Most people don’t think about eating prior to working out – especially if they are exercising to lose weight – it feels counterintuitive to eat when the ultimate goal is to burn calories. However, proper nutrition prior to exercise ensures that your body doesn’t break down muscle for fuel. It also lowers your risk of injury, improves performance and reduces recovery time afterwards.
It is best to eat about 1 hour before exercise and you should aim for approximately 500 calories, depending on the length and intensity of your workout.
Most people want to lose fat, not muscle. Therefore, it is very important that your body has the nourishment it needs during exercise, otherwise it will break down muscle tissue – resulting in loss of muscle mass. It will also break down the proteins in your immune system – resulting in more frequent illness and injuries.
Simply determine your daily caloric needs based on your body size and activity level and then modify your meals to allow for adequate nutrition during the period prior to exercise.
There are three components you want to be sure to include: carbohydrates, protein, and water. Carbohydrates are fuel. Eating carbohydrates prior to exercise makes sure that your muscles are fully stocked with energy. The perfect carbohydrates for this purpose are low fiber fruits (bananas, melon, peaches), dried fruit, fruit juices, and potatoes.
Protein prior to exercise improves your endurance and power output. It also stimulates recovery following a workout by repairing damaged muscles and building new muscle. Choose lighter proteins when eating before exercise: hard-boiled eggs or a protein powder (whey, egg or even pea) work quite well.
Water is the final component of pre-exercise nourishment. If you exercise early in the morning, you should know that your body may be down as much as 16 ounces of fluids simply from sleeping (we lose moisture through our breath). Restoring normal fluid levels prevents dehydration during exercise and creates the framework needed for optimum performance. Water is a perfectly adequate source of hydration for your body. For most exercise purposes you don’t need a fancy sports drink – they are typically rife with chemicals (artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners).
You exercise because you want to look and feel great. Support your body with the care it needs – a proper warm up and nutrition – so that you will be able to be active and stay active for years to come.