It’s hard to perform your best at the gym or set a new PR when you’re stomach is growling. However, finding a good pre-workout snack can be tricky. Eat too much and you’ll feel sluggish; barely eat and you’ll be hangry.
So what makes the perfect pre-workout bite?
“There’s just not an easy answer,” says Sharon Collison, R.D. at the University of Delaware who is board certified in sports dietetics.
That’s because the right snack depends on a variety of factors including type and intensity of training, goals, timing of your impending workout, and individual tolerance. In fact, some people may not even need a snack.
But there are a few things to keep in mind when determining when and what to eat before you hit the weight room. Here are four things to consider, plus easy snack ideas that you can grab before training. Combine them with some water to help replace the fluids you lose while you sweat.
You’ll want to avoid foods that are super high in fat or fiber because they could make you feel sick, says Collison.
“Fat and fiber take longer to digest, so it’s just not comfortable in the gut,” says Collison. “The closer it is to exercise the more you just want carbohydrates.”
Eating carbs before an endurance workout has been shown to improve performance, according to a review published in the journal Nutrients. That’s because when you’re grinding it out in the gym, your body requires a lot of energy, which primarily stems from carbohydrates, while protein helps keep your muscles from breaking down, so it’s important to get that balance right.
Eat at the right time
“I think it’s most important to have a well-balanced meal within 3-4 hours of a workout that is at least of moderate intensity,” says Collison. “And then depending on hunger and/or how long the workout is, a pre-workout snack may be beneficial.”
If you do snack, you’ll want to give your body enough time to process all those nutrients before your sweat session. When you’re exercising hard, your blood moves to your muscles, meaning less of it will travel to the organs digesting your food. This can cause an upset stomach or even decrease your performance if you don’t time things right.
When you pair carbs with high amounts of protein, fiber, or fats, the digestion process takes longer. That means you can eat more protein and fat if you allow yourself more time process all that food. Collison suggests a banana or crackers if you have less than an hour before the workout. If you have at least 60 minutes, go ahead and add some cottage cheese.
Everyone needs a different amounts of food to feel satisfied, but Collison says it’s generally safe to go by the following rules:
A snack isn’t always necessary
Not everyone needs to snack, says Collison. “The purpose of a snack is to keep you from starving from the next meal,” she says. As long as you ate a well-balanced meal several hours prior to working out, you will probably be fine. If you’re trying to lose weight, skipping a snack may be beneficial–as long as you’re not hungry, she says.
Snack suggestions if you have less than 60 minutes pre-workout:
Snack suggestions if you have more than 60-minutes pre-workout
Peanut butter banana honey sandwich: Spread 2 Tbsp of peanut butter on two slices of whole grain bread. Top with sliced banana and a drizzle of honey.
Fruit parfait: 1 cup of Greek yogurt, topped with 1 small handful of nuts, and 1 cup of berries. This combo offers protein from the yogurt, healthy fats, along with loads of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Fruit smoothie: Blend this to maximize your performance:
Cinnamon banana overnight oats: Combine 1/2 cup whole oats with 1 cup high-protein milk in a jar. Stash away in your fridge and let it soak overnight. Top with one sliced banana, 2 Tbsp of raisins, and cinnamon to taste.
1/2 Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with milk: Collison recommends Fairlife milk because it has more protein than regular cow’s milk.
Cottage cheese: Add fresh or canned pineapple and whole grain crackers.
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