Whether going out for a low impact jog or participating in the next triathlon, proper nutrition before crushing it at the gym is vital! While a 4-course steak dinner may not be best pre-sweat session, eating before hitting the treadmill is crucial in order to prevent our muscles from using up their energy stores and completely depleting the body during our workouts. All too often in our busy lives, we run to the gym on an empty stomach or quickly stuff our mouths with whatever is on the kitchen counter, at the very least resulting in an unproductive workout session, or even in nausea, lightheadedness or sluggishness.
So, how do we avoid this undesirable outcome right from the start? About 1 to 2 hours before a workout, it’s important to have something small to nourish the body and the brain for fuel. Ideally, we want to have some form of simple carbohydrate combined with a bit of protein. Carbohydrates, in their most simple form, provide energy for the muscles, while protein provides amino acids that help keep the body anabolic and prevent breakdown of muscle tissue.
Simple carbohydrates are those that quickly enter our bloodstreams and supply fast energy to our cells. Some good ideas include an English muffin or a handful of crackers with some jelly, a banana, or toast with a spread of jelly or peanut butter (hey, protein never hurts either!). If a meal just seems impossible before you lace up your sneakers, a sports drink or smoothie with carbohydrate and protein is always a great alternative (and easy to make).
Electrolytes are the third ingredient in the equation that we never want to forget and they come directly from adequate hydration. As much as that morning spin class may make you crave a cup of Joe, avoid more than 1-2 cups of coffee in the morning if you’re planning on heading to the gym right after. As much as caffeine gives us energy and gets us up and moving, it is also extremely dehydrating and can contribute to loss of water in our bodies. Instead, drink plenty of water and, if working out consistently for more than an hour at a time (or if you’re into the marathon/triathlon circuit), electrolytes such as sodium and potassium are key and are available in many sports drinks and powders.
Just remember: too much protein or fat in your breakfast, too large of a meal, or eating very close to workout time can all contribute to unwanted nausea, fatigue, and an overall suboptimal workout. So, fuel up, but don’t over do it.