Knowing what to eat and what not to eat before a workout can be pretty difficult. While avoiding fats and dairy before a sweat sesh is always a must due to the discomfort, cramping, gas, and/or bloating that often results from eating them, are carbs a safe bet for quieting your growling stomach? One registered dietitian says loading up on them is a super-smart choice. And when you combine them with another diet staple, that’s even better.
According to Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area, the perfect pre-workout combo involves two food groups: carbs and protein. If you eat the combo about an hour before your workout—especially when you’re doing something intense, like HIIT, spinning, boxing, or dance cardio—you can really do your body good, taking in exactly the types of fuel you need.
While fat and dairy could give you adverse reactions, both carbs and protein have components that not only give you the energy you need during your workout (see ya, crashes halfway through class!), but also what your muscles need afterward to get even stronger. Basically, they work together to get the most out of your time training. “The carbohydrates will supply your muscles with glucose to help fuel your workout session, and the protein helps make amino acids available to your body so that you utilize that protein, versus breaking down protein that’s stored in your muscles,” she tells me.
“The carbohydrates will supply your muscles with glucose to help fuel your workout session, and the protein helps make amino acids available to your body so that you utilize that protein, versus breaking down protein that’s stored in your muscles.” —Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
Now, getting the go-ahead to eat carbs before your workouts doesn’t mean just any carbs. (AKA no downing a plate of spaghetti or stopping at the coffee shop on your way to the gym to grab your favorite chocolate-covered pastry.) Rather, Gorin says the key to reaping the most benefits is always being sure to go with easy-to-digest options. Depending on what you’re in the mood for—and what time of the day it is!—that can mean eating a hearty bowl of oatmeal or granola filled with body-benefiting grains, or something as simple as an apple or banana and some peanut butter.
Two staples Gorin especially loves for pre-sweat snack? A smoothie made from ¾ cup frozen berries and some milk—non-dairy or not—or an English muffin topped with 2 Tbsp of hummus.
If you don’t choose options your body can easily digest, you’ll probably be left with an upset stomach during your workout and will want to head home early. But by eating wholesome options, you’ll ensure every second spent sweating counts—and you’ll get the energy and power you need to feel totally accomplished by the time you’re finished.
Take a look at Well+Good readers’ three favorite pre-workout snacks. Also, find out how long you should wait before working out after eating.
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