To be honest, the last thing I want to do when I wake up at 5 am is eat something, but halfway through my terrible gym session, I begin to realize that I really should have had something to eat before the workout began… Food before a workout is tricky. It depends on a number of factors: when you workout, what you are doing, with what intensity, and for how long.
Regardless of your answers to the above, if you are going to spend your time working out, it should be intense and for long enough that you need a little food in your system before. What you eat or do not eat before a workout can definitely make or break your workout. I’ve spent many a times in the gym with low blood sugar, ending my workout way before I wanted to because I did not properly fuel myself for success.
They say 80% of health is diet, and only 20% has anything to do with your time in the gym. You can make or break your health success by what you consume outside of the gym, so if you are working hard to change your body in the gym, then you need to read on to see how to set yourself up for success. I’m going to recommend food based on the factors above: when, what, intensity, and timing. Regardless of all these factors, there are a few things you should always consume, maybe in different portions depending.
- Carbs Your muscles feed on carbs, your brain feeds on carbs, you NEED carbs to survive. I have talked about the importance of carbohydrates before, but their contribution to your workouts definitely can’t be understated. When you workout, your muscles need glucose as fuel. Regardless of if you are doing cardio, lifting weights, taking a barre class, you are using your muscles in some way when you workout, and you need to give them the energy to do their work. It’s like trying to drive your car without gas, ain’t gunna happen…
- Protein Protein is the building block of muscle, and you need a complete set of amino acids from protein to stimulate muscle growth. Now if you’re a girl, you might think muscle growth is a dirty word. I’ll save the rant about women’s perception of lifting weights for another post, but let me just tell you, ladies, you want muscle. Even if you are just doing an Orange Theory class, working out means you are trying to reshape your body, and I hate to break it to you, but the only way to do that is with more muscle.
- Water Well, water isn’t really food, but it is probably more crucial that you drink water before, during, and after a workout. Your body is mostly water, and anytime you sweat or move, you are using water that needs to be replenished. Set yourself up for workout success by involving some agua.
- Caffeine This might not be important if you are working out before bed, but if you are working out in the morning or early afternoon, having a little caffeine might be good to get you moving. I definitely do not recommend loading up on a caffeine supplement like preworkout, but consider adding a cup of coffee, green tea, or naturally caffeinated beverage like Usana Rev 3 to your morning routine.
- Music Well this isn’t consumable at all, but seriously, good music can make or break a workout. If I am feeling tired, unmotivated, or discouraged, all I need to do is put on some jams and I am immediately taken to another place. So go find some music that speaks to your soul and gets you moving. I’ve got a great Spotify Playlist, so feel free to follow me!
What you eat definitely depends on when you workout, so here are some practical suggestions for the when.
First thing in the morning
If you workout first thing in the morning, you are most likely not going to want to eat something huge, especially if you are pressing snooze a few too many times and running short on time… Ideally you would eat 1-2 hours before a workout, but if you workout in the morning that is not really ideal, so try to have a smaller version of the 5 suggestions above. I am a morning exerciser because if I wait till the afternoon or evening I am usually too tired. If I am working out first think, aka 5:30 am, here are some of my favorite things to have.
- Carbs: Cereal, rice cakes, rice, an apple, berries, granola
- Protein: Greek yogurt, turkey lunch meat, chicken breast, clean Usana My Smart protein powder, Usana My Smart bar
- Water: I start every morning with a glass of warm lemon water. It helps to alkalize my body, boosts my immunity, and aids in digestion.
- Caffeine: I typically have a Usana Rev 3 packet in water and if I have enough time, I will enjoy a cup of coffee with almond milk creamer (good source of carbs)
- Music: Typically in the morning some Halsey, Chainsmokers, or Kygo gets me moving!
Although I rarely ever workout in the afternoon, some people do, and if you are one of them here are some suggestions for you… Typically, if you are working out anywhere between 3 and 6 pm, you will need to have a snack before, as your lunch will not be enough to fuel you. Try to have these things 1-2 hours before you workout for the best results.
- Carbs: Apple, peach, grapes, carrots, hummus, rice cake, oats, rice, potato, toast, waffle
- Protein: Cottage cheese (lowfat), greek yogurt, clean Usana My Smart shake or bar, cheese stick, lunch meat, other lean meat, egg (preferably white), peanut butter (fat is not ideal within 30 minutes of a workout)
- Water: You should have been consuming a lot of water throughout the day, but make sure you drink a big glass at least an hour before working out
- Caffeine: If you are working out in the afternoon, you should not consume caffeine after 3 pm unless it is a lower caffeine tea and you don’t plan to go to bed until late. Caffeine in the afternoon, despite what you imagine, will affect your sleep regardless of how tired you seem.
- Music: My afternoon jams usually involve 90’s and 00’s hip hop. Think T-Pain, Ludacris, Ja Rule, and 50 Cent
Right before bed
I seriously do not recommend working out right before bed, but for some people that is the only time they can get it in, and no workout is not the answer. If you are working out before bed, you are likely to be eating dinner before. In order to maximize your workout, try not to eat a large or heavy dinner that will literally weigh you down.
- Carbs: At dinner you most likely will have more complex carbs like potatoes (any kind), brown rice, vegetables (try to avoid super fibrous ones like brussels sprouts cause let’s be honest, no one at the gym wants that), bread (a lot of bread is inflammatory so opt for a sprouted grain like Ezekiel), pancakes (cause who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner), pasta (protein pasta is even better, check out my pasta post here).
- Protein: Really any protein is probably fine (except a greasy or fatty piece of meat), just make sure you have some with your dinner!
- Water: Again, you should be very hydrated at this point in the day, but be sure to drink water after dinner to help stimulate digestion.
- Caffeine: Definitely not… Have some more water
- Music: At night, my music choices are a bit more chill. 90’s pop like N*Sync, Britney, Today’s Hits, or even more upbeat country usually fill my playlist, but your music choice is up to you!
Regardless of what, when, or where you workout, just make sure you are getting it in (check out my post on the importance of exercising here). Your preworkout food is just part of the equation, next time I’ll talk about post workout nutrition!