What to Eat for the Best Workouts: Part One

What to Eat for the Best Workouts | eMealsMeet Mary Creel, one of our on-staff Registered Dietitians and the host of a new series eMeals is launching today about eating healthy and staying fit. An avid marathoner, Ironman triathlete, and all-around champ in the health world, Mary is the perfect expert to answer your fitness/nutrition questions. Feel free to leave your questions in the comments section for Mary to answer throughout the series.

What to Eat for the Best Workouts | eMeals

Whether you’re new to a fitness routine or training for your first marathon or 5K, what you eat or don’t eat before a workout could effect not only that day’s performance but keep your recovery needs down and improve your next workout.

There’s been a misconception that pre-exercise food sits in the stomach and hinders athletic performance. Hence, people go to great efforts to avoid food for at least three or four hours before exercise. By doing so, they miss out on the performance benefits associated with having something in the tank.

Most people have a better workout if they eat about 200 calories within the hour before they exercise. The trick is to find the right amount and types of food that you can tolerate without having it “talk back.” You may need to practice eating different types and quantities of foods, so you can learn which ones work best for your body.

In the first of a three-part series, we’ll address what to eat before and during a workout followed by our favorite post-exercise foods and finishing with our top nutrition tips to fill in the gaps between workouts. Let’s start with some common questions we hear from even seasoned athletes.

What are the best foods to eat before exercising for energy and endurance?

There is no one perfect meal. Instead, focus on these five things: foods that you can tolerate well, low fat, moderate carbohydrate and protein, low fiber and include fluids.

Why are liquids so important during exercise and what should I drink?

Water acts as your body’s cooling system. You don’t want to get dehydrated, so plan on 2 cups of water or liquid two hours before exercise.

Is it better to stay hydrated with sports drinks or plain water?

Water is often enough. But if your workout is longer than 60 minutes in hot, humid conditions or you sweat a lot, sports drinks may help. They give you carbs and sodium, as well as fluids. If you’re exercising to lose weight, stick to water or a “lighter” version of sports drinks with fewer carbs and calories.

Is it bad to exercise on an empty stomach, especially in the morning?

It depends on the type of exercise. A brisk walk or yoga class on an empty stomach is fine; just drink a glass of water before heading out the door.

For more intense exercise, eat some easy-to-digest carbs (a packet of instant grits, a slice of toast, half a plain bagel, a banana, or a cup of fruit cocktail washed down with a glass of water) to help provide fuel. Eating breakfast before exercising may put you in a better exercise mood versus working out on an empty stomach. Even if you are not hungry, think of it as fueling your body so it can perform optimally.

Banana Berry Smoothie | eMeals

You can whip up a smoothie in less than 15 minutes, like Tropical Smoothie or Banana-Berry Purple Power Smoothies (above) from the eMeals Healthy Breakfast meal plan. Or if you have a little more time, try our Maple-Butternut Oatmeal with Pecans. Do you eat on the run? Peanut Butter-Banana Rice Cakes will get you going quickly!

Related Links: Banana Bread- Greek Yogurt Parfaits and Banana-Berry Purple Power Smoothies

Peanut Butter-Banana Rice Cakes
Recipe By:
eMeals Plan: Breakfast
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • 8 lightly salted rice cakes
  • 2 bananas, sliced
  1. Spread 1 tablespoon peanut butter over each rice cake.
  2. Arrange banana slices over peanut butter on rice cakes.

What are the best choices for energy bars if that is the only convenient food available?

Look for energy bars that have about 5 grams of protein, with some carbohydrate and very little fat. Remember that “energy” means calories, so watch out for high-calorie bars. They are helpful for athletes on the go, so if you can’t eat before a long tennis match, an energy bar can help.

What about energy gels during a workout, even if you’ve had a light meal? What role do they play?

These are good if you’re an endurance athlete. Otherwise, you don’t need them unless you’re working out at a high intensity level. Gels are concentrated forms of carbs. They can help long-distance cyclists and runners get some quick fuel during exercise. Because they are so concentrated, you should wash them down with water to prevent stomach upset. They may still be hard on your stomach. Some real food options are raisins, dried fruit (drink with water to help you absorb the carbs) and honey may be easier on the tummy and it works just as well as an energy source to boost endurance as energy gels, fig bars, bananas and oranges.

Stay tuned for Part Two in the series, when Mary will touch on the topic of what to eat after your workout. In the meantime, feel free to leave your questions in the comments! And click here to check out our eMeals Healthy Breakfast plan, which can help give you not only easy recipe ideas, but does the work of developing a grocery list for you!
– Text by Mary Creel

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