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What Should I Eat Before Exercising?

Exercise & Energy Balance

All activity is not created equal. Different exercise modes have different effects on energy expenditure.

High Intensity: Short duration activity that burns a modest amount of energy during the activity and total energy expenditure remains elevated for minutes to hours after the activity.

Low Intensity: Long duration activity that burns more energy during the activity but total energy expenditure returns quickly to resting baseline after the activity is over.

This makes both forms of exercise valuable for controlling energy balance.

Nutrition & Energy Balance 

Most of us know that what you eat is important. But, when you eat matters especially if you are an active individual.

During high intensity, short duration exercise we breakdown more carbohydrates than fat.

During low intensity, long duration exercise we have the opposite effect. This type of activity breaks down more fat than carbohydrates.

Now, just because it appears that more fat is burned with lower intensity activity doesn’t mean that it’s always better to do lower intensity activity exclusively when trying to drop body fat.

Eating Protein Before Exercise

Eating protein 1-2 hours before exercise can:

  • Help you maintain or even increase your muscle size which is important for anyone who wants to improve health, body composition, or performance.
  • Reduce markers of muscle damage (myoglobin, creatine kinase, and myofibrillar protein degradation). The less damage to your muscles, the faster you recover, and the better you adapt to your exercise over the long term.
  • Floods your bloodstream with amino acids just when your body needs them most. This boosts your muscle-building capabilities. So not only are you preventing damage, you’re increasing muscle size.

Any protein source, eaten within a few hours of the workout session, will do the trick.

Eating Carbohydrates Before Exercise

Eating carbs before exercise can:

  • Help with your training and improve recovery. Most people think that you only need carbs if you’re engaging in a long (more than two hour) bout of some type of endurance exercise. In reality, carbs can also enhance shorter term (one hour) high-intensity training.
  • Preserve muscle and liver glycogen. This tells your brain that you are well fed, and helps increase muscle retention and growth.
  • Stimulate the release of insulin. When combined with protein, this improves protein synthesis and prevents protein breakdown. Another reason why a mixed meal is a great idea. And no, sugary “pre-workout” drinks are not required. If you take pre-workout all the time, that’s another article on why you are not getting enough sleep.
Eating Fats Before Exercise

Fats before exercise:

  • Don’t appear to improve nor diminish sport performance. And they don’t seem to fuel performance — that’s what carbs are for.
  • Help to slow the digestive process, which maintains insulin levels and blood glucose.
  • Provide some vitamins and minerals, which are very important in everyone’s diets because our cell membranes are made up of lipids & fatty acids which help deliver vitamins and minerals to our cells.
Putting It All Together 

Let’s see what this might look like.

Depending on your goals, you can simply have a meal a few hours before exercise. Or you can have a smaller meal just before your exercise session. (If you’re trying to put on mass, you may even want to do both.)

Option 1: 2-3 hours before exercise

This far in advance of your workout, have a mixed meal and a low-calorie beverage like water.

If you’re a man, here’s what your meal might look like:

V Type_Diet_Men

If you’re a woman, here’s what your meal might look like.

V Type_Diet_Women

Note: Your actual needs will vary depending on your size, goals, genetics, and the duration and intensity of your activity.

For example, an endurance athlete preparing for a 20 mile run will need more carbs than someone getting ready for a 45 minute gym session.

 

Option 2: 0-60 minutes before training

Rather than eating a larger meal 2-3 hours before exercise, some people like to eat a smaller meal closer to the session.

The only issue with that: the closer you get to your workout, the less time there is to digest. That’s why we generally recommend something liquid at this time, like a shake or a smoothie.

Yours might look like this:

  • 1 scoop protein powder
  • 1 fist of veggies (spinach works great in smoothies)
  • 1-2 cupped handfuls of carbs (berries or a banana work great)
  • 1 thumb of fats (like flax seeds or avocado)
  • low-calorie beverage like water or unsweetened almond milk
Need a bit more help customizing your Nutrition plan? Our coaches are Precision Nutrition Certified and can help guide you to reaching your nutrition goals! 

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