If you’re putting in the time hitting the pavement or going to the gym, you likely want to get the best possible return on your exercise investment. Hydration and nutrition are both crucial factors for getting the best results from your workout.
First things first–water! Make sure you’re properly hydrated if you want to build muscle and crush your workout.
Before we get into what to eat before exercising, let’s talk about the benefits of not eating anything pre-workout or ‘fasted exercise.’ When you workout while fasting, like first thing in the morning before breakfast, it activates your sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Since your body’s fat burning processes are controlled by your SNS, fasted exercise forces the breakdown of fat and glycogen for energy. Studies have shown that fasting before aerobic training leads to reductions in both body weight and body fat.
Seems like we should all be exercising on an empty stomach, right? Not so fast.
There are a variety of factors that play a role in whether it’s suitable for an individual to exercise while fasting, such as age, pregnancy, medications, medical history, hormone imbalances, level of fitness, etc. I believe the best approach is to listen to your body! Give it a try and see how it goes. If you feel awful (weak, nauseous, lightheaded) during your workout, you may want to eat a small snack or meal before you exercise. See below for some ideas.
WHAT TO EAT BEFORE A WORKOUT
If you’re a morning exerciser…
Matcha is high in antioxidants and contains L-theanine, an amino acid that helps to improve focus and mental alertness. Matcha provides prolonged energy without the crash of coffee and has been shown to help the body burn fat. If you workout first thing in the morning, drink matcha about half an hour before exercising to increase endurance, boost metabolism, encourage fat burning and speed up post-workout recovery.
Cordyceps mushroom is an awesome pre-workout energizer. It’s not a stimulant, but instead an adaptogen which supports your adrenal glands and helps your body produce and maintain consistent energy levels. It helps fight fatigue, boosts strength and stamina, can improve exercise performance and expedite recovery from hard workouts. Add ½ teaspoon of cordyceps powder to your matcha, or mix up a Four Sigmatic Cordyceps Hot Cacao or Coffee.
Chia seeds increase energy and give you more endurance power. They’re easy to digest, especially when soaked in almond or coconut milk overnight to make chia pudding. They’re a great source of plant-based protein and healthy fat to fuel your workout.
Try this delicious berry smoothie pre-workout. It’s a great combination of protein, fat and low-sugar carbs. I used MCT oil as the healthy fat because medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are a special type of fatty acids which are quickly absorbed by the body and efficiently converted to fuel for immediate use. MCTs have been shown to enhance thermogenesis (heat production) in the body, thereby promoting fat burning.
If you’re a lunchtime or evening exerciser…
Ideally, your breakfast (and lunch) contain a good balance of protein, healthy fats and complex carbs that work together to keep you full and energized for 4+ hours. In this case, you may be able to get to that noon (or 5:30pm) workout class without needing to eat anything before since you’ll be eating lunch (or dinner) right after. I recommend tuning into your hunger cues and skipping the pre-workout snack if your body is not truly hungry at that time. If your tummy is growling, you can have a light snack to prevent you from being ravenous and wanting to eat alllll the things when you finish!
Below are some snack options:
- Apple slices or celery sticks with a tablespoon or two of peanut or almond butter
- Carrot sticks with 3 tablespoons of hummus
- 1-2 hard boiled egg(s) with a sprinkle of salt and black pepper
- 1/4 – 1/2 of an avocado spread on a brown rice cake with a sprinkle of sunflower seeds and a pinch of salt
- Small handful of homemade trail mix – my favorite combo is almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes and cacao nibs
- 1 or 2 Chocolate Chia Protein Balls
- Primal Kitchen Collagen Protein Bars
- Grass-fed jerky
- Bulletproof Collagen Protein Bites