So, you may be thinking, "what and how much should I eat pre-exercise to optimize both my performance and recovery from my workout?" For many people, you may be surprised at how much more you should be eating. Below we'll look at how to choose optimal foods that will give you the energy you need to get through even the hardest of workouts and/or the most strenous of sporting events.
Ideally, your pre-workout or pre-event meal should be mainly carbohydrates. This is because carbs are rapidly digested and your body's primary fuel source. For longer or more strenuous workouts, small amounts of protein will help prevent hunger and fatigue as you near the end. You will also want to limit or avoid large quantities of dietary fiber and fat. Both take a longer period of time to digest, and fiber can cause GI problems and bloating to occur.
Try the following foods that are unlikely to cause stomach upset:
- Bagel with 2 tbsp all-natural peanut butter
- 1/2 cup oatmeal with skim milk and dried fruit (such as 2 tbsp raisins or dried cherries)
- 6 oz Greek yogurt - any flavor, with 1 slice toast w/all-fruit jam
- Banana with a handful of nuts
- A high-carb energy bar such as a Clif Bar
- Kashi whole grain waffle with strawberries and 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 1/2 cup of leftover pasta or rice from the night before
Do you have a hard time eating first thing in the morning or prior to your workouts or sporting events? Have you felt queasy in the past when you've eaten beforehand? If so, try to stick to liquid carbohydrates to help prevent any types of GI problems. It is, however, still important to provide your body with proper energy and hydration. You will therefore want to try smoothies or 100% fruit juices, which will provide you with quick-digesting carbohydrates that will prevent any stomach upset. Over time, try small amounts of food such as a piece of toast with 1 tbsp all-natural peanut butter or 1/2 banana & 1/2 cup skim milk (or milk alternative). Your body will soon get used to you having a little something in your system.
ARE YOU EATING ENOUGH?
While your usual bagel and banana might power you through meetings at work, it's not enough to fuel you through a half- or full marathon. Research shows that consuming 1.5 to 1.8 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight is ideal for improving performance. For a 150-pound individual, that would around 225-270 grams of carbohydrate (approx. 1,000 calories). Sound like a lot? The key is to time it right - ideally 3-4 hours before the event is suggested. Leaving enough time is critical in order for proper digestion and for your stomach to be empty to prevent stomach upset. This also allows time for your muscles and liver to be fueled and ready to go!
Dividing the calories into smaller meals is also an effective strategy. Try consuming 200-400 calories approximately 4 hours before your event, in addition to 16-24 oz of water for hydration. Your next meal would be best 90 minutes to 2 hours prior to your event, which would include easy-to-digest carbohydrate options.
Need to wake up early? Be sure to set your alarm in order to allow time to eat. Having something in your tank, so to speak, is critical! If this is a struggle at least strive to eat 2 hours beforehand, eating just 1 gram of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. Be sure to experiment with your chosen foods prior to the event - remembering to stick with foods that are easily digested. Because you'll be eating less carbohydrate in this case, you are at risk of running out of liver glycogen. To combat this scenario, refuel early in the event with energy gels, juice, etc. with approximately 30-60 grams of carbs per hour.
Let's not forget a little something right before your race - approximately 30-60 minutes prior to the start of the event. Grab an energy gel (with 8-16 oz of water) or 100% fruit juice mixed with water. This will give you some fuel to push you through the middle part of your event.
PRERACE MEAL PLAN SUGGESTIONS
Do you have a hard time eating a big breakfast in the morning? If so, divide it up. Below is an example of how a 150-pound individual would fuel for their event:
3 to 4 hours prerace
1 C cooked oatmeal with 2 tablespoons honey 62 g of carbs
6 oz yogurt 17 g
1 large banana 31 g
2 tbsp raisins 16 g
4 oz juice 14 g
12 to 20 oz water 0 g
Total Carbs = 140 g
90 minutes to 2 hours prerace
1 slice bread with 1 tbsp jam 28 g
8 oz 100% fruit juice mixed with 16 oz water 28 g
Total Carbs = 56 g
30 to 60 minutes prerace
1 energy gel or serving of energy chews 25 g
8 to 12 ounces water 0 g
Total Carbs = 25 g
How to Recover - Correctly!
Following the recommendations below will ensure you'll recover quickly and be ready to train again!
Carbs, Carbs, and More Carbs...
Carbohydrates post-exercise are essential for replenishing the glycogen stores used up during exercise. When you skip on the carbs, you'll find your ravenous the rest of the day and you'll struggle with early onset of fatigue during your next bout of exercise. To prevent this, strive for half a gram of carbohydrate per pound of weight. For example, a 150-pound individual would need about 75 grams, such as a bagel and banana.
Essential Protein Power
Protein is critical to prevent the continuation of muscle breakdown. For about an hour after we exercise, muscle breakdown occurs. Providing your body with protein (amino acids) helps to protect your muscle mass and enables your muscle to recover and rebuild. Consume 15 to 20 grams of protein to kick-start muscle repair. Examples of high-quality protein could be a Greek yogurt with fruit or a high-protein energy bar.
Hydration is Key
During your exercise, you've likely lost a significant amount of fluid through sweat. It is critical to stay hydrated for many reasons including: electrolyte balance, energy levels, mental clarity, etc. Strive for at least 20 oz of fluid, which includes approximately 200 mg of sodium. Sodium is an essential electrolyte and will help to boost fluid absorption. Choose from 100% fruit juice mixed with water, a smoothie or sports drink.
Stay Alcohol-Free Post-Exercise
Chances are, you're dehydrated - alcohol is only going to make matters worse. If you're really wanting a beer or your favorite mixed drink, it's best to wait a few hours until you have rehydrated properly. Be sure to also eat a solid meal before reaching for a cold one as well!
Think You're Done? Not Yet!
If you've just completed a race or exercised hard for a long period of time, you will ideally want to focus on your intake for the next 48 hours or so. Shoot for healthy carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low and non-fat dairy, nuts and seeds) and include sources of high-quality protein at each meal and snack. Doing so will ensure you're refueling properly and will feel at the top of your game for your next workout or race!
NUTRITION TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND: If you're the type of person who constantly is getting stomach upset, you may want to analyze your diet more closely. Are you eating a lot of fiber prior to your bouts of exercise? Drinking a lot of caffeine during the day? Do you consume artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, Sweet and Low, Equal, etc.? If so, these may be the culprit. Do your best to eliminate or limit your consumption and see if it makes any difference.