be water. We recommend carrying a water bottle with you and sipping on it over the day to ensure you’re always hydrated. This is especially important when you’re working out, as exercising whilst being dehydrated affects your performance.
Putting all of that together, here are some top examples for pre-workout snacks:
- Homemade fruit smoothie with banana, berries and skim milk. Click here for recipe.
- Small tub of low-fat Greek yoghurt with a handful of berries
- A piece of wholegrain toast with low fat ricotta cheese
- Sliced apple with a spoonful of peanut butter
- A banana and a small handful of nuts
Note that these are just guidelines and finding what works best for you is important! We’d love to know what your favourite pre-workout snacks are – if you’d like to share with us, please comment below.
This blog post was written by Melissa Meier and Michelle Hsu, who are interns at The Biting Truth and are currently studying their Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics.