Before we talk about foods that fuel, let’s talk about timing. It’s important to identify when you will be working out so you can better tailor your food choices. What you’re eating is just as important as when.
The early bird
If you’re an early riser and your workout begins before the workday, you need to think about glucose levels. If you don’t eat something prior to busting a sweat, you will be running on empty. And even though this may sound like a great strategy for burning calories, it’s not.
When you’re running on empty, the body looks for energy anywhere it can find it. It starts to break down amino acids from your muscle mass and convert it to glucose. So instead of burning fat, you’re actually breaking down valuable muscle tissue. If you fuel properly first, your body will have the energy it needs and will tap into fat storage and burn calories. This early-morning, pre-workout meal should be kept light, to prevent digestive issues like cramping.
Try: Fruits and nuts, like an apple with peanut or almond butter. The apple will provide you with a steady sugar surge that will release into the bloodstream at a slow pace. This will prevent any spikes and lows of your blood sugar. This means you will feel energized soon after eating but you will avoid an early crash. The addition of almond or peanut butter further slows the entrance of sugar into the bloodstream, so you can keep on moving!
Try: Whole grains, like an English muffin with almond or peanut butter. The English muffin will fuel you with plenty of carbs and a little bit of fat, which will help keep your energy up until the end of your workout.
Try: A smoothie with fruit, nuts and dairy. Try a strawberry banana nut smoothie (add plain yogurt). You’ll pack a punch with lean carbs, some protein and healthy fats.
Late day workout
If you work out late in the day, you’re going to want to concentrate on the meal before your workout. Ideally you want to be able to digest this for a few hours. Focus on meals that will slowly release energy throughout the later part of your day. Think whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans.
Try: Oats and grains, but not all oats are created equal. Barley, bulgur, whole wheat and quinoa take time to digest. All of these grains release glucose into the blood stream slowly, so by the time you’re ready for your workout, you’ll still feel powered up.
Try: Beans. Similar to the oat and grain, the bean is a slow energy release food. Try lentils, lima beans, kidney beans or chickpeas as a side dish in your lunch. The body will slowly absorb the calories meaning fat storage and energy crashes are less likely to happen.
Try: Protein, like eggs, meats and full-fat dairy products. Keep your midday meal balanced by adding protein. Protein is a good source of energy, and supports growth and repair of muscles.
You may need a snack before the day’s end so feel free to grab something small. Pre-workout snacks should contain carbohydrates, and about 100 to 200 calories. And of course, keep well-hydrated throughout the day.
Next week, we’ll tackle the post-workout meal. We’ll talk about everything you need to replenish the body after all that hard work.
Zoja Popovic is a Toronto-based journalist and national TV news producer. She is the consummate health and wellness enthusiast, and is obsessed with Yoga. Follow Zoja @zojapopovic. Namaste!