If you’re like a lot of people, you might skip breakfast before a workout. Maybe this is because you’re heading to spin class and it’s in less than an hour. Or you’re taking your dog for a three-kilometre run before heading off to work and you don’t have time.
But failing to fuel up before exercise isn’t wise, says Nadine Khoury, a registered dietitian and owner of NAD Nutrition in Toronto. “I don’t recommend exercising on an empty stomach,” she says. “Some people say you can burn more fat – but the risks outweigh the benefits.” Failing to eat before exercising can mean you’ll have less energy or feel lightheaded. It doesn’t increase calories burned during a workout and can make it more difficult to perform. Plus, overnight you’ve depleted your glycogen stores, which act as the source for energy in your body. Your body creates and stores glycogen mostly in your liver and muscle cells.
Hydration is also critical. It’s important to start a workout or exercise well hydrated. It helps you avoid unsafe spikes in body temperature and maximize performance. These are Khoury’s hydration tips:
- Drink half of your body weight in pounds in ounces of water. If you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces of water a day (nine measuring cups).
- For every 15 minutes of activity daily, drink eight ounces (one cup) of water.
- A few hours before you exercise, drink 17-20 ounces (up to 2.5 cups) of water.
- Right before your workout, drink eight ounces (one cup) of water.
- Exercising for more than an hour? Drink eight ounces (one cup) of water every 20 minutes during and for 30 minutes after.
What to eat
What you eat is also important, says Khoury, as it can change how you feel and how you’ll perform. For example, let’s say you’re going on a morning run. She says it’s best to choose a meal that’s high in carbohydrates and low in protein. Make it low in fibre and fat too, to prevent slowing digestion. That’s because when you run, your body needs easy access to energy. Protein, fibre and fat take energy to digest. That means they take longer to break down into fuel your limbs can use to run. Eating just 30 grams of carbohydrate 5-10 minutes before exercise can improve your performance.
Some carbs to consider:
- One piece of fruit such as a small banana
- A small yogurt
- A mini bagel or piece of toast
- Low-fibre cereal
- Sports drink
These carbs will give your body the energy it needs to run, spin or do a cardio workout. “You need to be able to sustain that activity,” says Khoury.
For longer workouts beyond one hour, or ones that are more vigorous, the American Heart Association recommends maintaining your energy levels. Pick snacks that are 50-100 calories for every half hour of exercise, such as low-fat yogurt, raisins, or banana. Or if you’re into long-distance running, you could bring energy gel packs that can keep up your glycogen levels.
Rebuild with protein
If you’re doing strength training and using weights to build muscle, choose a protein rich snack after a workout. “Protein builds and repairs muscle tissue,” Khoury says. The key is to maximize muscle protein uptake by spreading out protein intake during the day.
Some good post workout snacks Khoury recommends are:
- Yogurt and fruit
- Protein shake
- Peanut butter and celery
- hard-boiled eggs
- hummus and vegetables
Don’t forget fat
If you’re burning thousands of calories running marathons, doing competitive swimming or cycling, don’t forget the fat, Khoury says. Just make sure you’re consuming it after your workouts.
The body needs fat for growth, energy, hormone synthesis and many other body substances. Fat is the slowest source of energy but provides the most energy efficient form of food. It provides more than twice the energy per gram of carbohydrates and proteins.
But increasing fats, doesn’t mean grabbing processed foods and high-fat snacks. Khoury recommends healthy unsaturated fats like:
- Fish like sardines and salmon
Exercising to lose weight
Exercising to lose weight? You need to consume less calories than you burn throughout the day, including your exercise, Khoury says.
You could work with a registered dietitian to establish a personalized eating regimen and a nutrition plan to maximize your health and performance. Many have programs to help you achieve nutrition and wellness goals.