We’re all working out for different reasons. Whether you’re burning calories, getting stronger, playing sports or just enjoying the grind, your body needs energy to help you perform. We spoke with Lauren Rudolph, MD, a sports medicine physician at Banner Health Clinic in Colorado. She also serves as a team physician for the UNC Bears and the US Ski and Snowboard Team. She offered her expertise to create a few tips for pre-workout nutrition.
Before diving into nutrition, don’t forget the most vital preparation for any workout – hydration. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink water. Start drinking hours before you hit the pavement or pick up the barbell.
1. Eat your meal 1-2 hours before
Your body needs time to metabolize your food. If you’ve ever gone for a run right after a burger and milkshake you know the feeling. Dr. Rudolph recommended eating a meal one to two hours before working out, but mentioned that for a light workout, your body won’t need more than an hour.
2. Bring a snack
If you’re expecting to work out for more than two hours, bringing a small snack is a good idea. Your snack should be very easy to digest, including natural carbs and sugars. A banana or granola bar will pack into a hiking bag pretty easily.
3. Your pre-workout is fuel
If you are bulking, you are probably looking for protein in every bite you take. Dr. Rudolph advised that the purpose of your pre-workout is to provide fuel for your body. “Protein and fat will sit heavy in the stomach as it takes longer to digest. It may end up feeling like a brick if enough time is not given for things to get going.”
That said, disproportionate “carb-loading” is another common mistake. You don’t need a full plate of fettucine alfredo before your run, especially if your workout will last less than three hours.
4. Follow the 4:1 rule
Dr. Rudolph recommended 4 grams of carbohydrates for every gram of protein when planning your pre-workout nutrition. This is a ratio that your body can quickly and efficiently convert into energy. A meal that is very high in fiber could also result in unwanted side effects like upset stomach, bloating or diarrhea.
5. Find what works for you
“Ultimately, a well-balanced diet is the key,” said Dr. Rudolph. “Some people run better on fat, some on carbs. Take time and pay attention to how you feel during your workout to get the best results for you. Don’t be afraid to change things up if it isn’t working for you. In every case, maintaining a balanced diet will keep you performing at your peak and feeling great.
Casual athletes may start to feel overwhelmed by tracking macros and maintaining “ideal ratios.” If you are looking for a few simple pre-workout snack ideas, consider some of Dr. Rudolph’s favorites:
- Yogurt, fruit and granola
- Rice cake or toast with almond butter
- Roasted sweet potato with cheese
- Apple and peanut butter
- Cooked rice, egg and some soy sauce
Looking for more tips about nutrition and healthy exercise or need help navigating diet restrictions? Start by setting up a meeting with a Banner Health expert and read more in these similar articles: