By: Lindsay Maurath Date: 6/17/10
Fitting in weekly workouts is challenging enough without adding nutrition into the mix, but the next time you pack your gym bag you may want to think about throwing in a granola bar. Despite recent media coverage, a snack may be just as important as your sneakers in making the most of your workout. The argument over a pre-workout snack has long been the subject of debate. To eat or not to eat, how much, what and when are common questions that come up in the discussion.
Recent findings from a study at the University of Birmingham, published online in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, have been creeping their way into popular health magazines and newspaper columns nationwide. The headline typically goes something like this: Skip food before workout, burn more fat! This statement certainly is an attention grabber, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
The researchers aimed to investigate the effects of low muscle glycogen (the storage form of blood sugar) on physiology and performance. Glycogen becomes low as a result of not eating. In other words, they wanted to find out what happens during a workout when the snack or meal before hand is skipped. It turns out that the rate of fat oxidation or ‘burning’ increases. But before you abandon your pre-workout snack for good there are a few facts about this research and physical activity in general that you may want to consider:
• This study used trained endurance athletes and was not designed to create general recommendations for the public.
• Fat oxidation, or ‘burning’, is a rate that takes into account a piece of the total energy used for exercise. If an individual does not eat they will likely experience greater fatigue during the workout resulting in shorter and/or less intense activity. In turn, fewer total calories are burned and less total fat is burned during the workout.
• Low blood sugar can cause dizziness, nausea, headaches and may contribute to poor recovery. These negative effects can be deterrents to continuing a workout regimen.
When you feel good, both mentally and physically, you get the most out of your workout. A snack might be just the thing you need for a boost of energy to power you through and perform your best. Some general rules of thumb for pre-workout snacks include choosing foods that are: familiar and well-tolerated, low in fat and fiber, moderately high in carbohydrates and under 300 calories. The ideal is a light snack that provides energy without causing any digestive problems like nausea or cramping. Finally, adding a bit of protein will help with muscle recovery. Some good options include string cheese and crackers, bananas, low fat yogurt or milk, granola bars and toast with peanut butter. To leave time for digestion, try to eat your snack 30 minutes or more before your workout.
These recommendations are for your average 30-60 minute workout and should be used as suggestions and not hard fast rules. Eating and drinking surrounding physical activity should be individualized based on experience. It is best to try new things when you have the time to evaluate their effectiveness and really determine how your body reacts-mentally and physically. If something works, stick with it. You are the best compass in determining what works for you.
Personally, I don’t like eating before early morning workouts (before 8 am) because it makes me nauseous, but I definitely have a snack before late morning, afternoon or evening workouts. Typically I will eat low fat Greek yogurt or a banana and a granola bar. These foods give me the energy I need without filling me up too much. If I don’t eat anything I feel light headed and know I’m not able to put forth my best effort. After testing out different strategies for eating before a workout I’ve come to the conclusion that this works for me, for you it may be different.
How do you feel during a workout when you are running on empty?
What is your favorite pre-workout snack?