If you’re a pretty active person, then it’s likely you’ve experienced hitting the wall during a workout at least once. It’s not a fun feeling and it’s frustrating because you know you can go harder and faster but your body just can’t muster the energy.
If this only happens once or twice a month it’s probably not a big deal but if it’s occurring weekly your performance will suffer.
Before we talk about the when and what to eat pre exercise, we have to rule out a couple other nutrition variables. First, if your daily nutrition isn’t dialed in; just eating a pre workout snack may not be enough to fuel a high intensity workout.
Before planning a pre exercise snack make sure:
- Meals are a balance of the 3 macronutrients: carbs, protein, and healthy fat.
- You're eating plenty of fiber from fruits and vegetables
- Staying well hydrated.
- There’s no more than 4 hours between each meal or snack.
When you’re eating complete healthy meals, at regular intervals, and staying hydrated then you are likely recovering quickly and topping off fuel stores. This means the pre workout snack is just that, a small snack or meal to provide energy for immediate training. When you skip meals or they aren’t balanced you may find you’re still dragging through the WOD despite eating something before activity.
The Pre workout snack
The type of snack will depend on the timing of your last meal, when you’ll workout, exercise intensity, and you’re specific GI sensitivity.
When we start exercising, especially with moderate to high intensity workouts, blood is diverted from the gut to the working muscles. This means the stomach no longer wants to focus on digesting food and it usually lets you know in a not so fun way. To avoid any GI distress the size of your meal will need to be smaller the closer you get to exercise.
When it comes to digesting foods, protein, fat, and fiber take longer to breakdown and slow digestion. This is a great thing at meals so you feel satisfied but may not be ideal right before you try to do 100 burpees.
Here are my tips to getting the pre workout snack right
If it’s been <2 hours since you’ve had a balanced meal that fits your macronutrients needs and you're well hydrated you may not need a snack for a < 60 minute workout.
If you have 90 minutes to 2 hours before exercise your snack can likely include a mix of complex carbs, protein, and a little fat. This will keep blood sugars stable and digest in time to provide energy for training while avoiding GI discomfort.
Pre workout snack ideas when you have >90 minutes before
For example if you plan to go to a 6:00 pm Fit Societe class, eat your snack at 4:00pm
6 oz Greek yogurt, mixed berries, cereal, sliced almonds.
Whole grain bread with nut butter and sliced strawberries or banana
½ turkey sandwich with avocado, pretzels
Trail mix with fruit
Hard boiled eggs with whole grain crackers and fruit
Smoothie: 1 scoop protein powder or yogurt, berries, spinach, nut butter, milk
Peanut butter and sliced apples
Dates and walnuts
Dried apricots with 1 oz cheese or pumpkin seeds and roasted chickpeas
When you have 60 minutes or less until exercise and need to top off fuel stores focus on easy to digest carbohydrates (low in fiber) and a little protein. This will need to be adjusted dependent on you’re specific GI tolerance.
Pre workout snack ideas when you have <60 minute before moderate intensity exercise
For example if you plan to go to a 6:00 am Fit Societe class, eat your snack at 5:30 am
Low fiber cereal with milk and ½ scoop protein powder
Banana with 6 oz Kefir
Applesauce alone or sprinkled with cereal
2 Rice cakes with light spread of nut butter and honey
Smoothie: ½ c frozen blueberries, 1/3 c yogurt, ½ c orange juice
Clif Kidz Z bar, Zing bar, Picky bar
Sport drink or liquid meal replacement (Only if you have a very sensitive stomach)
Note about exercise intensity and fueling
High intensity exercise that you do (if you’re pushing yourself like you should) at the Fit Societe classes relies on carbohydrate primarily as fuel. This is because you’re working too hard and fast for your body to have time to break down fat to use as energy. The research has repeatedly shown that subjects taking in adequate amounts of carbs during moderate to high intensity exercise preform better than those that don’t.
If you’re going on a walk, light jog <45 minutes, or doing low intensity yoga you may not need a snack assuming you’ve eaten well rounded meals during the day. These activities are lower in intensity and do allow your body to use both carbs and fat as fuel.
Finally, getting in a pre workout snack will mean you can push harder or lift heavier which will translate into improved performance over time. It can also help with hunger after exercise so that you’re not starving by the time you sit down to a meal. It’s impossible to manage portions when you’re in the red on the hunger scale.
Sit down with your calendar and plan out your week of training so you know exactly when and what you need to have as a pre workout snack. Then start testing out different types until you find the perfect combination that works for you.