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Foods To Eat Before a Workout
Plenty of us have post-workout habits. From cooling down with a protein-packed smoothie to taking a refreshing shower, an after gym routine is an easy and healthy one to get into.
However, what about your routine before you hit the gym?
If your answer here is only, “put my activewear on, fill my water bottle, and grab my headphones,” we have some news for you. There’s a possibility for your workout to be easier, more comfortable, and all around BETTER for you. It’s all in the way you prepare for your time at the gym! In fact, engaging in a solid pre-workout routine isn’t only the healthier and safer choice, it can enhance your abilities to perform better, and with more vitality.
There are plenty of smart choices that you can make before hitting the gym, playing your favorite sport, or embarking on a hike or bike ride. Some of the best known rules for a pre-workout routine include:
- Hit the Gym After a Good Night’s Sleep
Many coaches and fitness buffs insist that a proper set of Z’s is crucial to any rep of squats. It will ensure that you have the correct amount of energy needed to perform all of your favorite exercises, whether you choose to run on a treadmill or bench press 100 pound weights.
- Do Not Work Out Without a Proper Warm-Up!
Many people roll out of bed, throw on their gym clothes, and jump right into their workout without warming up. This might save you some time, but it can be a pretty dangerous practice.
We like to use the “candy bar” example to explain this one. Let’s say you stick a chocolate bar in the freezer. If you were to pull it out and bend it, the bar would snap right in half. However, if you took it out and let it “warm up” on the counter for a few hours, it would easily bend without breaking.
Your muscles and tendons actually work in a pretty similar way— when they’ve been warmed up, they are far more flexible.
- Ensure that You are Eating the Right Foods Before Exercising
Do you work out on an empty stomach? If your answer is yes, it’s time to change your tune. Even if your workout is at an unsavory early hour, we would still recommend you have something in your stomach before training. (Though we are obviously not suggesting that you force yourself to eat if you don’t have an appetite. That’s also not healthy to do!)
A successful workout requires a nourishing pre-gym meal. The optimal time to eat before working out is roughly 60-90 minutes before your physical activities begin. This is perhaps the most important—and frequently overlooked—rule of all. What you eat before you train makes a massive difference to how your workout goes.
So, What Should We Be Eating Before a Workout?
You have plenty of wholesome and nourishing choices of things to chow down on before hitting the gym. Some of your best bets include:
- Ripe Bananas
Seriously—how perfect are bananas? Not only are they delicious, they’re versatile, healthy, and the perfect quick bite before a workout.
See, bananas are loaded up with potassium, natural carbohydrates, and vitamins— all elements that will help keep you energized and active during your workout session. They are also quite easy to eat when your appetite hasn’t kicked into full gear, so they’re a handy thing to have for early morning workout sessions.
If chowing down on a whole banana isn’t really your thing, they are a great smoothie ingredient! We also love them sliced atop a bowl of healthy, oaty muesli and Greek yogurt. And speaking of which…
Yogurt is sort of the undersung hero of the health food world. Though it may not photograph as well as the poke bowls and kale smoothies of social media, it’s far better suited for a pre-workout snack than either of those Insta-famous dishes. (And you can read below for some reasons why…) Indeed, this cultured dairy product is a workout superstar—especially tubs of strained Greek yogurt.
Yogurt is packed with muscle-protecting proteins that keep your body moving during a strenuous exercise sesh. It’s also easy to eat on the go, and can be blended with your favorite fruits to create a powerful, creamy, and tasty pre-workout smoothie.
- Whole Grain Bread
Ever heard the term “carb loading?” It’s a technique used by many athletes to optimize the way their body stores carbs, therefore enhancing their performance in a natural way. This technique is generally done in a 6 day, 3 day, or single day cycle.
However, not all carbohydrates are created equally. If you’re planning to load up on carbs preceding a major physical endeavor, like a big game or marathon, it’s important to make wholesome and effective decisions about what you choose to eat. Things like crackers or french fries, for instance, may contain lots of carbs, but they’re also high in fat and sodium. Instead, go for healthy whole grain products— like your favorite wholemeal bread. For an extra protein-laden kick, try spreading whole grain toast with natural peanut or almond butter…yum!
Both Irish style, steel-cut oats, and flat, rolled oats are good choices to chew on before your next workout. Their healthy amounts of fiber and vitamin B allow your body to release carbohydrates slowly. This can lend itself to a more productive workout, where you don’t feel tired or crashy.
You can consume oats in a few ways! Stovetop oatmeal is a delicious treat for any cold morning, and tastes even nicer with some pieces of your favorite fruit stirred through. If you’re looking for a nourishing, oaty meal without the cooking time, try making a pot of bircher muesli. Simply soak oats in a combination of almond milk and yogurt overnight, along some non-acidic fruit, if you’d like. When you pull it from the refrigerator in the morning, those oats will be plump and ready to eat. Once you get the hang of it, you can customize it to fit any flavor palette you like!
- Homemade Trail Mix
We’d like to stress the word “homemade” here. Many pre-packaged trail mix blends are loaded up with sugar, salt, and even artificial ingredients, making them an unhealthy choice for any time, especially heading to the gym, where you’re bound to experience an unpleasant crash.
However, making your own trail mix is simple, and a surefire way to have a healthy and easy snack to eat on the go. Nuts, a classic trail mix ingredient, are comprised of good fats, and are an excellent source of protein. We prefer them raw (not roasted!) and unsalted for both their flavor and the health factors.
Unsure of how to make your own trail mix? Pick your favorite nut and we’ll help you with some ideal dried fruits and other treats to mix them with.
- Almonds are in the same family as peaches, plums, and other stone fruit. Perhaps this is why they pair so nicely together. Raw almonds go especially well with dried cherries and apricots in a trail mix.
- Peanuts are technically not a nut at all, but a legume! (This makes a big difference to those with tree nut allergies— many times, peanuts are still edible for them.) Either way, they are a great member of a more traditional trail mix recipe. Throw some naturally dried raisins and unsweetened cocoa nibs in there, and you’ll be golden.
- Macadamias are a taste of the tropics, and are loaded with protein, fiber, and healthy fats. They’re delicious with unsweetened shaved coconut, banana chips, and cocoa nibs.
- Walnuts are antioxidant rich, and are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. We love them with dried apples or pears, a few golden raisins, and a sprinkling of mild cinnamon. (However, save the hot cinnamon for after the workout— spicy foods are not ideal for a pre-exercise bite. We’ll elaborate on that in a bit.)
- Pecans are native to the Americas, and can help your digestive and cardiovascular health. They are often associated with Southern cooking, so as a nod to that, we like to eat them with dried peaches, another popular Dixie crop.
- Pistachios are delightfully green, delicately flavored, and have been beloved for millenia. They’re packed with potassium, vitamin-B, and healthy fats— and handy things for workout energy. They’re glorious with dried cherries and some fresh pomegranate seeds for a bright and juicy version of trail mix.
Are There any Foods to Avoid Before Working Out? Why?
Yes, of course there are.
Just as there are foods that are ideal for a great workout, there are definitely items you should be skipping. However, many of these foods are otherwise part of a healthy diet, so it can be a bit confusing. Don’t worry— we’re here to clear things up for you.
- Leafy Greens
This one might come as a surprise to plenty of us, as fresh, leafy greens are often thought to represent healthy eating and nutrition. And of course, they are healthy and nourishing things to eat— just maaaaybe not right before you work out.
Yes, delicious kale might be a superfood, but during your workout, it’s likely to cause some serious discomfort. That’s because these cruciferous leaves are loaded with fiber, which may be great for your diet, but not so good for your poor digestive system, which tends to go on hold mid-workout. The result is often a nightmarish bout of bloating and gas— not ideal for a gym session! We recommend leaving the kale smoothie or spinach salad for later on. Your body will thank you.
Beloved across culinary and nutrition circles for its high fiber content, nutty, savory flavor, and versatile texture, cauliflower is a dinnertime superstar. However, when it comes to pre-workout food, it’s best to be avoided. As with kale and leafy greens, cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable with an ultra high fiber count. When combined with strenuous physical activity, it can cause major discomfort in the forms of gas and bloating.
Don’t want to ditch your cauliflower-laden favorites every time you feel like working out? It’s possible, as long as you manage your timing correctly. After consuming cauliflower, let your body digest for 3-4 hours before heading to the gym.
- Unfermented Soy Products
This might require some label reading on your part, but it could be worth it. Many protein powders and energy bars tend to include unfermented soy.
Though fermented soy products (like miso) don’t have this problem, consumption of unfermented soy products can sometimes cause gastrointestinal discomfort, bloating, and even slowed digestion of proteins.
- Spicy Foods
If you’re working out to lose weight, it makes sense that you’re often turning to spicy foods. After all, they raise your metabolism and help you burn more calories daily. However, as much as we love hot and spicy foods for both their flavor and their benefits, there is a time and a place for them.
That time, as it turns out, is not before hitting the gym. It can cause fiery heartburn and indigestion, which can range from being uncomfortable to downright painful or even debilitating. Best to avoid it until you’re back home, relaxing after a successful gym session.
I’ve Figured out my Exercise Routine…Now, Where Should I Work Out?
You’ve come to the right place!
Jack City Fitness is Boise-based fitness facility with everything you need to get into shape and feel great. When you become one of our “partners,” you will be welcomed into a family of athletes, Nutrition Specialists, and coaches who all have one goal in common— results. Whether you want private personal training, small group coaching sessions, exercise classes, or free gym access, it’s all available to you with a Jack City Fitness partnership. We even offer online courses, so you can take your workout with you wherever you go.
Get in touch with our team today, and learn how you can become a Jack City Fitness partner!