How to Choose the Perfect Pre-Workout Meal
What you put into your body before and after you exercise is just as important as the workout itself. So before you get moving on your MaxiClimber, carve out time to throw together a quick pre-workout meal to fuel your body with the energy it needs to power you through. It’s not just about energy, though: The right combination of carbs, protein and healthy fats also aid in muscle repair and recovery, both of which are necessary after any cardio or strength training workout.
If you’re lifting weights or doing a cardio workout at home, you may skip eating before exercising altogether. But we’re here to tell you that skipping pre-workout meals does your body more harm than good. That’s why we’ve rounded up tons of snack and meal ideas that you can quickly throw together before you get moving. Plus, if you’re not convinced that eating before a workout is significant, keep reading to learn precisely how it’ll make your gym sessions even more effective.
Why You Need to Eat a Pre-Workout Meal
Not only does eating before a workout give you the energy to get through the dreaded set of burpees, but it can also minimize muscle damage in the long run. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the more food you eat, the more protection (so to speak) you receive, though. “The goal is a fist-size, not plate size portion to decrease gut distress,” Leslie J. Bonci , MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN, tells us. You also need to give your body proper time to digest before you head out for a run or hit up your MaxiClimber. “The rule of thumb is eating one hour before exercise to allow time for the food to leave the stomach. How come? So all the blood is not diverted to the digestive tract during exercise but instead, flowing to the exercising muscles.”
What to Eat for a Pre-Workout Meal
You should cater your post-workout meal to a specific type of exercise. Risa Groux, CN, recommends a balance of protein and amino acids for a medium to a high-intensity workout, the building blocks to support muscle strength and growth. However, if you’re planning to exercise for more than an hour at a high level of intensity, she suggests adding complex carbohydrates, like brown rice or quinoa, into the mix. “The long duration and intensity will require backup fuel, which carbohydrates will provide through glycogen,” she continues.
Stick with a blend of carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats to make the most of your workout. The glycogen stored in your body depletes based on the intensity and length of your training, which is why you need to prepare your body for what’s ahead with carbohydrates and healthy fats, a.k.a. Natural fuel. Fats are essential for relatively low and moderate-intensity exercise since they take longer to burn out. And while protein is typically viewed as a post-workout food (because it is!), it’s also known to increase athletic performance and repair muscle damage.
Here, some nutritionists and dieticians share healthy meal ideas that’ll energize you before your workout.
- Whole Grain Toast with Peanut Butter and Banana: “This combo provides a higher amount of quick-digesting carbohydrates, perfect for fueling intense workouts like running or HIIT training. Eat this snack at least an hour before a strenuous workout to provide enough time to digest,” says Mackenzie Burgess, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices.
- Overnight Quinoa Pudding with Protein Powder: “Try swapping out oats for quinoa pre-workout to make your morning porridge a little lighter on the system. To prepare overnight quinoa pudding, make your quinoa and then soak in a mixture of nut milk and high-quality protein and superfood powder in a jar in the refrigerator overnight. If it doesn’t disrupt your digestion, you can also top your pudding with fresh fruit and seeds,” explains Serena Poon, celebrity chef and nutritionist.
- Energy Bites: These customizable bites are filled with whole grain oats, protein-packed nut butter and any add-ins of your choice. They’re the perfect grab-and-go bite to enjoy before a workout,” says Burgess.
- Sweet Potato Avocado Toast with Hard-Boiled Egg: “If you are on a grain-free diet, this will give you the necessary carbohydrates without needing to consume gluten or grains. Eggs supply about 6 grams of protein and are an easy-to-digest way to get in your dose pre-workout. Avocados are one of the most nutrient dense foods and will energize your body with necessary fats, vitamins and minerals,” Poon tells us.
- Trail Mix: “Mix 1/2 cup cereal, five chopped prunes and one tablespoon of nuts (one serving size). This is easy to digest, good-on-the-go snack for speed and stamina,” says Burgess.
- Protein Smoothie: “Once you add the protein, feel free to experiment with different fruits or veggies or milk or peanut butter. Protein smoothies are great for pre-workout meals because they combine protein, healthy fats, and carbs,” suggests Stephanie Mansour, weight loss coach.
Only have time for a quick pre-workout snack? No problem! Head to your pantry for a quick fix:
- Nut Butters
- Healthy oats and grains like rolled oats and quinoa
What to Avoid for a Pre-Workout Meal
Even if you claim to have an iron stomach, some foods should be avoided before any kind of exercise, even if it’s low intensity. This is because your body works double time while exercising, so a large volume of blood is being pumped to working muscles. As a result, blood flow to the stomach is reduced during exercise. Because of this, you want to steer clear of any foods that are notoriously difficult to digest (think: cruciferous veggies).
Here, we’ve rounded up a few foods that you should skip before your workout:
- Beans of all kinds: Beans are incredibly high in fiber and carbohydrate raffinose, which are both hard to digest.
- Cruciferous vegetables: Steer clear of broccoli, bok choy, Brussel sprouts and cabbage. They are rich in sulfur-containing compounds, which may cause people to be more gassy than usual, especially during workouts.
- Fried and fatty foods: This may seem like a given, but avoid French fries, greasy pizza and burgers. They are loaded with saturated fats that linger in the digestive system, making them even harder to digest.
- Carbonated drinks: Sodas, seltzers, beer and kombucha cause the stomach to expand with gas, leading to discomfort, indigestion and gas during workouts.
- Spicy foods: Extra-hot foods stimulate the digestive system and may cause heartburn when paired with extreme exercise. Try to avoid spicy foods on the day of exercise — or even, 24 hours in advance.
- Pure fruit juice: OJ, cranberry, pineapple — whatever kind you pick, all fruit juices are high in fructose, a sugar that takes a long time to digest. This can cause stomach cramps for those with irritable bowel syndrome or fructose sensitivities.
MaxiClimber and a Healthy Diet: The Perfect Combo
After working up a sweat and challenging your body on your MaxiClimber, you cool off in your kitchen with a nutritious snack or small meal. By putting these two habits into your daily routine, you improve your overall health, happiness and fitness. So no matter what wellness goals you have for yourself — toning, losing weight or gaining strength in making smart choices — a balanced diet and MaxiClimber can help you achieve them.