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It’s always ill-advised to eat a lot before a workout, though some people are susceptible to low blood sugar or low energy levels if they don’t get enough food before physical activity. If you’re one of those people who don’t perform better on an empty stomach, then you’re probably familiar with trying to strike a balance of having a little bit of food before a workout, but not so much that it slows you down an hour later.
A lot of what determines whether or not you’re able to strike that balance is related to what you’re eating, just the same as how much of it you consume. Keeping the portion low is obvious, but the type of food you should be eating isn’t quite so clear.
To figure that out, let’s start with some simple facts about what our body needs for energy:
- Fluids – Hydration is crucial to maintaining our energy during any physical activity.
- Protein – Protein is generally thought of as a post workout need, though it’s also crucial to your energy levels before you even get to the gym.
- Carbohydrates – Protein combined with good carbohydrates will be your provide you with a more sustained amount of energy. Having one without the other is alright, but ideally we’ll be able to include both in the pre-workout snack.
Our goal now is to find snacks that incorporate all three of these elements. Remember that we’re trying to keep our portions fairly low, so a small serving size should already be assumed.
1. Yogurt with Granola and Green Tea – Here you’ve got your protein, carbohydrates and a little bit of caffeine to top it all off. Green tea in and of itself can be an excellent way to hydrate before a workout, so feel free to combine it with any other food choice. Since the yogurt is a dairy product, it needs to be a small portion to avoid hitting your stomach too hard. In fact, half a cup or less will be plenty to sustain you.
2. Pretzels and String Cheese – The salt in pretzels will actually help you hydrate by helping your body absorb fluids. Make sure that you balance it out by drinking water before and during your workout.
Though it might not seem like a healthy choice, keep in mind that we aren’t trying to prepare a meal’s worth of good choices; rather we’re just trying to get you enough energy to get you through your workout routine. The cheese and pretzels gives you a good combination of protein and carbohydrates, which is exactly what you need to do the job. It’s also easy to eat.
3. Rice, Black Beans and Black Coffee – A great thing about this combination is that it’s easy to digest and highly unlikely to give your stomach any trouble. While it’s not a bad idea to make a habit of consuming black beans on a regular basis, they’re particularly good for you right before a workout. Black beans provide you with protein and a little bit of fiber as well. Add the rice and you’re good to go. Include the black coffee in small doses for the caffeine and anti-oxidants.
4. Grilled Chicken and Whole Wheat Pasta – The disadvantage here is that there’s some preparation involved and you’ll also want to be careful to not eat too much of this as it shapes up more like a meal than a snack.
Perhaps if you have leftover chicken and pasta, a small serving of both with some parmesan cheese will be an ideal combination of protein and carbohydrates.
Remember to keep all these combination to small portions, somewhere around 1 cup or less. This can be hard to do if you’re really hungry, but keep in mind that even a small amount of food can keep your hunger down for a fairly long time.
The tea and coffee can be included with any snack you choose, though be sure and drink them in moderation to avoid depending on the caffeine itself for your energy. They also shouldn’t be thought of as a water replacement as you should be drinking plenty of water before and during your workout.
To finish up, I’ll list a few foods that can be worked into the above combinations.
- Sweet Potatoes
- Turkey Slices
- Apple Slices
- Oranges or Orange Juice
- Raw Spinach
Jennifer Fox is a nutrition consultant. She enjoys sharing her tips and insights on various health and lifestyle topics.