Woman doing work out

There are lots of confusing questions when it comes to fitness and diet. How much protein should you eat to build muscle? What to eat after a workout? Should you eat fatty foods if you want to lose weight and build muscle? These are only some of them. We’ll look into what your body needs when doing exercise and how to provide the best workout foods before training.

Most people are not professional endurance athletes. But the importance of fitness for our health is unquestionable. Our bodies are built to move. Sedentary lifestyle combined with an unbalanced diet is the number one culprit for many diseases. That includes obesity and diabetes. Obesity by itself is a risk factor for many other conditions. Every disease that has been studied is more present in the obese population. That includes cancer, brain decay, cardiovascular disease, … So there isn’t any benefit to being obese but there is a lot to gain by being active every day. Physical activity gets our metabolism working and initiates various processes in our body. Exercise has many health benefits. Among other things, it improves brain health and memory, reduces depression, lowers risk of stroke and CVD, strengthens muscles and bones, and reduces cancer risk. But scientists have yet to discover all the processes and benefits exercise initiates in our bodies.

Girls working out

Until then it’s best to incorporate regular exercising into our lives. Whether it’s fitness training, walking, running, swimming, climbing or bicycling. The idea is to get moving. But the confusion is high with all the different nutrition and fitness advice out there. One of the questions that come up is what are the best workout foods to fuel up your body? What kind of food should you eat, how much of it and when?

The truth is that for most people a balanced healthy varied diet is going to meet most exercise challenges. By eating a variety of complex carbohydrates, protein, and fats your body is going to have enough fuel to meet the needs of any training. There is no need for special fitness diets. But there are some thumb rules that will make it easier for you to do exercise.

Eat several small meals during the day

First, it’s better to eat several small meals a day as opposed to three large ones. That way your energy won’t dunk during the day and you won’t feel a need to eat right before exercise. Many studies have shown that eating more frequent, smaller meals decrease hunger feelings during the day.

Don’t overload your body

It’s also not good to eat right before a training session. That’s because when you eat your body diverts blood to the stomach to aid the digestion process. That means the rest of your body has less blood then when your stomach is full, which makes you feel sluggish. When you’re exercising you want more blood circulating through your body and transporting oxygen to other tissues.

The best time to eat before workout

It’s best that the stomach is empty when you do physical exercise. It takes the stomach 1-2 hours to empty after eating depending on what you ate. If you eat a high-fat meal it’s going to take longer than two hours. But if you drink a juice it can take less than 1 hour. So plan to eat about 1-2 hours before training and don’t eat anything afterward.

The best food to eat pre-workout

There are a lot of opinions about this topic. For people doing average fitness level exercises, a small balanced meal will be enough. The meal should include:

  • some healthy fat,
  • some protein,
  • lots of complex carbohydrates.

Fat form the meal won’t be converted to energy immediately so there is no reason to overdo with the fat content. High protein diets are popular among ‘muscle builders’. But protein intake for rebuilding muscles can wait until after exercise. The meal should be highest in complex carbohydrates. That’s because your body will use the sugars from the carbs first to fuel exercise activity. Carbohydrates are converted to monosaccharides which are the first energy source your body uses. Only when these resources are empty fat is used for energy burning.

Although we are all different, as a general rule, the pre-workout meal should be a fist-sized meal of about 200 kcal. This will be enough to fuel your body for an exercise but won’t overload your digestion.

Your pre-workout meal should be a fist-sized meal of about 200 kcal, eaten 1-2 hours before a workout.

Good work-out foods before fitness

good workout foods peanutbutter sandwich

Good food choices for a pre-workout meal include:

  • Peanut butter sandwich with whole wheat bread
  • Low-fat yogurt with a handful of nuts
  • Oatmeal with fruits
  • Blueberry banana smoothie
  • Yogurt parfait
  • Apple wedges with peanut butter
  • Avocado toast with egg
  • Peanut butter energy bar
  • Hummus with carrots
  • Crackers with nut butter
  • Handful of trail mix

Rember that your brain needs about 20 minutes to register your stomach stretch after you’ve eaten. So it’s important to eat slowly to avoid overeating before exercise. Remember to eat until you don’t feel hungry anymore and not until you feel full.

Add calories for longer activities

all day workout hiking

If you plan for activities that will last longer than an hour don’t forget to drink more water. Also, eat about 50 kcal for every hour of extra exercise. These calories are best to come from carbohydrates. You can choose a healthy fitness drink that isn’t overloaded with sugar.

What to do after the training session

Even if you had an exhausting training the 200 kcal you ate before exercise are enough to get you going. You don’t have to eat immediately after you finish your work out. In fact, it’s better not to eat for until after an hour of the training. If you feel very hungry have a little healthy protein-rich snack. Don’t overload yourself and eat only until you don’t feel hungry anymore.

For most people, who are not high-performance athletes, a regular balanced healthy diet is going to be enough to fuel any exercise needs. It’s important not to overload your system before and after exercise. A small 200 kcal snack 1-2 hours before training is going to be enough to get you through any scheduled workout. You should feel neither hungry or full when exercising. Pay attention to your bodies hunger signals. You’ll find out what kind of foods and timetable feels best for you. But remember, the important thing is to get going and move.

Photo credit: Workout look woman by Jhon Voo